The brief snow flurry in Burlington this morning was a full-on squall out near Richmond. As I drove through it, my thoughts — and lunch plans — drifted toward gut-warming comfort food. And almost by default, toward Das Bierhaus, a place to fortify yourself with wurst, rouladen and possibly the ultimate comfort food: käsespätzle, a cheesy, gooey mass of noodles mixed with roasted red onions and topped with minced dill and parsley.
Kasespätzle is basically the German form of mac and cheese. Spätzle dough is a blend of flour, eggs, salt and sometimes water that is pushed through the holes of a colander or spätzle press into boiling water. There, the noodles eventually float to the top; you scoop them out, butter them, and (often) use them as a bed for a roast or sauce.
Käsespätzle is like spätzle on steroids. Instead of being relegated to the status of side dish, the noodles are sautéed with browned onions and cheese. Das Bierhaus' version uses three kinds of cheese as well as feathery dill. Chef-owner Nick Karabelas is generous enough to share the broad strokes of his recipe — although he's "left out a few things" to maintain his version's mystique. What follows is a scaled-down recipe from his kitchen.
Käsespätzle (courtesy of chef Nick Karabelas of Das Bierhaus)
Makes one quart
3 cups of all-purpose flour
4 or 5 eggs
1 tablespoon each salt and pepper
3/4 tablespoon each of garlic powder and mustard powder
1/4 tablespoon of nutmeg ("Be careful with this, or it could overwhelm the flavor," says Nick)
1/4 tablespoon of paprika
Dash of fresh minced parsley
Pinch of minced fresh dill
A few handsful of grated cheese (Das Bierhaus uses cheddar, Emmenthaler and Gruyère, among others)
One chopped and sweated red onion
A few pats of butter
Bring a pot of water to a roiling boil. Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl, then add the eggs and water. Work the mixture until you get a dough that's a "fairly good consistency." Press dough through a potato ricer. "If you've made the batter right, you're getting a workout as you press it through. You want long, thick noodles, and you don't want it to be clumpy," says the chef. Remove the noodles as they rise to the top of the pot, and place them in an ice bath. Continue this process in batches until you have used all of the dough.
Bring the noodles to room temperature. Melt some butter in a sauté pan, then add the noodles and dill and sauté until warm. Add the onions and just enough cheese to coat the noodles, continuing to stir until the mix is hot. Serve.
When you lack time or inclination to make spätzle, a filling bowl is $5 at Das Bierhaus. The herbaceousness hints of spring, but the mass of tangy cheeses takes you straight to where we are: chilly, dark November. Take chef Nick's advice and wash it down with a smoky Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock. You'll probably stay warm for the rest of the night.