Baked Spätzle with Fonduta and Green Pea Pesto

Recently I made a terrible mistake. I had seen a recipe in the April edition of Food & Wine Magazine that I thought would be fun (and delicious) to make. Now, I consider myself fairly adept in the kitchen. I can roll with the punches, I can make substitutions, and I can multitask. I glanced at the recipe to get the broad strokes and added everything I needed to the weekly shopping list. So far, so good. It’s time to get into the kitchen and tackle this multi-step recipe with elements I’d never made before but seemed within my wheelhouse (hello spätzle!).

Reading through the recipe a little closer, it seemed very strangely ordered and things that could be happening simultaneously were not called out. I mocked the timings in the magazine – 2 hours total time, 1 hour active time? They have, perhaps unwisely, removed the active time and changed the total time to 1 hour in the online recipe. Including every timed step, the recipe says it will take 67-72 minutes to make. Unfortunately, this excludes the spätzle-making which is not given an estimated time and working 6 cups of batter in 1 cup batches, straining, rinsing, drying, tossing in oil isn’t a speedy process.

I have so many questions for the recipe author.  Why did you ask me to make a quart of pesto when the recipe calls for dolloping on ½ cup at the end? Unhelpfully telling me to “(Reserve remaining pesto for another use.)” Literally 7/8ths of this recipe is for something I now need to invent that uses over a pint and a half of green pea pesto?! And if I don’t find a use, that’s 7 ounces of feta and god knows how many dollars’ worth of fresh herbs gone to waste!

Why did you write out “¼ cup kosher salt, divided” when the second part of the divided amount is used to salt the boiling water? Isn’t it typical to just say “SALT THE WATER!?” I kept looking over the recipe to see where I was forgetting the extra salt.

Why do you include the leeks and the 2 tablespoons of butter you cook them in with the spätzle batter (and boiling water) ingredients? Again, I kept wondering when I needed to add the butter to the batter and if I’d missed something.

Why are you having me make the spätzle batter second when it has to sit for 20 minutes? Why are you telling me to make the pesto first when it is literally the last thing used and goes on after the casserole has been in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Would that time not be perfect for making the pesto?

Why do you have me make a fonduta before the casserole goes in the oven when the fonduta doesn’t even go on the dish to get baked? WHY DOES THE CHEESE SAUCE NOT GET BAKED WITH THE SPÄTZLE?

And why why why why why do you think that 6 cups of spätzle and some leeks will get “crisp and browned” in a glass casserole dish at 350 degrees Fahrenheit? Nothing makes sense in this recipe. Nothing.

At the end of a couple of hours of laughter and rage, I had managed to dirty a shocking amount of mixing bowls and spatulas and had a ridiculously lopsided amount of pesto. That being said, it was pretty damn tasty. And rich. And big. Another final question – “serves 8?” Serves eight what? I dished up a big portion as a side (to a tasty polish sausage) because it was too heavy and missing too many vegetables to stand alone and it looked like it would serve 16-20.

I have updated the recipe with some tweaks I am going to implement next time including reducing the total amount of pesto, changing the ratio of pesto to spätzle/cheese, adding some more vegetables and cutting the entire recipe in half.

Baked Spätzle with Green Pea Pesto

Serves 8

Spätzle:
2 cups all-purpose flour (about 8.5 ounces)
1 tbsp kosher salt, plus more for salting water
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
¾ cup whole milk
3 large eggs, beaten
½ tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Green Pea Pesto:
¼ cup packed fresh basil leaves
1-2 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1-2 sprigs fresh mint leaves
1 tbsp neutral oil
¼ garlic clove
2 ounces sheep’s milk feta cheese, crumbled
½ cup frozen green peas
pinch of kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
2 ounces sugar snap peas, thinly sliced crosswise (about 1 cup)
Freshly ground black pepper

Leeks & Peas:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
4 medium leeks, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise (about 4 cups)
1 cup frozen peas

Manchego Fonduta:
1 pint heavy cream
4 ounces 4-months-aged Manchego cheese, shredded (about 1 cups)
1 large egg yolk
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Step 1: Mix the spätzle batter, let sit for 20 minutes
Step 2: Make the fonduta while the batter is sitting
Step 3: Sauté the leeks and peas
Step 4: Boil spätzle (check out this Grandma’s technique!)
Step 5: Combine spätzle, leeks and fonduta in a buttered 9x9ish casserole dish and bake.
Step 6: Make pesto.

Step 1: Spätzle batter. Whisk together the flour, parsley, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Beat the eggs with the milk and pour into the dry mixture. Whisk until smooth and let stand at least 20 minutes. The batter will be thicker than pancake batter.

Step 2: Make the Fonduta. Pour cream into a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce it by a third, 5-10 minutes depending on the speed of your simmer and the width of your pan. Remove it from the heat and stir in the cheese, salt and egg yolk. Cover it to keep it warm and set it aside.

Step 3: Sauté the veggies.  Melt 2 tbsps of butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the leeks, stirring to coat and cook stirring occasionally until the leeks are softened, roughly 10 minutes. Add in the frozen peas and stir gently until warmed through. Set aside.

Mid-step: Preheat oven to 350F/175C.

Step 4: Boil the Spätzle.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  If you have a spätzle maker, use that. If you don’t, check out this Grandma’s technique. It is much easier and less messy than trying to mess around with a colander. Don’t try to go her speed and remember to keep things wet to prevent sticking.

Working in batches of about a cup at a time (however much fits in your press or on your board), plop spätzle bits into gently boiling water. Boiling too hard will cause frothy overflow and make you more likely to get splashed. Stir the spätzle to keep them from clumping, then once they float (a minute or so) use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer to a colander or sieve. Rinse them in cold water and put on a tray lined with paper towels to dry.

Step 5: Combining and baking. Once you’ve made all the spätzle, butter a 9×9 or 8×8 casserole dish. Mix the spätzle with the leeks and peas and add to the buttered dish. Pour the fonduta over the top (going rogue!) and place in the oven to get all bubbly and nice, 15-20 minutes. Spätzle will never brown in this scenario, so don’t fight the cheese sauce.

Step 6: Making the pesto. While the casserole is bubbling away, combine the neutral oil and small chunk of a clove of garlic in a food processor and whizz until the garlic is chopped. While the food processor is running, add in the herbs through the food chute with a tablespoon of very cold water. Add in the feta, frozen peas and salt and whizz until creamy. Mix together in a bowl with the sliced sugar snap pears and season with salt and pepper as needed.

Step 7: Serve and enjoy. Pull the casserole from the oven and marvel at what you have wrought. Dollop on about half of the pesto (roughly ½ cup) (reserve the rest for adding to a veggie-laden pasta salad perhaps?) and serve.

Make Ahead

The pesto will keep in up to 3 days in the fridge. To maintain the green color, press some plastic wrap to the surface of the pesto. The spätzle can be cooked the day before and kept in the fridge.

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