Yesterday, whilst out grocery shopping, we decided to get some lunch. In an effort to avoid the largely unavoidable chain coffee shops, we found an independent café with an extensive sandwich menu. Ash opted for a ‘Super Club’ sandwich from the ‘Familiar Favourites’ list, whilst Miranda went for the ‘Chickpea Salad Signature Sandwich’, involving mashed chickpea salad, avocado and leafy greens. The fact that familiar was spelt ‘familier’, and signature ‘signiture’, should have been our first clue. The fact that we were the only people in the café at 1pm should have been our second, but we gave them the benefit of the doubt.
Our starving stomachs endured a staggeringly long wait before our sandwiches finally arrived. Ash’s ‘Super Club’ baguette had a couple of pieces of overcooked, microwaved bacon and a few bits of chicken, which were mostly masked by the slathering of margarine. Miranda’s sandwich had no avocado and the only evidence of ‘leafy greens’ was some shrivelled up iceberg lettuce on the corner of the plate. We sent it back in search of some avocado, which was provided, but it was so under-ripe it genuinely had the texture of a carrot. Ash didn’t quite believe this until he tried it for himself, at which point he declared, ‘I’ve never experienced anything like that.’ And no one should ever have to, which is why we won’t be returning to that particular establishment.
After that unmitigated disappointment, we were glad we had our German spätzle dinner to look forward to. The shopping trip wasn’t a total disaster, though: we did manage to pick up some bratwurst, a pretzel, and some German wine and beer.
So, on to dinner. We’ve both been to Germany a number of times but it is Ash who tops the excitement scale when he comes anywhere near bratwurst, a type of German sausage. When we went to the Christmas markets in Hamburg a couple of years ago, we’d barely been off the train five minutes when he spotted a sausage stall and made a beeline for a ‘little snack’ of currywurst. Even at the Christmas fair at Hyde Park in London, it was impossible to keep him away from the super-bratwurst stall.
But spätzle was a more unfamiliar territory for us to explore. Only Miranda had tried it before, and even then, only once. For lack of a better description, it’s the German version of pasta, but with its own distinct flavour of nutmeg and a lack of uniformity: rather than being rolled through a machine, it’s simply pushed through either a spätzle maker (which we don’t have) or a colander (which we do). We enjoy making fresh pasta so had to give this a try. The tricky part was deciding what to serve it with that seemed German enough, which is how we landed on kasespätzle, the German equivalent of macaroni and cheese, with some bratwurst thrown in for good measure. And a tasty pretzel snack in the sunshine before we started.
Kasespätzle mit bratwurst
(Slightly strange and awkward measurements are because we halved a recipe in order to serve 2 – if you double it again, it’ll be much more logical.)
3 bratwurst sausages (approx. 250g), cut into thick chunks
1/2 tbsp butter
1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 small thyme sprig
1 1/8 cups plain flour
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup milk
1 cup grated Emmental cheese
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 190C.
2. Melt the butter in the pan and stir in the bratwurst, onion and thyme. Cook over a low heat until the onion is caramelised (about 20 minutes).
3. Meanwhile, make the spätzle. Bring large pot of water to the boil. In a bowl, combine the flour, 1/2 tsp salt and the nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and milk. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir well: the batter should be slightly thicker than pancake batter.
4. Put the batter into a colander with large holes and hold the colander over the pot of boiling water. Press the batter through the holes into the water. The resulting spätzle will be irregularly shaped but you should be aiming for pieces about an inch long. When they rise to the surface, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the water.
5. Toss the bratwurst, onion and spätzle together with 3/4 of the cheese and some freshly ground black pepper and put into a baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake until golden and bubbling (about 25 minutes).
This is a pretty greasy meal so we served it with salad. Making the spätzle was fun so we’ll definitely have a go at that again, and would probably even make this dish again, although we found it to be a little sweet, with the caramelised onions, Emmental cheese, nutmeg-flavoured spätzle and relatively sweet sausages, so we’d probably make it a little less traditional and Mashify it with some chilli or mustard or something to give it a bit more of a kick.
Next we’ll starting our exploration of Eastern Europe and investigating some Polish delicacies. We’ve never been there so this cuisine is largely unfamiliar to us. Watch this space!