This is the time of year for warming and filling meals, but often there isn’t much time to fuss with an elaborate dish. This is when I rely on stews like the short rib braise above or my favorite “Sort-of Paprikash.” If you’re a vegetarian, stews of mushrooms and cream are satisfyingly meaty. Stews are wonderful to make ahead, and they hang out happily in the refrigerator for a few days, improving all the while if they were good to begin with. You want a good carbohydrate on the plate to absorb the rich juices and minimize your meat consumption, and one of my very favorites is spaetzle. It’s delicious, and much quicker and easier than homemade noodles. To male spaetzle efficiently you need a spaetzle maker, which is a $15 gadget readily available by mail order. Sometimes you can find one at local kitchenware stores.
I have recently started using a new recipe because I have lovely fresh eggs coming in from my chickens, and the new recipe uses more of the ingredient I grow myself, eggs, and less of the one I don’t, milk. Remember to make the dough at least half an hour before you want to cook it.
For enough to feed four people very generously:
3 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2- 3/4 cup of milk
1/4 cup melted butter
Put the flour and salt in a bowl. Combine the beaten eggs and melted butter, pour into the bowl, and add half a cup of milk. Stir to combine. you are aiming for a thin dough which will “glop” off the end of the spoon in big lumps but which is definitely thicker than a batter. Add a little more milk if you need to. When combined, set in the refrigerator for at least half an hour to let the gluten relax. You can make it up to several hours before you need it. When ready to cook, bring a large shallow pan of salted water to a fast simmer. Fill your little devise with dough, slide the carriage back and forth, and little egg dumplings will fall into the water below. Fill the device again, and repeat until you’ve used up your dough. If the temperature of the water has dropped a lot, turn up the heat, but a hard boil will break up the dumplings. When they float, they’re done. Usually this takes about 5 minutes. Bite one to make sure that it isn’t soggy in the middle. Drain and serve with stew or rich meat juices on top.
Here’s something I learned in a cooking class in Sonoma, and it really works: after draining, you can spread the spaetzle out on a clean baking sheet and set them aside to cool. They will now keep for a day or two in the refrigerator, and can be reheated when you need them. If anything, they taste better than when eaten immediately. They can also be heated by frying in a big skillet with some clarified butter, so that they get crisp brown crunchy spots, and this is truly good, especially if you toss in some thyme leaves and a small handful of chopped parsley.