Spaetzle 2 Ways for a Fall Sunday Dinner

As the weather turns cooler, we are all in search of cozy, comfort foods. What better excuse to make a hearty (read: carb packed) meal with your family? For years, I have known that Hubs has a soft spot for spaetzle, the Germanic noodle/dumpling. I have heard tales of family lore, making spaetzle for holidays and other special occasions. We even received a spaetzle maker as a Christmas present some years back.

Spaetzle maker

I admit here (with some embarrassment) that it remained wrapped and unused until last Sunday. As you know, I prefer to prepare meals based on nutrient-dense foods, high in protein, complex carbs, vegetables, grains and the like. Spaetzle vehemently does not meet any of these requirements. It is made from a basic dough of flour and water (or milk), and often dressed with butter or gravy. But with inspiration from the NY Times’ Melissa Clark, and a devil-may-care attitude about my waistline  (I am in the 3rd trimester of my pregnancy), it was time to make the spaetzle.


Knoffli recipe

We agreed that Hubs would be in charge of the spaetzle preparation. Hubs consulted the Cassellini family cookbook, a collection of recipes from Hubs’ maternal grandmother and her family, which has the classic family recipe, actually spelled “knöfli.”IMG_4252[1] He decided to test Melissa Clark’s updated recipe, which used rye flour, in addition to white flour, and also whole milk, in place of water. We thought this would produce a more flavorful noodle. Once the spaetzle were ready, we’d each prepare our own dish using the spaetzle base. I was going to adapt Melissa’s recipe, which incorporated cabbage and leeks (vegetables!! yay!) and Hubs would go a more traditional route. Plus, cabbage is rich in fiber, anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories. We would re-join at the dinner table and sample both for our Sunday night dinner. Keep reading for our recipes

Basic Spaetzle recipe
Adapted from Melissa Clark’s Rye Spaetzle recipe

1 teaspoon kosher salt, more as needed
180 grams all-purpose flour (1 1/2 cups)
100 grams rye flour (3/4 cup)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 to 1 1/2 cups whole milk, as needed


Using the Spaetzle maker

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours and 1 teaspoon salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and 1 cup milk. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine. The consistency should be that of a sticky cake batter. As the batter sits, it will absorb more liquid; add more milk as needed to keep it loose.
Working in batches, press the spaetzle through a spaetzle maker or a colander into the boiling water. (If using a colander, either hold it with oven mitts so you don’t burn yourself over the steaming water, or get a friend to help). As the spaetzle rise to the surface, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl.

Toss spaetzle with butter or olive oil and serve as a side dish. Or, choose one of the following preparations.

Cabbage & Leek Spaetzle Gratin
adapted from Rye Spaetzle Gratin With Savoy Cabbage and Caraway

1/2 batch of  Basic Spaetzle recipe (above)
1 small-medium green cabbage (1 1/2 pound)
3/4 teaspoon whole caraway seeds
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large leeks, thinly sliced (3 cups)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Large pinch chile flakes
1 thyme branch, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, or more to taste
1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
1/2 cup Gruyère or Emmentaler cheese, grated
Ground black pepper
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 425 Fahrenheit. IMG_4216[1]Discard the outer leaves of cabbage; quarter, core and slice the rest. Using a mortar and pestle or the flat of a knife, lightly crush the caraway seeds. Melt the butter in a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly colored, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the caraway, garlic, chile and thyme; cook 1 minute. Add the cabbage and cook, tossing frequently, until very tender and wilted, 7 to 10 minutes. Season with vinegar and 3/4 teaspoon salt or more to taste. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

IMG_4218[1]Add the spaetzle to the pan and toss well. Scrape the mixture into a 1 1/2-quart gratin dish. Scatter cheese over the top. Bake until golden and bubbly, 20 to 25 minutes. Grind a generous amount of black pepper all over the top of the gratin, then serve.

YIELD 6 to 8 servings

Classic Spaetzle with Sauteed Shallots

1/2 batch of  Basic Spaetzle recipe (above)
1 shallot, chopped finely
2 tablespoons butter
Black pepper and salt, to taste

Melt butter over medium low heat. Add shallots and saute for 3-4 minutes until slightly colored, but not browned. Add spaetzle and toss to coat. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, and add freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. Serve and enjoy.



Cabbage & Leek Spaetzle Gratin


Spaetzle with Sauteed Shallots

Both recipes tasted delicious. I cannot tell a lie, they really hit the spot for comfort food on a chilly fall night. The cabbage and leek gratin was very tasty. I used about 1/2 the amount of spaetzle called for in the original recipe, so it made for a looser and lighter gratin. It still felt rich and hearty, but not so heavy. Even Hubs admitted it had good flavor. I sampled the classic spaetzle preparation, and admitted it, too, was delicious. The rye flour used in the recipe also gave the noodles more bite and flavor, as suspected. We wholeheartedly recommended the updated recipe to Hubs’ family, even if some called it blasphemous.



Tuesday Night & What’s for Dinner? My Take on Pizzoccheri

The weather was turning nasty yet again, and I was feeling like something cozy and hearty for dinner. I was thinking about a pasta dish with some vitamins/vegetables. Pizzoccheri came to mind, which is a dish from the Valtellina in Northern Italy. It is a typical dish served in the mountains, usually during a day of skiing or outdoor labor. It is rich and tasty, made with buckwheat noodles, bitter greens (usually swiss chard), fontina, and sometimes potatoes. Perfect for a dinner for 2 after a day at the office, right? Anyway, the idea popped into my head and I couldn’t shake it.  I didn’t follow a recipe, but made one up as I went along, working off of memory and taste. Tracking down buckwheat noodles at the last minute, was not going to happen, so I used fresh whole wheat fettucine (store-bought), and for the greens, I chose organic kale (I reasoned that the power of the pasta would overcome Hubs’s revulsion to kale). I also bought some fontina to shred into the mix. 

My Pizzoccheri Pasta

The end result was a tasty, gooey pasta dish that warmed the bones. Not quite the traditional recipe, but worth repeating for sure. For more details on the real pizzoccheri deal, you can also check out Mark Bittman’s NY Times article   here.

My Pizzoccheri-like Pasta

3 or 4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound fresh whole wheat pasta, preferably fettucine, or other long flat noodle
1 bunch kale, washed, stems removed and shredded
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
Red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup shredded fontina cheese
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper

Sauteed kale, onion and garlic

In large pan, saute onion in about 2 tablespoons olive oil until softened. Add garlic and continue to saute. Do not brown. Add kale in handfuls and saute until wilted. Add additional 1-2 tablespoons olive oil if kale mixture appears dry. Season with salt and pepper, and red chili pepper flakes (if using). Once kale is wilted, set aside.

Bring large pot of water to boil and prepare pasta according to directions. Fresh pasta only takes 2-3 minutes to cook, so I do recommend preparing the kale mixture in advance, or at least while the water is coming to a boil. Once noodles are al dente, re-heat kale mixture on a low heat, and use slotted spoon to remove from boiling water and add directly to kale mixture. Pasta should have some water on it (no need to drain), that will help loosen up the kale mixture (which is your pasta sauce). Incorporate pasta with kale mixture for a minute or two, over low flame and sprinkle fontina cheese on top. Serve immediately in bowls with additional cheese for sprinkling. Enjoy!

Yield: 2 servings

A Tale of Two Shrooms: Leek and Shiitake Mushroom Risotto & the Aftermath

Summary statement for this post: Make more than you need, it’s better on Day 2. I love making risotto, though it is strictly a weekend activity because it does take more than 30 minutes to prepare. But on a cool fall or winter night, it cannot be beat. I was excited to see leeks again in my last CSA pick-up, as well as 2 large shiitake mushrooms. I decided to prepare a Leek & Shiitake Mushroom Risotto dish – a twish on the traditional Mushroom Risotto. I would use leeks instead of a sauteed onion, and shiitake mushrooms in place of poricini (traditional ingredient in Italy). Sadly, mushrooms are on Hubs’s verboten food list, but I insisted on using just 1 in this recipe as mushrooms add tremendous depth and flavor AND authenticity.

Best Leftovers: Risotto Al Salto

I also used my homemade Vegetable Stock, and a rind of parmiggiano. The  Risotto was yummy on Saturday night, very earthy and even had a brownish hue. Perhaps a little too shroom-y for Hubs’s taste, which is why we had a nice helping leftover. That’s the aftermath. I usually don’t have risotto leftovers, but was actually happy to have them on Sunday because I could make Risotto Al Salto. This is a classic Northern Italian dish using leftover rice, where you basically make a crispy pancake from your risotto. This photo does not do the dish justice. Hubs declared it much improved on Day 2. Um, what’s not to like?

Day 1: Mushroom & Leek Risotto 

1 cup arborio or cannaroli rice
3 tablespoons butter
2 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced, white and light green parts only
3 cups vegetable stock, warmed
1 – 2 shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup shredded parmiggiano
1 parmiggiano rind (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Saturday Night Risotto

In a medium, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, melt the butter and saute the leeks. Saute for ~10 minutes until softened, but not yet browned. Add the mushrooms. Saute for an additional 3-4 minutes until mushrooms are softened. Add rice. Stir and let toast for 1 – 2 minutes. Add 1 ladle (about ~1/2 cup) of broth at this time. Add a dash of kosher salt. Stir and let the risotto rest. It should bubble slowly. You want to let the rice absorb the stock, and there is no need to stir it constantly. Check in 2-4 minutes if the liquid has absorbed, and if so, add another ladle of stock. Repeat until risotto has reached desired consistency. It usually takes about 20 minutes or so of “bathing,” and you may have to adjust the stove setting. You can taste for doneness by biting into one grain of rice. It should still have some bite, but be cooked all the way through.

When risotto is cooked, stir in cheese gently. You can add an additional tablespoon of butter (optional), and add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with a handful of shredded parmiggiano and enjoy.

Day 2: Mushroom & Leek Risotto Al Salto, or Risotto Pancake

Leftover risotto
1 tablespoon olive oil
Handful of shredded parmiggiano

Drizzle oil in medium saucepan and heat over medium heat. Spoon risotto into pan and spread out, like a pancake. Allow risotto to crisp, cooking for about 5 minutes. Flip using a spatula and crisp on other side. Slide onto plate and sprinkle with parmiggiano. Cut into quarters and serve. Enjoy!

And, for more details on making Risotto Al Salto, you can check out Giada de Laurentiis’s recipe.

My Gift to You: Tropical Storm Sandy Seared Char & Hearty Lentils

Hello Readers,

It has been over a week since my last post and all is well. Thankfully, we managed fine during the storm, it has simply taken a few days to get fully operational. I bet you are wondering what to prepare when you’re waiting for a tropical storm to hit a non-tropical climate? One dish came to mind last week – a mix of hearty, healthy and homey – Seared Salmon with Lentils and Balsamic Reduction.

Last Monday (pre-Sandy) we ventured to the local market  to stock up. With limited supplies available, I picked up whatever looked fresh at the fish counter, assuming it would be a few days before we could even consider a luxury like freshly caught fish. The Arctic Char fillets looked juicy and firm, and with no fresh salmon in sight, that would be it. I decided to use the Char in place of salmon fillets for my tried and true hearty fall/winter recipe. This is a multi-step meal, so I’ll prepare the lentils in advance,  and let them rest on the stove top or in the fridge. The fish and balsamic vinegar sauce can be prepared in about 15 minutes when you are ready for dinner. Highly recommend this nutrient-dense, protein-rich meal. Extra lentils make for a great lunch next day. Hubs is a fan, too. Things were a bit hectic, so sorry, no photos for this post.

The preparation is loosely based on Sally Schneider’s recipe from A New Way to Cook, replacing the lentil preparation with Jamie Oliver’s from The Naked Chef cookbook. I have modified the original lentil recipe to be vegetarian. Trust me, best lentil recipe ever.

Seared Char with Lentils and Balsamic Reduction

For the lentils, which can be prepared in advance:

  • 1 cup Puy lentils, or green lentils
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 heaped tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary or 2 tablespoons dried rosemary
  • 1 red onion or 2 shallots finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped (optional)
  • 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salmon and balsamic reduction:

  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 6-ounce arctic char fillets, skin on (or salmon!)
  • Dash cayenne pepper
  • Dash kosher salt
  • Fresh parsley, chopped (for garnish)


For the lentils: Give the lentils a quick wash. Using a thick bottomed, oven safe pan with a lid, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add the rosemary, onion, and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes, then add carrot. Cook for a further 2 minutes then add the lentils and fry for about 1 minute. Add the stock, put the lid on and bring to the boil, then transfer to oven and simmer in the oven for 1 hour at 300F, or until tender stirring occasionally.  By this time a lot of the stock will have been absorbed.

Add 2 tablespoons of your best extra virgin olive oil 1/2 blespoon of red wine vinegar and black pepper and salt to taste. Set aside until ready to serve salmon.

For the balsamic sauce: In a small, non-reactive saucepan, bring the vinegar to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce the heat slightly and cook until reduced to 1/4 cup and thick and syrupy. Remove from heat and set aside

For the salmon: Place the salmon skin side up on a work surface and make several shallow slashes in the skin using a sharp paring knife (this will help prevent salmon from curling when it hits the hot pan). Sprinkle lightly with cayenne pepper and salt.

Heat a large, nonstick pan (cast iron pan works great, too) over moderate heat until very hot. Place salmon in pan, skin side down and to not move for 4-5 minutes (skin should be crisp and brown). Turn fillets over, and cook for another 2-3 minutes depending on how well cooked you like your salmon. Remove fillets from pan and let rest for 1-2 minutes while you prep the rest of the dish.

Return the balsamic sauce to the moderate heat and bring to a simmer. Add the butter and stir until blended.

If using parsley, stir into lentils. Mound lentils onto plate. Place 1 salmon filet on plate, then drizzle balsamic sauce around the lentils. Repeat and enjoy.

Yield: 2 servings, with extra lentils for the next day.