Wild Noodle Chase

"Spätzle-02" by Kobako - photo taken by Kobako. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sp%C3%A4tzle-02.jpg#/media/File:Sp%C3%A4tzle-02.jpg
Spätzle-02” by Kobako – photo taken by Kobako. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons.
"Gulasch" by Kobako - photo taken by Kobako. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
Gulasch” by Kobako – photo taken by Kobako. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Last week the StarTribune ran a feature in the taste section on cooking with paprika. This made me nostalgic for the Hungarian goulash at the Black Forest Inn. I was a bartender there from 1974-1978 and the goulash was one of my favorite dishes. The article had a recipe so I made up my mind to make a batch. After our car shopping failure on Friday we made a Costco run and I picked up a package of cubed beef. Main ingredient taken care of, my plan was to make a quick sortie to Hy-Vee for the rest of the ingredients.

If you’re not familiar with Hy-Vee, it’s what one of my friends referred to as a grocery shopper’s wet dream. The Iowa based grocery stores are huge and they have an amazing selection of whatever you can think of. They are just moving into Minnesota and built two new stores in the Twin Cities area, one of which is about 4 blocks straight North of us where the dilapidated K-mart and Big Dollar stores previously blighted the neighborhood. We moved to New Hope in 1991 about the time the last grocery store in town closed. There hasn’t been a supermarket in New Hope since. Now there’s a great one within walking distance of us. Possibly the best thing that’s happened since our children were born.

If you’re not familiar with Hy-Vee, it’s what one of my friends referred to as a grocery shopper’s wet dream.

What does one serve their goulash with? The BFI served it on rice if I remember correctly, but the recipe I had suggested spaetzel. Spaetzel are little dumpling like egg noodles which were also a part of the Black’s fair. I decided to go all in on the nostalgia and serve the goulash on spaetzel.

My level of culinary ambition was not high enough to make my own spaetzel, although it doesn’t seem that hard. I just didn’t feel like messing with it. So I set out to locate the spaetzel. At that point, I wasn’t absolutely clear as to what spaetzel was. I thought that it might be made from potatoes, since it seems similar to gnocci. I looked in the German section of the ethnic foods area, no spaetzel. In fact not much of anything considering there are more folks of German ancestry than Scandinavian in Minnesota. The German section was dwarfed by the Mexican section. I checked the pasta section, just in case they lumped it in with Italian starch bombs. I checked the refrigerated section and the frozen section and the health food section and came up empty.

When in doubt ask someone.

When in doubt ask someone. I stopped a young woman in Hy-Vee uniform and when I asked she got that WTF look on her face. I described spaetzel, incorrectly saying it was like a potato dumpling. I mentioned the fact about the prevalence of Germans, and she replied that she was one-hundred percent German and I shook my head over the assimilation of our culture into the mainstream of tacos, chow mein and salsa.

“I’ll ask the grocery manager.”

She came back a few minutes later, “He didn’t know what it was, but we have potato dumplings in the frozen section.”

Now we were really barking up the wrong dumpling.

We asked the young man stocking frozen foods. He looked at us like we’d asked where the thousand year old eggs were. We spent several minutes combing the huge frozen section and couldn’t even find the potato dumplings, which we shouldn’t be looking for in the first place. I applaud the Hy-Vee training program, these folks are obsessive about helping you and are truly shocked when they realize they might not have something you want. It was not easy to  convince her that not going home with spaetzel was not a disaster. I was concerned if I didn’t ditch her soon we’d be on a flight to Munich to get me that damned spaetzel. She earnestly made a note for the grocery manager and said they would try to add it to their stock.

I was concerned if I didn’t ditch her soon we’d be on a flight to Munich to get me that damned spaetzel

I finished up my shopping and got in the checkout line. They asked the inevitable question, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

Oh oh, here we go again, “As a matter of fact, no.”

It happened that the woman who I assumed was the head cashier was helping in that lane. So once again the gauntlet was thrown and she was off in search of the elusive noodle.

Would a spaetzel of any other shape taste the same?

I checked out, paid up and was headed out the door when she intercepted me with… a bag of spaetzel. It had been in the Italian section (another insult to my heritage), I’d looked right at it. The problem was that it didn’t look like the spaetzel I was familiar with. I’m used to homemade spaetzel that looks like little bumpy white grubs. This spaetzel was the commercially made, longer, more slender and uniform extrusions which look more like short linguine than spaetzel. I was skeptical. Was this part of some plot to co-opt Tuetonic  culture? Creeping Italianization? Would a spaetzel of any other shape taste the same?

Well I sure as hell wasn’t going to admit to my doubts. I had reached my tolerance point for being helped. I’d spent way too much time at the grocery store, Becky was texting me wondering if I’d gotten lost. So I paid for this bag of imposters and got out to there quickly before someone else tried to help me with something.

I must say that the spaetzel cooked up into the rich, fluffy little dumplings that I loved, even though they looked very odd to my Northern European eye. And the goulash was exceptional!

1 thought on “Wild Noodle Chase

  1. You introduced me to The Black Forest Inn and its great German food and beer. Will always remember it fondly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.