This Käsespätzle recipe is a beloved Austrian vegetarian dish consisting of homemade egg noodles (späetzle) smothered in butter and topped with melted cheese, caramelized onions and fresh herbs. Think mac and cheese elevated to a whole new comforting level.
Overview of 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 Torrejas 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.
A brief history of Austrian 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.
Is Austrian cuisine vegetarian-friendly?
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 vegetarian 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…
Traditional Austrian 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.
Käsespätzle Recipe – Austrian Mac and Cheese Noodles
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.
What is Käsespäetzle?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Where is Käsespätzle from?
Käsespätzle 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?
How do you pronounce Käsespätzle?
Käsespätzle is pronounced KAYsuh SPEHtzeluh. However, this pronunciation does vary slightly from region to region.
Is spätzle easy to make at home?
As far as making pasta goes, spätzle is on the easier end of the scale. Forget hours spent rolling out dough or forking out for expensive pasta makers. To make spätzle, all you need is a mixing bowl, a colander and a wooden spoon, or a spätzle maker.
We used the colander and wooden spoon method as we couldn’t get hold of a spätzle maker. I will be completely honest, forming the spätzle noodles using this method is not exactly a walk in the park. In fact, it was quite a 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. We got there in the end, but it did take time and some serious elbow grease!
If you want to make your life easier and save yourself from a serious arm work-out, you can invest in a spätzle maker. This nifty gadget has a basket that you place the dough directly into. You then slide the basket back and forth so the dough falls neatly through the holes and into and water. Alternatively, you can buy ready-made spätzle for this käsespätzle recipe. However, if you are up for the challenge, making spätzle is a fun (albiet messy) experience!
Steps to making käsespätzle
1. Make caramelized onions– Heat oil and butter in an ovenproof saute pan on medium heat. Add in sliced onion, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in brown sugar and pinch of salt and continue to cook for another 10 minutes or until soft and caramelised. Set caramelized onions aside in a bowl and reserve the pan for later.
2. Make homemade spätzle dough– In large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt and nutmeg. Form a well in the centre of bowl and add beaten eggs and sparkling water. Mix vigorously with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes, until small air bubbles begin to form on the surface. Alternatively, you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook.
3. Cook späetzle noodles– Bring a large pot of 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, shaking off any excess water.
4. Compile käsespätzle– Preheat oven to 205˚C (400˚F).In saute pan, melt butter then add in cooked spätzle and sauté for 2 minutes, until lightly browned. Top with grated cheese and remove from heat. Put the pan of spätzle in preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes, until cheese is bubbling and turning golden. Top with caramelised onions, chives and thyme, season with salt and pepper to taste and serve!
Ingredient notes for this käsespätzle recipe
- 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 this käsespätzle recipe
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.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 large brown onion, thinly sliced
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
- 250g plain flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg, grated
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2/3 cup sparkling water
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 cup grated cheese (Emmentaler or Gruyere)
- 2 tsp thyme, chopped
- 1 tbsp chives, chopped
- Salt & pepper, to taste
Make caramelized onions
- Heat oil and butter in an ovenproof saute pan on medium heat. Add in sliced onion, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in brown sugar and pinch of salt and continue to cook for another 10 minutes or until soft and caramelised. Set caramelized onions aside in a bowl and reserve the pan for later.
Make späetzle dough
In large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt and nutmeg. Form a well in the centre of bowl and add beaten eggs and sparkling water. Mix vigorously with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes, until the dough comes together and small air bubbles begin to form on the surface. Alternatively, you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook attached.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Place a 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 späetzle 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, shaking off any excess water.
- Preheat oven to 205˚C (400˚F). In an ovenproof saute pan, melt butter. Add in cooked spätzle and sauté for 2 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from heat, then top with grated cheese and place inside oven to bake for 10 minutes.
- Serve immediately topped with caramelized onions, herbs and salt and pepper to taste.