The Kitchn’s Cooking School
Lesson 12: Pasta & Noodles
I was once convinced that if I had to choose between pasta and rice for the rest of my life, I would choose pasta. That wasn’t very loyal towards the staple of my homeland. I grew up eating both rice and pasta at home, but I guess I came to love pasta when I came to love the quintessential Mediterranean flavors—the light, the rich, and everything in between.
But now I’m just glad that I have never been forced to choose between the two. I mean, the pleasure of eating Thai omelette and adobo would be significantly reduced without a warm, fragrant plate of Jasmine rice. And that childhood comfort food of rice and fish sauce or Maggie sauce. Mmm…
Anyway, back to pasta, which I still love like crazy. I was very excited to get to this lesson in the Cooking School. I had never made fresh pasta from scratch before and don’t have a pasta maker at home. I frankly can’t afford one at the moment, so I was so happy to see a pasta recipe that didn’t require a pasta maker. This pasta in question doesn’t have an Italian name, but rather a German one: spätzle. I realized later that I had seen and might have tried this pasta before. It was at the longstanding 24-hour cafe, Schwarzes Cafe, in Berlin. My boyfriend’s sister ordered it one night. I forget what the sauce was, but it looked like a very rich dish. That was my first experience with this kind of pasta.
The author of the ricotta spätzle recipe, Faith Durand, said that her mother made this type of pasta without any spätzle press that comes with perfect round holes and a scraper, so the shape of her ricotta spätzle is completely different from the German kind that I’ve seen before (her family is of Hungarian and Czech origins). Durand’s mother just used a teaspoon to scoop up the batter then pushes it off into a pot of boiling water with her finger. Fast and requiring minimal equipment and no advanced culinary skills. Basically, it’s a perfect recipe for me and my kitchen.
For the batter, I was careful with salt (just 1/4 teaspoon of table salt instead of 1 teaspoon sea salt) and liberal with freshly ground black pepper. I made several batches of spätzle since I have a pretty small electric stove that can’t accommodate a very large pot. The pasta looks quite chunky on the website, so I was generous with my scoops in the first batch. I waited till all the dumplings floated to the top and let them cook for two more minutes in the boiling water according to the recipe. I suspected it was undercooked but wasn’t sure what it’s supposed to look like. I was more afraid of it being overcooked. Of course, it was undercooked. Each dumpling was large and not so appetizing or pleasant to eat.
But in later batches, I made sure each scoop was smaller and that I worked as fast as I could so that the first and the last dumplings got more or less the same amount of cooking time. I tested several dumplings before taking the whole batch out of the water and found that 10–12 minutes of cooking yielded fluffier pasta. I was quite proud of myself when the pasta-making part was done. My very first homemade pasta!
Now, for the pasta’s accompaniment, I fried a few slices of bacon. Then I used the fat in the pan to sautee sliced onions. I then tossed the spätzle with the onion and bacon fat. I topped the pasta with red pepper flakes, crispy bacon bits, and fresh Italian parsley. For me, it’s hard to go wrong with this combination, perfect spätzle or not.