Some people can't get enough of pasta al dente; others must have bread on the table. While I do love a good baguette, and I won't sniff at a plate of bucatini, my particular idea of carb heaven is dumplings.
These are the best and easiest ones I know: a fluffy and lightning-quick version of German and Hungarian spätzle — teeny dumplings that require nothing more than three or four ingredients, a pot of boiling water, and a spoon. You can have these from-scratch dumplings finished and in your dinner bowl in less time than it takes to boil pasta.
Spätzle are what I make when I barely have time or patience for pasta; ironically making these from scratch can be faster than boiling dried pasta.
Spätzle (or spaetzle) are tiny dumplings — found in some form or another throughout Germany, Switzerland, and Eastern Europe. I grew up in a family with Hungarian and Czech roots, and my mother made these in a form that is a little different from the more commonly-seen German spätzle. In restaurants you usually see very eggy, firm spätzle that is created by pushing the thick batter through a colander or spätzle-maker. But I like larger, chewier dumplings, so I make them like my mother did, by flipping bits of batter off the edge of a spoon, straight into boiling water. This makes irregularly-shaped dumplings with feathery edges and tender middles, and nicked ridges and corners to catch the sauce.
I also like to use ricotta in these, as it makes them a little sturdier, with thicker batter, which is easier to work with. Ricotta also produces the lightest, fluffiest spätzle — they are like tiny melting clouds of fluffy dumpling.
Sometimes I serve them with meat sauce or stew, but they're also amazing served with just a flurry of chopped herbs, cooked bacon, caramelized onions, and olive oil. Just start the water boiling, mix the batter, plop them in to cook, and strain out — it takes about 10 minutes and you're eating a big bowl of dumplings with a little onion and butter in less time than it takes to order out.
1 cup whole milk ricotta
4 large eggs
1/4 cup warm water
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Cooked bacon, chopped parsley and chives, and olive oil, to serve, if desired
Whisk the ricotta, eggs, and water together until smooth. Whisk in the flour and the salt, along with a sprinkle of black pepper. The batter will be a thick and turgid batter, thicker than pancake batter, but not a stiff dough.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Scoop the tip of a teaspoon into the batter and drop quickly into the water, pushing the batter off with your finger. Repeat, quickly, until the top layer of water is nearly full of bobbing spätzle. After the dumplings bob to the top of the water, cook for about 2 minutes. Remove one with a slotted spoon. Cut into it and taste to make sure it's done and not liquid inside. (The dumplings will continue to firm up after they are removed from the water.) Serve and eat immediately.
Updated from recipe originally published August 2007.