I’m intrigued and inspired by the creative ways in which Pacific Rim and Northwest chefs are incorporating spaetzle into their dishes these days. This Old World noodle-dumpling is suddenly being elevated to lofty heights, for perhaps some of the following compelling reasons:
- It’s much easier to make spaetzle than fresh pasta, and yet they have similar characteristics.
- Spaetzle lends itself to partnership with a wide range of companion flavors--from subtle to bold.
- When made with care, spaetzle is delicious.
- Spaetzle has a wonderful chewiness.
- Spaetzle has an endearing homey quality. It’s the ultimate comfort food.
- Spaetzle is under utilized outside of its traditional context.
I encountered several inspired spaetzle dishes while dining out in Portland, Oregon this past winter. Each of the following thoughtful, soulful dishes merit a deep bow to the creator:
- Butternut Squash & Gruyere Dumplings with Parsnip Puree, Brussels Sprouts, Hazelnuts, & Sherry Brown Butter (Wildwood)
- Crispy Caraway Spaetzle with Roasted Winter Root Vegetables, Soft Goat Cheese, Toasted Walnuts & Apple-Squash Puree (Wildwood)
- Crispy Sweetbreads, Chestnut Spätzle, Local Mushrooms & Kidney Mustard Sauce (Paley’s Place)
- Fried Pork Shank with Spaetzle, Brussels Sprouts & Agrodolce Onions (Clyde Common)
- Grilled Oregon Lamb Chops with Spiced Lamb Crépinette, Lavender-Pear Chutney, Winter Herb Spätzle, & Lamb Jus (Bluehour)
- Sliced Duck, Sour Cream Spaetzle & Cranberries (Park Kitchen)
- Spaetzle, Wild Mushrooms & Broccoli Rabb with Thai Yellow Curry Sauce (LunaCafe)
Did you catch that last one? 🙂 Even though you can’t physically pop into our virtual café, as you can these other fine restaurants, with just a little effort, you can be eating this spaetzle dish in your own kitchen. And it’s definitely worth the effort.
INGREDIENT NOTE With local farmers markets opening across the country this weekend (Portland Farmers Market, here I come!), we will begin to see a glorious array of early spring greens, especially the spring raabs. You can use any of the raabs in this dish, but broccoli raab and it's close cousins are especially good here:
- Broccoli raab (also called rapini) is a leafy green in the turnip family. The tender stalk, leaves, and florets are all edible. The flavor is full and a little bitter. It’s popular in Italy and many parts of Asia.
- Broccolini is similar to broccoli but with small florets and long, thin stalks. It is a cross between broccoli and kai-lan, which is Chinese broccoli. The flavor is a sweet cross between broccoli and asparagus.
- Broccolette is a cross between Chinese kale and broccoli. The edible stems are elongated and topped with tender broccoli shoots.
Spaetzle, Wild Mushroom & Broccoli Rabb with Thai Yellow Curry Sauce
This dish was inspired by Roy Yamaguchi, chef-author of Roy’s Fish and Seafood: Recipes from the Pacific Rim. In his creation, a spaetzle-vegetable medley serves as the base for a steamed sea bass. However, here, the combination of toothsome spaetzle, local spring mushrooms, broccoli raab, and spicy curry sauce are equally satisfying on their own.
Basic Spaetzle (about 4 cups prepared)
Thai Yellow Curry Sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons minced or pressed garlic
2 teaspoons peeled, minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons Thai yellow curry paste (available at City Market in Portland, Oregon)
1 teaspoon firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup canned coconut milk (stir well before measuring)
finely grated zest of 1 medium lime
2-3 teaspoons fresh lime juice, to taste
fine sea salt, to taste
Wild Mushrooms & Broccoli Raab
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 ounces pancetta, ¼-inch diced (two ¼-inch thick slices) (not essential if you want a vegetarian dish)
1 teaspoon minced or pressed garlic (1 large clove)
1 teaspoon peeled, minced fresh ginger
1 pound wild mushrooms, such as hedgehogs, chanterelles, baby shiitakes, and/or baby portabellas, rough sliced (about 4 cups sliced)
1 small bunch broccoli raab (rapini), broccolini or broccolette (or other spring rabb of your choice), cut into bite-size pieces, briefly blanched in boiling water, refreshed in ice water, and well drained
large handful kale, sliced 1-inch wide on the diagonal (about ½ large bunch)
fine sea salt, to taste
- Prepare the spaetzle through Step 8 and keep warm over low heat.
- To make the sauce, in a small sauté pan, heat the oil and add the garlic and ginger. Sauté to soften somewhat, but don’t brown.
- Stir in the curry paste, brown sugar, coconut milk, lime zest, and lime juice. Add salt to taste. Keep warm, partially covered, over very low heat.
- In a large skillet or wok set over medium-high heat, heat the oil, and sauté the pancetta for a minute or two, until it releases most of its fat. If there is more than 4 tablespoons of total fat in the pan at this point, pour off the excess.
- Add the garlic and ginger, and sauté for a minute without browning.
- Add the spaetzle and mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms are beginning to release their juices, about 2 minutes.
- Add the blanched broccoli raab or kale and toss to heat through.
- Add the curry sauce and toss to combine.
- Season to taste with salt and serve in wide-rimmed pasta bowls.