It’s that time of year when copious amounts of melted cheese warm the heart.
What better way to enjoy German food culture than eat Käsespätzle?
Sure, Leipzig is part of Saxony and located in the east, so the southern German dish isn’t exactly traditional here; but really, it’s available in most large German restaurants around the country.
To make the German noodles (Spätzle), you mix some variation of egg, flour, water or beer, as well as salt; push the mixture through a noodle shape maker; and boil it in water (same as you would pasta). You either serve it with butter (or Schmalz), fry it with onions or, as in the style I refer to, bake it in the oven with CHEESE topped with crispy onions.
It is the closest German dish to resemble macaroni and cheese: an all-time favourite, lovingly known around North America, most often from a blue “Kraft Dinner” box with a packet of orange fake cheese powder that you mix with milk and butter at the end of the cooking time. I didn’t quite make the literal connection that I was eating the German equivalent of mac n’ cheese until months after the first time I ever consumed Käsespätzle.
It’s mighty delicious, hence the post dedicated solely to a cheese-related dish!
It may be of little surprise to know that this delightful (and hearty) dish originated in Bavaria (Swabian region), with variations around Austria and Switzerland – which is why, I assume, it’s baked with Emmental or Swiss cheese.
I can just picture a time, back in the day, when you’d come home from a day of working on a farm up high in the beautiful mountains and cook up some fresh Spätzle with cheese, from your own farm.
Really, can’t you just envision it now? The picturesque backyard landscape spanning a vast distance, mixed with a Dirndl or Lederhosen – ok, now I’m just getting into some weird alternate reality.
For someone who grew up in the northern hemisphere, autumn finds the local produce changing to squash, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and other such root vegetables. Autumn is a time when hot, big, hearty meals come out again: stew, chili, lots of dishes with potatoes, full tomato sauce, and so on.
I joke that it’s the time when the “hibernation pounds” come around – like a bear, we need to put more fat on our bodies to stay warm in the coming months.
Hot, melty, gooey cheese loaded with carbohydrates is but one fine way to do so. As the days shorten and the temperature lowers, the winds bellow, and the sky darkens, I find solace and comfort in the hefty meals to consume. Call me a glutton, but Käsespätzle is something to indulge in while all wrapped up in a warm scarf, Hausschuhe, and sometimes also nostalgia.
When I think of mac n’ cheese, I think of my childhood in Canada. I reckon almost every other kid I knew got to indulge in this boxed treat now and then.
There’s a distinct memory I go back to, related to babysitting neighbourhood kids, when I was 16 or 17 years old. There were three of them in the household, and as a teenager, that was a lot of responsibility to handle. But they turned out to be the most well-behaved children I ever babysat.
One sunny summer afternoon when I was watching over them, I had instructions from the parents to make Kraft Dinner for lunch (an easy, quick, well-liked option). The eldest child, who was about 8 years old at the time, offered to make the mac n’ cheese for us – he was so proud that he would be able to cook this dish for his sisters and me.
I watched him not burn himself on the stove while the water was boiling, I helped him drain the pasta, and then he mixed in the butter, cheese packet and milk. It was a very sweet experience, and I remember thinking how impressed I was that he felt capable of making it all by himself. Translation: warm, gooey feelings.
Fast-forward to the adult in me: I rarely bought mac n’ cheese from the grocery store once I graduated university, as it’s seen more as a junk-food, and I doubt it has any nutritional value.
Instead, making “real” macaroni and cheese – grating cheese to mix into a pot of fresh pasta, and then oven-baking it with bread crumbs sprinkled on top, to serve with some chicken and broccoli, for example – is what I “graduated” to cooking. (And this is actually closer to Käsespätzle than to Kraft Dinner.)
Here’s an easy example of a recipe for macaroni and cheese to make at home, without using up too many dishes in the kitchen. But, if you’re not in the mood for cooking, hop over to one of Leipzig’s many German restaurants, such as Bayerischer Bahnhof, and place an order (don’t forget to drink a large beer on the side).
Happy Autumn everyone! And if you’re looking for a friend to go enjoy some cheese with, just let me know.