Spätzle ([ˈʃpɛtslə]) is a dish made with fresh eggs, typically serving as a side for meat dishes with gravy. Commonly associated with Swabia, it is also found in the cuisines of southern Germany and Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Slovenia, Alsace, Moselle, and South Tyrol.
Spätzle is the Swabian diminutive of Spatz, thus literally “little sparrow”. They are also known as Knöpfle (diminutive of button), also Spätzli or Chnöpfli in Switzerland or Hungarian Nokedli, Csipetke, Galuska or Slovak Halušky or Slovenian Vaseršpacli or vodni žličniki.
Before using mechanical devices, the pasta was shaped by hand or with a spoon. The results resembled Spatzen (plural of Spatz, meaning sparrows, a sparrow is Spatz or Sperling in German; Spätzle is the diminutive of Spatz, unchanged in plural).
Knöpfle means “small buttons” and describes the compact, round form of the pasta. In everyday language usage, the two names refer to the same product made from the same dough and are interchangeable. There is no clear distinction between the way the two names are used and usage varies from one region to another.
The geographic origin of spätzle is not precisely known; various regions claim to be the originators of the pasta.
The tradition of making “Spätzle” can be traced back to the 18th century, although medieval illustrations are believed to place the pasta at an even earlier date. In 1725, Rosino Lentilio, a councilor and personal physician from Württemberg, concluded that “Knöpflein” and “Spazen” were “all the things that are made from flour”. Spelt was grown widely in the Swabian-Alemannic area at the time. The cereal grew on poor soils and was very popular in the region, home to small farmers and characterized by poverty. As spelt flour contains high levels of gluten protein and the dough could therefore be made in times of hardship without the need for eggs, “Schwäbische Spätzle”/”Schwäbische Knöpfle” were mainly made from spelt. The product achieved fame in the Münsinger Alb upland area. As industrialization began and prosperity increased, the pasta went from being an ordinary, everyday food item to a culinary specialty eaten on feast days. In a description of a Swabian farmers’ village written in 1937, “spätzle” is described as festive food. The great importance of “Schwäbische Spätzle”/”Schwäbische Knöpfle” in Swabian cooking can be seen, inter alia, from the 1827 novel Die Geschichte von den Sieben Schwaben, according to which the custom in Swabia is “to eat five times a day, five times soup, twice with ‘Knöpfle’ or ‘Spätzle'”.
Today, Spätzle is largely considered a “Swabian specialty” and is generally associated with the German state of Baden-Württemberg. In France, they are associated with Alsace and Moselle. The total estimated annual commercial production of spätzle in Germany is approximately 40,000 tons. Pre-made spätzle are also available internationally.
Protected designation of origin
Since March 2012, Swabian Spätzle and Swabian Knöpfle have been awarded the EU quality seal for “Protected Geographical Indications (PGI)” and are protected throughout Europe as a regional specialty. To be able to bear this sign, one of the production stages of the product must have taken place in the respectively defined region of origin.
How to make Spätzle
Spätzle dough typically consists of few ingredients, principally eggs, flour, and salt. The Swabian rule-of-thumb is to use one more egg than the number of persons who will eat the spätzle. Often, water is added to produce a thinner dough. The flour traditionally used for spätzle is bread wheat (not the durum wheat used for Italian pasta), however, a more coarsely milled type is used for spätzle making than for baking. This flour type is known as Dunst, similar to the US “first clear” or Czech hrubá type. This gives a chewier texture but can produce a dough too crumbly for scraping if no water is added, particularly when cutting short on eggs for dietary reasons. If fine (“all-purpose”) flour and the full complement of eggs are used, all fat and moisture in the dough are derived from these, and water is rarely necessary.
Spätzle typically accompanies meat dishes prepared with an abundant sauce or gravy, such as Zwiebelrostbraten, Sauerbraten, or Rouladen. In Hungary spätzle often are used in soup. Spätzle also is used as a primary ingredient in dishes including:
- Linsen, Spätzle und Saitenwürstle: Spätzle with lentils and fine-skinned, frankfurter-style sausages
- Käsespätzle: Spätzle mixed with grated cheese (typically Emmenthaler) and fried onion
- Gaisburger Marsch: Traditional Swabian beef stew with potatoes and carrots
- Krautspätzle: Spätzle mixed with sauerkraut, onion, butter and spices such as marjoram and/or caraway
- Spätzle mit Käse überbacken – Spätzle mixed with cheese and topped with paprika
- Leberspätzle: Spätzle mixed with ground liver, often served as a soup with a clear broth
- Spinatspatzeln (Tyrolean dialect): Spätzle which also contain spinach as one of the ingredients; a speciality of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol
Spinatspatzeln (Tirolean dialect) or Spinat Spätzle (German) are a variety of Spätzle from Southern Tyrol. It contains spinach as one of the ingredients of the noodle. This version is served with cheese and ham. At a South Tirolean restaurant in Herrsching, Bavaria
- Kirschspätzle: Spätzle mixed with fresh cherries, dressed with clarified, browned butter, sugar and cinnamon and/or nutmeg. In the Allgäu, this is served as a one-dish supper in late summer.
- Apfelspätzle: Spätzle with grated apples in the dough, dressed with clarified, browned butter, sugar, and cinnamon. In the Allgäu, this is served as a one-dish supper in autumn.