I arrived home weary one evening last week, after a long train journey from France, to find my lovely cousin Anna, fresh from ski-instructing in Austria, had let herself into the house armed with a spätzle hobel and her Auntie Anita’s recipe, to prepare a restorative repast for the travellers from the warm south – we were to succumb to the joys of Käsespatzle!
Spätzle are a form of short, fresh egg noodles and can be found anywhere from Alsace to the far reaches of the former Austro-Hungarian empire. Combined with copious quantities of various mountain cheeses and topped with fried onions, they are a staple for any vegetarian attempting alpine winter sports – simply the best way to pile in the starch and protein you need to keep you warm and active, plus they always seem to be prepared without the ubiquitous bits of pig one finds lurking in every corner of an Austrian menu.
The hobel is an exciting utensil (you can make spätzle with a colander but it's very messy). It resembles a flat cheese grater mounted with a hopper which slides back and forth. The almost unworkable, moist dough falls happily through the holes as it is pushed back and forth in the hopper, towards its joyful fate in a large pan of boiling water.
Once the spätzle come to the surface, they are skimmed off with a slotted spoon or spider and deposited in a dish where they are layered with mountain cheeses (gruyère and emmenthal can be substituted – or for some proper Austrian gear, visit Kipferl, the lovely Austrian café/deli in Long Lane, London EC1 www.kipferl.co.uk).
Sliced onions are dusted with flour and then fried quickly in very hot fat until brown and crispy, then sprinkled on top of the Käsespätzle.
A green salad is the traditional accompaniment – and don’t forget the white wine, which helps break down the cheese, preventing it from forming a big lump inside you (well, that’s my excuse). A nice crisp Grüner Veltliner perhaps?