Soon after I started making spaetzle as a side dish at home on a regular basis, it occurred to me that you could dress up and sauce this German pasta much as you would any other fresh pasta—an inspiration that automatically promoted spaetzle from a side dish to an entrée. This recipe takes advantage of ingredients available in the spring—asparagus, peas, and fresh herbs—but I want to encourage you to take the basic spaetzle recipe and run with it. Toss it with a tomato sauce, sausage, and freshly grated cheese, combine it with wild mushrooms, whatever. The possibilities are endless. A wonderful comfort food, spaetzle is the perfect backdrop to any sauce. The right tool for making spaetzle is a spaetzle maker. This specialized but inexpensive tool consists of two parts—a flat metal grater that sits across the top of a pot of boiling water ad a cup into which you pour the batter. If you don’t have a spaetzle maker, you can pour your batter through a colander with coarse holes.
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs, such as chives, parsley, dill, tarragon, or a combination
Serves 4 as a main course, or 6 as an appetizer
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Combine the flour, salt, and nutmeg in a large bowl and stir well. Whisk together the eggs and 2/3 cup water and add to the flour mixture, beating until just smooth. The mixture should be the consistency of thick pancake batter. If too thick, whisk in 2 to 3 tablespoons more water. Set the batter aside.
Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Break off the tough ends of the asparagus and discard. Peel the stalks and arrange in one flat layer over the bottom of a roasting pan or baking sheet. Drizzle on the oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast on the middle rack of the oven until just tender, about 10 minutes. Cool and cut into 1 inch pieces.
Pour the chicken stock into a large skillet and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil until reduced by half. Pour in the cream, bring back to a boil, and reduce again by half. Reduce the heat to low.
Working in batches, drop the batter through the spaetzle maker into the boiling water. Simmer until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain but do not rinse.
Stir 1/2 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, the spaetzle, the peas, and the asparagus into the skillet holding the cream. Add the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Stir until the spaetzle has absorbed some of the sauce and warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve in individual warmed bowls sprinkled with the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano.