It’s time to introduce another Swiss food. This one involved some mess making in my kitchen, but I think the recipe is a keeper, in the end. It’s called knöpfli, and it’s the Swiss equivalent of mac and cheese. Don’t ask me to pronounce it, by the way. I sound like I’m sneezing when I try. But you make the pasta from scratch, and the cheese is, of course, Swiss.
Chari made this dish for me when I was in Switzerland. It’s a favorite in their home, as it is in many Swiss homes around the country, especially for the kids. I’d seen it in the grocery stores, just under a different name (spätzli) and wondered what in the world it was. It looked like little globs of dough, which, it turns out, it is. Thankfully, those little globs get covered in butter and cheese, making them much more appetizing.
Before I left Switzerland, I purchased a knöpfli pan, so I could make the dish for Dan at home. The instructions were all in German, French, and Italian, like everything else in Switzerland, but I figured I could manage it okay with my translator in hand at home. Last weekend, I tried it out for him, and he came home to me literally covered in dough, cursing at the pot of congealed dough, slightly burned and throwing an overall hissy fit. He was patient with me, took some pictures, and generally got out of the way while I figured out how in the world to make this stuff. Chari made it look so easy.
Here’s what I learned.
2 1/3 cups of flour, sifted
100-200 ml of water (1/3-2/3 cup)
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp butter, cold and sliced into pieces
¼-1 cup of Swiss cheese, grated (Emmental, Appenzeller, etc)
In a medium bowl, add the flour. In another bowl, mix the eggs, 1/3 cup water, and the salt. Slowly add a little water and mix well as you add. You want a consistency that isn’t too runny but also will go through the holes in the knöpfli pan with little force. If you need it to be more runny, add more water and mix. My recipe (the one from the pan) recommended that it sit for 30 minutes until it formed bubbles. I let it sit, and bubbles never formed. Maybe they have different types of flour in Europe that bubbles. I’m going to make the resting part optional.
You might be thinking, “That’s great Amy, but how in the world am I supposed to make this without the pan.” It’s a bit harder, granted, but there are options here in the States. For example, the steamer insert on my rice cooker would work just fine. Many pans have steamer inserts with holes in them that are just about this size. Just make sure the surface is flat, so you can scrape along it. My husband came up with the idea of using a cheese grater, the kind that’s flat, especially the ones that come attached to a bowl (Ikea has a great one for this). Take it off the bowl and use the underside (the dull side) for the dough (I’d be very curious to hear if this works, if any of you try it). You can find kitchen scrapers of various sizes at most kitchen supply stores.
Next, you’ll need to get some water boiling in a tall pot, ideally one on which you could rest your knöpfli pan. I discovered that you shouldn’t have the water level either too high or boiling too hard. You don’t want to produce too much steam to cook the dough too fast or to scald you while you’re scraping. But you want the water level high enough to cook the dough in the pot.
I used a measuring cup to dump about 1/3 of a cup of the dough at a time on the pan. I needed to make sure that I was quick to scrape it, or it cooked to the surface. I also found out that a little kitchen spray, such as Pam, between batches, did a great job keeping it from sticking (In the pictured version, I hadn’t yet figured out this tip and was having an awful time with things sticking. Also, I had too much steam.).
Once the dough drops through, I picked up the pan and scraped the underside to remove any little bits that didn’t make it. Then, I stirred the globs that were in there, to make sure they didn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. That’s another reason you want the water level high enough, so the dough doesn’t stick as badly on the bottom. When they’re cooked through, which only takes a matter of about 30 seconds, they’ll all swirl around on the surface of the water. I used a slotted spoon to scoop them out onto a plate.
Between batches, I’d load on a slice of butter and a handful of cheese. The cheese and butter would melt on the hot pasta. Here, you can use as much cheese as you’d like. I probably used about ½ of a cup of Emmental in total, but people who want more cheese could add a lot more.
At the end, I’d add the remaining cheese and serve it while hot. Freshly ground black pepper atop works great, and depending on how much cheese and butter you add, you could add a bit more salt as well, to taste.
The dish was a hit in the Letinsky home, and now that I know how to make it, I’m sure it will be a regular side dish around here. I won’t exactly call it health food, but it’s nice when paired with healthy foods.