We really are on the cusp of spring, aren’t we? Evenings are longer, the sun is peeking out more and more and I’m loving the blooming crocuses (croci?) and daffodils. But April is triiicky, innit, and you can never be too sure what you’re going to get. So before we bust out the bikinis and shorts, I think it’s only right to say goodbye to winter properly: with one of my favorite Austrian dishes: Käsespätzle or Kasnock’n. Pillowy little spätzle melded with strong alpine cheese, topped with crispy onions and chives. Sometimes Kasknock’n are very soft, but I love mine with crunchy bits. I can never pass this up when I see it on the menu somewhere. Forgive my irreverence before the holy cow of American cheese-and-doughness, but this is soooo much better than mac and cheese! Sorry, guys…
The best cheese to use is Bergkäse, an unpasteurized hard cheese with a fairly strong taste that holds up really well to the spätzle. It can be hard to find outside of Europe, but Gruyère works wonderfully as well. I’ve made my spätzle from scratch, but store bought is fine, right Ina Garten?
7 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 large white onion
10 oz (300 g) spätzle (find our g&b recipe here)
7 oz (200 g) Bergkäse or Gruyère, grated
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup chopped white onion
2 tbsp chopped chives as garnish
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan on medium to high heat. Meanwhile, slice the onion thinly. This works best with a mandolin, but watch your fingers! Spread the onion rings out in a single layer on a double layer of paper towel, cover with another layer of paper towels and press down with pressure to remove as much moisture as you can from the onions. Prepare another double layer of paper towels to lay the fried onions on.
The oil is hot enough when you put the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil and small bubbles from around it. Carefully place the first batch of onions into the oil with a slotted spoon. Cook for about 2 minutes or until the onions are golden brown. Be careful: it only takes a few seconds for the onions to turn from a golden brown to a dark brown and then the onions will taste bitter. So keep a close eye on them!
When done, remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on the prepared kitchen towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining onions. Set aside.
In a cast iron pan or an oven proof pan on medium heat, melt the butter. Sauté the onions until golden brown, about 7-8 minutes.
Add the spätzle and sauté, stirring, until coated with butter. Add 3/4 of the cheese, bit by bit, stirring in-between, so the cheese is spread out nicely. Leave on the heat for 2 more minutes.
In the meantime, turn the broiler of your oven on.
Remove from heat and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.
Place the pan into the oven under the broiler. Broil for 3-4 minutes until the cheese on top is slightly browned.
Sprinkle the chives over the spätzle, top with the crispy onions and serve immediately.