Oktoberfest may conjure up images of free flowing beer, but there's plenty of German cuisine available at this yearly 2 1/2 week Munich folk festival. One of the dishes, spaetzle, is a specialty of the region.
I wasn't familiar with spaetzle until Simon, the wonderful young man I wrote about in January, asked me to fix it with schnitzel. I looked in the German cookbook he'd given me and learned that spaetzle is a pasta made from flour, eggs, water and salt. The resulting dough is too soft to roll out and cut so it's pressed through a spaetzle maker. The recipe intimidated me for two reasons. One, I'd never made pasta and two, I didn't have a spaetzle maker. I was relieved when Simon told me dried spaetzle was sold at the grocery in Germany. Since we live near several international markets, we decided to go on a spaetzle search.
The market we went to was huge and had products arranged by country. We found several brands of spaetzle and bought the one Simon recognized from Germany. This solved the problem of making spaetzle. However, what was I supposed to do with the dried spaetzle?
Simon's grandmother, Oma, told me to cook the spaetzle in a large pot of boiling salted water, drain it and add butter to keep the noodles from sticking together. Spaetzle can be served with just butter, but it's tastier with a couple of easy additions.
It's common in Germany to stir Emmental cheese into the hot spaetzle until the cheese melts. That sounded easy enough, but it ended up being the hardest part of the whole recipe! I bought two different brands of Emmental, but neither one of them tasted anything like the cheese Simon ate in Germany. My son suggested we try Mozzarella, but it made a sticky mess! On my fifth attempt, I added some Swiss cheese. When Simon said the spaetzle tasted almost as good as what he ate in Germany, I knew I'd found the right cheese.
A few months after my first attempt at cooking spaetzle, Simon's grandmother showed me how to make homemade spaetzle and gave me a spaetzle maker. Until I get the courage to make spaetzle from scratch, I'll continue to used dried spaetzle. And when I do, I'll think about the young man who introduced us to this wonderful dish and look forward to the next time he's sitting around the table with us.