I've often tried to get in touch with my culinary heritage with German cuisine, but to be honest, I find most of it pretty boring. Sure, I love beer-soaked bratwurst or a good wienerschnitzel now and then (as long as you keep them away from the sauerkraut), but that's about it. Then there's spaetzle, which is a German pasta made of little amorphous dumplings. It's delicious, but again: boring. Growing up, I always prefered Italian food, so this recipe came about by my decision to treat spaetzle the way I would an Italian pasta. It's undergone a bit of refinement over the years, but essentially, I've come up with a spaetzle recipe that turns unremarkable German dumplings into something far more energetic, exciting, and reminiscent of Italy. Don't be fooled; this unique recipe is unlike anything you've ever had before and can't in good conscience be called either German or Italian. It's great as a side dish or a light lunch, and if you're not into the whole vegetarian thing, you can always add some crumbled bacon or prosciutto.
You probably noticed that disposable pie pan on the ingredients list. Here's the thing: they do make special spaetzle makers, and some people swear by potato ricers, but not many of us have either of them lying around the house. If you do, feel free to use them, but for the rest of us, you can construct your own temporary spaetzel maker using nothing but a 25¢ piece of aluminum foil and a flexible spatula. Besides, I find the unevenness of this method more interesting than the regimented, all-dumplings-must-be-exactly-the-same spaetzle you get from those other tools. Try to find a wide pan (ten inches is perfect), but if all you can find is the standard nine incher, make sure you have a pot deep enough to boil a good amount of water but with a mouth diameter under nine inches. Once you have your pie pan, poke a bunch of holes in it wide enough to stick a standard chopstick through. Set your new spaetzle maker aside and start a pot of water to boil, making sure the water only comes up about halfway.
In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the eggs, milk, nutmeg, red pepper, black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
Mix the ingredients until it forms a sticky, wet batter, starting with a wisk and ending with a spatula. If the batter is dry, add a couple more tablespoons of milk. Once the water starts to boil, make sure to salt it heavily before placing the pie pan over the top. Spray it down with the cooking spray.
Reduce the heat to medium and pour the batter into the pie pan. Then, while holding it in place with one hand (preferably mitted), use the spatula with the other hand to push the batter through the holes. It will take a few minutes, and it's pretty much impossible to get all the batter through. Once you've gotten as much as you can, dispose of the pie pan and stir the dumplings. They will be floating. If the water begins frothing, turn down the heat.
Let the dumplings cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set a large pan (cast iron if you got it) over medium-high heat to get it screaming hot. This would be a good time to assemble the rest of the ingredients and quarter the tomatoes, because once the spaetzle is ready, the rest happens pretty quickly. When the dumplings have cooked enough, drain them. Then pour the olive oil into the hot pan and add the garlic. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
What you're going for here is basically a quick stir-fry; try to stir as much as you can as you toss in all of the ingredients. Add the drained dumplings before the garlic starts to burn. Then add the spinach, tomatoes, and herbs. Stir for about a minute or two, until the spinach wilts down and the spaetzel begins to lightly brown. Turn off the heat.
Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, because those brown bits are mighty tasty. Then stir in the parmesan cheese and serve.
-e. magill 2/3/2011
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