I always use spaetzle as a side dish – and what a delicious side dish it is! – but it never occurred to me to use it interchangeably with pasta. When I came across this recipe in the NYT Cooking collection, the description nailed it. “Spaetzle is basically a blank, buttery canvas that will absorb whatever flavorings you want to put into it.”
My friend Marc, who often gets to enjoy our leftovers as his lunch the next day (my tiny contribution to those working on the front lines of the pandemic – Marc is a doc who is working long, hard days under difficult conditions) described this dish as a Swiss version of macaroni and cheese with hot dogs. It is really tasty and I added broccoli to it which I think enhanced it. Also I credit this recipe for giving me a heads up that I have been making spaetzle wrong all these years! I used to always make a stiff dough that required kneading back and forth and was very much a labor of love. This spaeztle dough was much looser and practically poured through the grater, requiring much less effort on my part. Game changer!
Spaetzle with Kielbasa and Caramelized Onions
1 pound smoked kielbasa, cut into ¾ inch chunks
1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 large thyme sprig
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
¾ cup whole milk
½ pound Emmantaler cheese, grated (2 cups)
½ teaspoon black pepper
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, lightly brown the kielbasa until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Melt the butter in the skillet. Stir in the onion and thyme, and stir briefly to coat the onion with butter. Cook onion, without stirring, until dark brown, about 5 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and cook on low heat until very soft and caramelized, 20 to 30 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons water and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Transfer onion to a bowl.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large bowl, combine the flour, 1 teaspoon salt and the nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir well. The batter should be fairly wet, with a consistency slightly thicker than pancake batter.
Spread a clean dish towel flat on a work surface adjacent to the stove. Working over the pot of boiling water, press dough through a spaetzle maker or use a rubber spatula to push it through a colander with holes at least 1/4-inch wide. Drop dough into the water. When dumplings rise to the surface, use a slotted spoon to transfer to the towel.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss the spaetzle and kielbasa in the bowl with the onions, and add 1 1/2 cups cheese and the pepper. Spread into a 2-quart gratin dish. Sprinkle the top of the casserole with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake until golden and bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes.