Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Late-Winter Doldrums? Think Green Herbs!

Late winter can be quite rude, dragging its feet, refusing to leave, and spluttering the same stale conversation over and over, fatiguing everyone. If you have overwintered some herbs in the garden under fleece/potted some to bring indoors/have a supermarket which stocks fresh herbs, one way to hasten the vivid green of early spring is adding chives, parsley, and dill along with a bracing dose of crushed garlic to spaetzle batter.  This cross between fresh pasta and dumpling is first boiled, then lightly sauteed in butter till their green-flecked, yellow squiggly shapes glisten with golden-brown edges, only needing to be topped with freshly grated Parmesan to make a lovely supper dish.

My recipe differs significantly from the one my mother made during my childhood.   Her version was traditional, that is, made with just flour and eggs, served boiled and laced with butter and salt that mostly appealed to our inner familial circle;  she used a teaspoon to shape them and when done, they were the size of small eggs, not particularly tender but substantial and tasty.  Enjoying those as much as I did, I wanted to spread spaetzle love to a wider audience.  After some research, I have come up with a succulent, visually attractive, and delicious dish!

(makes either two moderately sized servings or a really big and satisfying one for a main course OR four servings as a side dish)

  • Flour, white, 1 cup*
  • Eggs, large, 3
  • Salt, a minimum of 1/4 tsp, to be included in the batter, more can be added into the batter if desired or just before serving--as spaetzle is rather bland.
  • Dill, fresh, 1 tsp; dried 1/2 tsp
  • Parsley, fresh, 1 tsp; dried 1/2 tsp
  • Chives, fresh, 1 T; dried 1 tsp
  • Garlic, 1 fat clove, pressed or minced finely
  • Butter, sweet, 2 T
  • Parmesan, freshly grated, about 1/4 cup*

* American measure, that is, 8 oz

Quantities can be proportionally increased if desired.  Dried herbs work well also, but try to include at least one fresh variety.  Though there are various presses for making neat, dainty spaetzle, pasta ribbons can be made easily by using a butter knife to scrape the batter into boiling water.  A plain knife is also way easier to clean than a press.  Additionally, I prefer the more free-form shapes that sometimes resemble jumbo shrimp!

Bring water to a brisk boil in a medium-sized pot.  Meanwhile prepare the batter.  Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl with curved sides, preferably a light-weight plastic one as it will serve as a 'board' for scraping batter into the boiling water--holding a heavy glass bowl over the pot can become taxing.  Whisk the eggs until well mixed.

Add the flour and at first gradually incorporate the flour until there are no dry bits.

Then beat vigorously with a fork until batter is stretchy and sticky.  This batter will fight back so don't be timid, wield that fork!  As your flour's ability for absorbing water (based on its age) may vary from mine, you may need more or less than the recommended amount.  Keep in mind the consistency you are looking for is a very thick batter and that it will become more fluid when spread with a warm knife.  If the batter is too thick, the pasta will be heavy in texture, if too thin, it will fall apart in the boiling water. 

When learning how to make this dish, I erred on the side of having a too thick batter, because at least, the finished spaetzle would be edible.  I would recommend your testing this dish out first for yourself before serving it to others.  But, please have fun with it!

Add the herbs, garlic, and salt and beat until well mixed.

Taking a butter knife, dip it in the boiling water, and spread some batter along the area just under the rim of the bowl, scraping off strips of batter into the boiling water while tilting the bowl.  An alternate, but somewhat messy way, is to transfer the batter onto a flat plate or wooden board and then scrape strips into the pot.

Remove the spaetzle when they rise to the surface and have been in the boiling water for a total of about 2 minutes.  Since this kind of egg-rich pasta can become rubbery if cooked too long and it will be pan-fried also, be careful not to over do it at this stage.  It took two batches for me to scrap batter fast enough so there was time to fish them out.  If necessary, work with smaller batches.  With practice, you will get quicker--my grandmother's speed for spaetzle making was legendary!  Drain them well.

Melt the butter in a skillet and toss in the spaetzle.  Over moderately high heat, saute not more than five minutes.  Be sure to scrape any browned bits stuck to the pan.

Salt to taste and serve with Parmesan, either already grated in a small serving bowl or presented whole accompanied by a grater, which is the Italian familial way.

When I hear the cold wind whistling past the kitchen window or if I feel a bit unsettled or if I just, oh, I don't need any reason to make this cheerful, comforting, and yummy dish!

In the garden, I see signs of spring--daffodils and sweet violets--that coincides with what Edith Holden saw in Edwardian England during March in 1906.  Her quote from Shakespeare is sublime:

Daffodils, that come before
the swallow dares,
And take the winds of March
with beauty.

Once my nursery order arrives, I will be sowing all those beds!

Her March 20 entry: 

Went to Daffodil field again;  The buds are just breaking into yellow.  Found two Thrush nests, both in holly bushes; one nest was empty, the bird was sitting on the other.  She looked at me with such brave, bright eyes, I could not disturb her, much as I would have liked a peep at her speckled blue eggs.
Sweet violets being gathered for making candied violets.

Holden's watercolour of sweet violets is one of the best illustrations in her diary.  She caught sweet violets' demeanour, charm, and communal identity in sure but graceful strokes.

Holden's Shelley quote captures my present experience well:

And the Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.
The snowdrop and then the violet,
Arose from the ground with warm rain wet;
And their breath was mixed with sweet odour sent
From the turf like the voice and the instrument.

Influenced by the rainy, windy late winter, Dayo has developed a ritual. When the banging of the shutters and flapping of the more flimsy parts of the pergola gets to him, he whooshes into the sous sol, bounds up the inside stairs straight to the bedroom, settling down a bit on the bed.  The bedroom shutters then bang against the outside wall, and Dayo sharply turns his head to make sure the wind has not followed him.

He relaxes again a bit and realises, oops, I have not yet clean my muddy paws and gets right down to that pressing task, a chore I wish he tended to before he jumped on the bed!

Soon after he notices a general wash is in order.

Suddenly he feels a nap coming on and soon all is peaceful on the furry front--for the time being, that is.

À la prochaine!


Excerpts from Holden's Dairy for November, January, February.