|Spaetzle Gets Eclectic
Spaetzle is coming into its own. The dish of small, crooked noodles has been long monopolized by classic German and Austrian cuisine. But with help from nontraditional chefs, like Patrick Connolly of Bobo restaurant in New York City, this very traditional starch can hint of almonds or herbs and be found nestled among unusual companions ranging from trout to pork belly and persimmon puree.
Connolly, who was named Best Chef in the North East by the James Beard Foundation in 2008, begins his spaetzle traditionally: a combination of flour, milk and eggs; a trip pressed through a perforated pan, and a quick blanche in simmering water. Unlike the spaetzle of Hungarian pubs or German brew houses, served with meaty soups or abundant gravy, Connolly doesn’t stop there.
The 30-year-old chef’s spaetzle is boldly spiced with clove, ginger, coriander, cardamom, and black pepper—and sometimes he uses almond flour rather than AP. During service, Connolly sautés the noodles to order, which, he says, gives them a nice crispness, but still leaves them chewy within. For someone who puts great emphasis on texture, he adds, “spaetzle is just altogether pleasant.”
In the winter, Connolly serves these spiced noodles with tiny florets of cauliflower, beneath a duo of pork—mustard and fennel seed-crusted belly and smooth slices of tenderloin—and over a swish of sweet persimmon puree. In the Spring, he says, spaetzle can be paired with fish, such as striped bass or trout.
Spaetzle, which was called a “quintessential Swabian delicacy” by Horst Scharfenberg in his 1980 book The Cuisines of Germany, has been making inroads to modern restaurants for over a decade. It peeked out from Lidia Bastianach’s Manhattan restaurant Felidia in 1995, served with quince, cranberries, and osso bucco; David Bouley served his with garlic and chives at Danube in 1999.
These days chefs like Kurt Gutenbrunner—a native Austrian—of Wallsé in New York City adds fromage blanc or quark, a Central European equivalent to farmers, ricotta, and cottage cheese, to his spaetzle. Chefs Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi of Joule Restaurant in Seattle serve theirs made with black sesame as part of a rich, black truffle oil “Mac and Cheese.” David Chang’s spaetzle at Momofuku Ssam Bar is laced with Dijon and served with slices of duck, while Chef Alexander Cheswick of May Street Market in Chicago has served his own chive spaetzle with a roasted venison medallion in a pistachio crust.
Despite its knobby aesthetics, spaetzle’s light texture and airy taste give it versatility that these chefs love. Herbs and spices, cheese and crisped edges move what was once solely classic into a new realm. “It’s not my style to do things traditionally,” Connolly remarked with a laugh.