While the word might look odd, German käsespätzle is really just their version of mac and cheese, using spätzle, little pasta dumplings. It’s easy to make, versatile and kid friendly.
Pronounced something like “KAYS-a-schpet-zleh,” käsespätzle is an alpine dish with renditions ranging from Germany to Austria to Switzerland, and there is something similar in alpine Italy, too.
At its core, this is basically a German mac-n-cheese with some pheasant bits tossed in. It’s easy, homey, and kids love it. You can serve käsespätzle in a big casserole, or, for a dinner party, in individual ramekins. It reheats well, so you might want to make a big batch on the weekend and eat it for weeknight meals.
Obviously, any boneless light meat works here, not just pheasant breast. Chunks of chicken, wild turkey breast or rabbit are especially good here. It’s a good recipe for quail breasts, chukars and partridges, too.
Caramelized or at least well-fried onions are also crucial, and lots of them. When you want to make a batch of käsespätzle, you can make the caramelized onions up to a few days in advance. It’s always good policy to have caramelized onions around, anyway.
Most recipes don’t include a protein other than cheese, but I really wanted one, and pheasant breast seemed like a perfect fit. Think of this as a German answer to my recipe for green chile mac and cheese, which also uses shredded white meat.
You can buy premade spätzle in most supermarkets, either in the “Ethnic” section near the Jewish foods, or it will be in with the pasta.
That said, spätzle are easy to make. Here is a basic spätzle recipe (it’s in the recipe card), and I have a number of other cool spätzle recipes here on Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, such as acorn spätzle, squash spätzle, spinach spätzle and spätzle made with rye flour. Any of these will work for käsespätzle.
Feel free to substitute flours here. With game, I like using old wheats like emmer, einkorn, or spelt. Rye, barley, or whole-wheat flour are also fun.
Note that if you make your own spätzle, you will want a spätzle maker. They are cheap, and make the process way easier. A perforated pan works well, too.
There are two traditional cheeses for kasespatzle, both common in American supermarkets: Gruyere and Emmentaler. Both are great, but I prefer gruyere.
If you can’t find either, a white cheddar will work, as will a good Swiss. And you can mix and match. I used a semi-hard provolone once and it was great.
- ¾ pound cooked pheasant or chicken, shredded
- 4 cups onions, about 2 large, sliced root to tip
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 to 4 teaspoons honey
- 2 cups flour
- A few gratings of nutmeg, about ¼ teaspoon
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 cup buttermilk
- A healthy pinch of salt
- 5 ounces Gruyère or Swiss cheese, shredded
- ¼ cup chopped chives or parsley
- Preheat the oven to 400°F, and grease a casserole dish or ramekins.
- Caramelize the onions. Heat the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat and sauté the onions until they begin to brown on the edges. Then turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Toward the end of this time, stir in the thyme and honey. When the onions are pretty and brown, turn off the heat and set aside.
- You can make the spätzle while the onions are cooking. Mix all the spätzle ingredients together into a batter that should be a bit thicker than pancake batter. Bring to a boil a large pot of water and salt it well.
- To make the spätzle, use a spätzle hopper—easy to get on Amazon.com for less than $20—or use a colander with wide holes. Add the batter to the hopper or the colander, hold it over the simmering water, and drip the batter into the water (if you’re using a colander, a rubber spatula will help move the batter through the holes). You’ll be making lots of little dumplings. Let them boil on the surface for a minute or two, then scoop the dumplings out with a slotted spoon and arrange them on a baking sheet to cool. Coat them with a little butter or oil to keep them from sticking together.
- Make the dish by layering some spätzle, then pheasant meat, then caramelized onions, then a bit of the chopped herbs, then cheese into the casserole dish or ramekins. Shoot for at least two layers—three is better—and be sure that shredded cheese is on top.
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cheese melts and begins to brown.