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Spaetzli Sensation: Savor the Flavors of Traditional Alpine Noodles

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

I grew up calling them Knopfli ("little buttons") as they can tend to look like little buttons, but I think they are more widely known as Spaetzli a.k.a Spätzle ("little sparrows"). Spätzle, is a type of soft egg noodle that hails from the Alpine regions of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and parts of Northern Italy. This beloved and versatile pasta has a rich history dating back several centuries, and it has evolved into a staple in Central European cuisine.

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Fresh Spaetzle pasta in a bowl.

Here is what I found as a brief history and background of spaetzli:

The exact origin of spaetzli seems to be somewhat debated, but it is generally believed to have originated in the Swabian region of Germany. The name "Spätzle" or "Spätzli" is derived from the Swabian word "Spatz," which means "little sparrow." The pasta's name likely refers to its small, irregular shape, which is reminiscent of tiny birds.

Spaetzle pasta dough being pushed through a spaezle maker.

Traditional spaetzli recipes involve simple ingredients like flour, eggs, milk, and salt. The dough is mixed until it reaches a specific consistency, which can vary from region to region. The batter is then scraped or pressed through various utensils, like a spaetzli maker, colander, or a wooden board, to create the characteristic short, irregular noodles. In fact, I remember my mother cutting tiny bits of dough off of a wooden cutting board with a knife making each tiny noodle one at a time (talk about passion and patience!). The noodles are then briefly boiled and often sautéed in butter or oil before serving.

  1. Regional Variations: Each region in Central Europe has its own variation of spaetzli, and ingredients or techniques may differ slightly. For example, in the Austrian region of Tyrol, you may find cheese added to the dough, resulting in käsespätzle, a cheesy version of the dish. In the Allgäu region of Germany, they might use a special wooden board called a "Spätzlebrett" to create elongated, thin noodles.

  2. Versatility: Spaetzli is incredibly versatile and can be served in a variety of ways. It's commonly used as a side dish alongside hearty meat dishes, stews, and sauces. It also pairs well with cheese, making it a popular ingredient in gratins. In some regions, it is even served as a dessert with sweet toppings like fruit compote or sugar and cinnamon.

  3. Popularity: Spaetzli has become a cherished part of the culinary culture in Central Europe and is commonly found in restaurants and households throughout the region. It has also gained popularity in other parts of the world, especially among those who appreciate its comforting and hearty qualities.

  4. Commercial Availability: While many people continue to make spaetzli from scratch at home, pre-packaged spaetzli is widely available in supermarkets, making it accessible to those who may not have the time to make it from scratch.

Bowl of fresh Spaetzle noodles with creamy chicken sauce and fresh thyme.

Spaetzli's history is rooted in the traditions of Central European cuisine, and it continues to be enjoyed for its delightful taste, adaptability, and cultural significance. Whether served as a simple side dish or in a more elaborate preparation, spaetzli remains a beloved comfort food with a rich and enduring legacy.

Find my Spaetzli recipe here.

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