Monday, May 4, 2009

Spaetzle with a Side of Lederhosen

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The Germans came to my wedding in Trachten.  I’d warned a few American guests that there’d be Lederhosen and Dirndl in attendance.  The going assumption was that my family was kitting out in Bavarian regalia as a lark, that they’d gone to their local Alpine gag shop and bought costumes to amuse a few Yankees.  They couldn't believe anyone would wear leather shorts and apron festooned dresses in public without a hint of irony.   

It’s true that they’d probably have followed standard operational cocktail procedure at most other stateside weddings but at home in Bayern, in the small townships of Bergen or Bayreuth or Traunstein, they’d be decked out in traditional finery to celebrate.  And so they dressed as if at home for my wedding in the heart of Texas because they knew I’d be touched beyond reason by the gesture.  To see my Onkel Heinz in the same Lederhosen he’d been wearing to celebrations of note since I was a small girl, Lederhosen so old and gnarled that they stood up on their own without human guidance, was an expression of astounding affection.

Things like well-worn Trachten are my lodestones, aligning my heart to that half of me that is profoundly my German mother’s daughter.  There’s also my unnatural devotion to lard packed Nürnberger bratwurst, brutal day long hikes along trails designated “billy goat only” and afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen, things that I’m hard pressed to duplicate in America.

But then there’s Spaetzle, that precious doughy dumpling, the rare German culinary staple that has a good rap.  Granted, it’s tough to make them without specialized equipment; I’ve schlepped many a “Spaetzle Hex” through customs alongside my deviously repackaged "to get through security because they’re illegal in the States" bratwurst.  But I’ve heard tales of beautifully rendered Spaetzle made without the aid of fancy German contraptions.  One rumor has it that a large holed potato ricer works.  I myself have used a colander in a pinch. 

Spaetzle is a lovely comfort for me on those days when Germany and my family feel too far away.  No Lederhosen required.

Spaetzle

3/4 cup cold whole milk

3 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and mix until you’ve got a thick, sticky paste.

Place a colander over a large pot of boiling salted water.  Working in small batches, press the spaetzle dough through the holes with a spoon, along small strands of dough to fall into the water.  When the spaetzle rise to the top, transfer them to a dish with a slotted spoon.  Repeat with another small batch of dough until finished. 

At this point, I like to dump the little dumplings into a large skillet with a healthy hunk of melted butter and fry them just a bit.  It’s tough, especially when you’re new to the whole process, to make all the dough fast enough to keep the entire batch warm.  And they tend to cling to each other in unseemly masses.  So a little fry up in butter warms them through, separates the little suckers and adds a glorious coating of butter. 

 

Mahlzeit.

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