Käsespätzle is an Austrian take on mac & cheese which elevates this ultimate comfort food to a whole new level. Making the pasta from scratch is a bit of a labour of love, but once you try these little morsels covered in butter and topped with melted cheese, caramelised onion and chives, you’ll be glad you went to the effort.
Country Number 10: Austria
After facing a series of mysterious, unknown cuisines, we were very happy to make it to a European country that we had both been to before. Don’t get us wrong, cooking Andorran food was a treat (seriously, the torrijas we made from there were next level). However, it was nice to have some prior familiarity with the cuisine we were making.
It was also great to have a soundtrack to cook to. We really enjoyed do-re-mi-ing our way around the kitchen, pretending we were members of the Von Trapp family as we cooked our Austrian feast. The hills may be alive with the sound of music, but our kitchen was alive with the sound of spätzle dropping into boiling water.
History of Austria’s Cuisine
Austria truly is a melting-pot of European cuisine. This is largely attributed to the House of Habsburg (also known as the House of Austria), which was a principal sovereign dynasty in Europe from the 15th to the 20th century. The Habsburg Empire stretched from Imperial Russia right to the Adriatic, encompassing a dozen nations including Switzerland, Spain, Holland, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Croatia. All of these countries have had a significant influence on Austrian cuisine as it is known today. Aside from these external influences, each region of Austria seems to have its own distinct dishes to be proud of.
Like many of its European neighbours (such as Germany), meat plays a leading role in Austria’s cuisine. Thankfully, there are still plenty of vegetarian dishes on offer throughout the country. In particular, Vienna has become more and more vegetarian friendly in recent times. In fact, it is one of the few cities in the world where you will find a Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant. If you are searching for healthy vegetarians options beyond Vienna, you may not have as much luck. Potatoes, cheese or noodles in one form or another are a prominent feature in most typical Austrian dishes, so be sure to loosen your belt…
Popular Austrian Vegetarian Dishes
- Käsespätzle- This is essentially Austria’s verison of Mac & Cheese. Little handmade egg noodles are covered in cheese (usually Emmenthal or gruyere), then topped with crispy onions and chives.
- Kärntner Kasnudeln– Cheese noodles originating from the region of Carinthia. These are essentially little pasta pockets, similar to ravioli, filled with cheese and potato and drizzled with butter or another sauce.
- Asparagus– Believe it or not, this is one of Austria’s local delights. Come spring, you’ll find green and white asparagus prepared in many creative ways and served across the country.
- Apple Strudel (Apfelstrudel)- This popular Austrian dessert consists of flaky pastry lined with apple filling spiced with cinnamon, sugar and raisins.
- Kaiserschmarrn– Served as dessert or a meal in itself, these are fluffy pancakes that have been shredded and topped with different jams, sweet sauces and caramelized fruit.
- Sachertorte– This cake is an icon of Austrian capital, Vienna. It’s essentially dense, chocolate sponge cake layered with apricot jam and topped with chocolate icing.
Vegetarian rating of Austrian Cuisine:
Making Austrian-style Mac & Cheese (Käsespätzle)
Choosing which dish to make for Austria was not a difficult task. I have some very fond memories of demolishing a bowl of piping hot Käsespätzle after a day frolicking through the mountains in Austria. I simply couldn’t resist bringing these memories back to life by making this dish.
Käsespätzle (pronounced KAYsuh SPEHtzeluh) is one of the most traditional dishes you will find in Vorarlberg, which is the westernmost state of Austria. However, the dish is not exclusive to Austria, and you will also find it throughout the neighbouring districts of Bavaria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. It makes sense why it is popular in these mountainous regions- Käsespätzle is comfort food at its best. I mean, who isn’t comforted by a bowl of cheesy, carby goodness?
What is Käsespätzle?
If you haven’t had the pleasure of consuming käsespätzle, it is essentially a European version of mac and cheese. In my opinion, it is a far superior dish to its American counterpart. There are a few key differences between käsespätzle and mac and cheese.
Firstly, elbow macaroni is replaced with little handmade egg noodles called spätzle. The German word spätzle translated to “little sparrows”, which apparently refers to the shape of the egg noodles. Hopefully, the idea eating little pasta sparrows doesn’t put you off this dish entirely.
Secondly, unlike mac and cheese, which is often drowning in strange orange-hued cheese and creamy sauce, käsespätzle is simplicity at it’s finest. The spätzle are simply coated in high-quality cheese (typically Emmentaler or Gruyere) and fried in a bit of butter.
Thirdly, käsespätzle is typically topped with caramelized onions and chives. Each region has slight variations of the dish. For instance, in Vorarlberg, it is common to serve the dish with apple sauce.
Steps to making homemade spätzle
Forget hours spent rolling out dough or forking out for expensive pasta makers. To make spätzle, thankfully all you need is a mixing bowl, a colander and a wooden spoon (or a stand mixer if you have one).
- Mix together flour, herbs and spices, then make a well and add beaten eggs and milk.
- Mix by hand or use dough hook to combine for about 15 minutes or until you notice tiny air holes begin to form.
- Place colander over pot of boiling water and use a wooden spoon to force dough through the holes so little pieces fall into the water.
- Once these pieces float to the surface, fish them out with a slotted spoon into another colander to drain.
Now, we must be honest here. As far as making pasta goes, spätzle is on the easier end of the scale. However, for us, the process wasn’t exactly walk in the park. Making the dough was simple enough, but making the spätzle pieces was a whole other story. It was quite the hilarious sight to behold. One of us held the colander, as the other madly pushed the wooden spoon back and forth to try and force the stubborn dough through the holes and into the boiling water. Now, we think this difficulty was caused by our dough being a little too sticky. If you want to save yourself from a serious arm work out, be sure to get your dough consistency right (or alternatively, invest in a spätzle maker).
How to make käsespätzle
Once you’ve made the spätzle, the rest of the dish comes together very easily(no more arm workouts, we promise). Just follow these easy steps:
- Sauté the onions until caramelised, about 10-15 minutes.
- Melt butter in pan and toss in cooked spätzle for a few minutes to brown.
- Put half the spätzle in an oven-proof dish, sprinkle with half the grated cheese, then repeat with the remaining.
- Bake in oven at 205˚C (400˚F) for 10 minutes, then take out and garnish with onions and chives.
Ingredient Notes for Käsespätzle
- Spätzle (egg noodles): If it is your first time making/ consuming käsespätzle, I would highly recommend making the spätzle from scratch. It is a labour of love, but the taste of homemade egg noodles is seriously unbeatable. However, if you are short on time, you can buy spätzle readymade. Depending on where you are based, you’ll have to find a European speciality grocer or order the spätzle online.
- Cheese: Typically, käsespätzle is made using hard Swiss cheeses such as Emmentaler or Gruyere. If you want to stay as true to the traditional dish as possible, we’d recommend using one of these cheeses, or something with a similar mild flavour profile that melts well. Having said this, we actually forgot to buy a specific cheese for this dish. We ended up using what we had in our fridge (an aged cheddar) and it still worked really well.
Serving suggestions for the Käsespätzle
As mentioned above, käsespätzle is typically just topped with caramelised onion and chives. Other toppings that typically go with käsespätzle include sour cream, apple sauce and sauerkraut. We served ours up with a side of creamy mushrooms, and this also went really well.
More comfort food dishes
Käsespätzle (Austrian style Mac & Cheese)
- 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 2 tbsp thyme
- 6 eggs (beaten)
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 onion (sliced)
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 3 tbsp butter
- 5 cups cooked spätzle
- 3 cups grated cheese (such as Emmentaler or Gruyere)
- 1 bunch of chives (chopped)
Make Spätzle Dough
- Either using a stand mixer with dough hook or a bowl and wooden spoon, add the flour, salt, nutmeg, thyme and combine.
- Form well and add beaten eggs, then milk. Mix for 15-20 minutes, or until dough will pull away from sides but is still sticky and small air bubbles begin to form on the surface.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Place colander above the pot and pour in dough.
- Using a wooden spoon, slide dough back and forth to force dough through the holes so little pieces drop down into the boiling water.
- When spätzle pieces float to the surface, fish out with slotted spoon and transfer to another colander inside a bowl to drain.
- Repeat until all dough is used. Rinse the spätzle with hot water and shake off excess water.
- Preheat oven to 205˚C (400˚F)
- Heat oil in a large frying pan on medium heat. Add in sliced onion, and sauté for 5 minutes. Add in brown sugar and continue to cook for another 10 minutes or until soft and caramelised, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
- Wipe out pan, then put back on heat and melt butter. Once butter is melted, add in cooked spätzle and sauté for 2 minutes, until browned. Depending on the size of your pan, you will probably need to do this in two batches.
- Transfer half the spätzle to a large oven-proof dish, top with half the grated cheese, then repeat with other half of spätzle and cheese.
- Put in preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes.
- Top with caramelised onions and chopped chives and serve!
Did you make this recipe? We’d love to know! Tell us how it went in the comments below or tag us (@gourmetvegetarians) in your photos on Instagram.
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