Liechtenstein! A country which we all heard of… but which could be hard to place on a map…
Even my wife Anne, who is from eastern France and is usually pretty knowledgeable when it comes to geography thought that this tiny country shared a border with Germany. Well no! This country is actually landlocked between Switzerland and Austria. The country is already not easy to place on a map, but if you manage to write its name correctly on first attempt, then hats off!
Liechtenstein, often mistaken with Luxembourg, is the other insignificant Central European country… (I think I’m gonna make new Liechtensteiner friends… yes, that’s how they are called). Ok, ok, it is true that there are other European countries that are equally insignificant… Vatican and its ⅙ square mile area and 800 residents for example?
As you can imagine, this small country has been largely influenced by its neighbors, both from a culturally and a culinary level. It’s the end of the summer break for some and it is true that coming back has been difficult for everyone. Even for Vera and me, it has been difficult to get back to our favorite pastime: cooking! So I chose a recipe that, for once, did not require unusual or hard to find ingredients such as gobo or lotus root… or weird techniques like smoked chicken with a can in the butt… No, this dish from Liechtenstein has very few ingredients and all can be found in any (western) kitchen… however, as usual, this dish has an unpronounceable name. Never change a winning team!
My children are not very picky eaters. They eat what they have on their plate and nothing else. I do not know if this is the best way to raise children, but it’s how I was raised. And today, I eat everything even though I obviously have favorite dishes like… pkaila for example!
So I usually do not need to “sell” my dishes to my kids. Especially to my son Elior who, when he smells the preparations of his father rushes to the kitchen with a big smile and usually says “hmmm, smells good dad” which in Elior’s language means “alright, when are we eating?” I take pleasure in making them appreciate my cooking by naming my dishes after dishes they are familiar with and that they love. I did not see myself say, “Go ahead, taste my Käsknöpfle, you’ll love it”. Instead, I “sold” them my unpronounceable dish from Liechtenstein as Mac ‘n cheese”, standard meal that American kids love as much as peanut butter, cinnamon or other shit.
These homemade pastas are actually quite easy and quick to make. They are known as Spätzle in Germany. The Liechtensteiner version is enhanced with cheese and caramelized onions. This variant which is one of the national dishes of the country is also known in Germany as Käsespätzle, literally “macaroni and cheese”.
To shape the pasta (if you can call that a “shape”), locals traditionally use a special spoon or colander. As I did not have one available and the holes of the only colanders I had were too thin, I thought about using a ladle with large holes (about ¼ inch in diameter) and I pressed the dough through the holes with another spoon so that it would fall like heavy rain into boiling water. Cooking these pastas is similar to cooking gnocchi. Indeed, you just have to boil them for 1 to 2 minutes. They are ready when they float to the surface.
Their texture is quite interesting. They are quite soft and chewy. When the pasta is mixed with cheese, the dish really develops a great taste. And the caramelized onions give this little sweet touch that contrasts perfectly with the sharp cheese. You can use any cheese. I used Emmental to be more authentic but you can use Gruyere or even cheddar.
The whole family loved this dish for lunch. I invited friends for a little summer party on our rooftop that same evening. I had a bowl of leftover Käsknöpfle. Some of my friends tasted my dish and they all loved it. I do not know if they were just polite or afraid not to be invited anymore… if that’s the case, my friends are very good actors!
- 3 cups flour
- 4 eggs
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup water (or more)
- 8 oz. Gruyere (Emmental or similar cheese), grated
- 2 medium onions , thinly sliced
- Sift the flour into a bowl. Add salt.
- In another bowl, beat the eggs and 1 cup of water.
- Add eggs to flour. Mix well to form a thick dough. If the dough is not thin enough to go through the holes in the ladle or colander, add a little water until reaching the right texture.
- Set aside for twenty minutes.
- Meanwhile, fry the onions in a lightly oiled pan. Stir regularly until onions are caramelized, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add a tablespoon of salt.
- When the water is boiling, push the dough through the holes of a slotted spoon or colander. The dough should fall like "thick rain" and form tiny oblong balls.
- The pasta is ready when it floats back to the surface after one to two minutes.
- Immediately drain the pasta in a colander.
- Put the pasta in a bowl and add the cheese. Stir so that the cheese melts.
- Serve in individual bowls and garnish with the caramelized onions.