Earlier this week, Katja Goldman, Judy Bernstein Bunzl, and Lisa Rotmil wrote about writing a cookbook for the JCC Manhattan and shared a recipe for lamb burgers. They are the authors of the newly published cookbook The Community Table: Recipes and Stories from the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan and Beyond and have been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.
“You want to cook nuck a whaattt?” There we were, three chefs in our favorite test kitchen thinking about our pasta chapter when Katja said she wanted to make “Knuck-a-knuck.” Judy and I were baffled having never heard of this specific Hungarian delicacy. Turns out she was referring to a simple homemade egg noodle that is cut into small pieces directly over and into a pot of rolling water. Hmm. The description sounded a lot like späetzle, Judy (whose mother-in-law was Viennese) chimed in. I went back to my Belgian grandmother who at the great age of 94 is still cooking and shopping daily and she too confirmed that these simple egg noodles were a beloved staple made several times a week at home.
Katja continued to describe that “knuck-a-knuck” could be served at a dairy meal with farmer’s cheese or as a side to a good meat or chicken dish to sop up all the sauce. She remembers the stories of her cousins, uncles, aunts, all stopping in at her great-aunt’s house on the lower east side of Manhattan on Thursday nights. There they would eat “knuck-a-knuck,” share tales from the week and leave with hugs, freshly baked challahs, a babka, and more “knuck-a-knuck” to serve on Friday night.
While Judy tried her best to get us to call them späetzle with a proper Viennese pronunciation to that umlaut, I decided to figure out where “knuck-a-knuck” came from. I easily discovered that the Hungarian word for “shhpaaeettzly” (Bunzl pronunciation) is nokedli – hence the “knuck-a-knuck.”
The only thing left to do was start cooking. We started with Katja’s grandmother’s recipe. It was simple enough – eggs, flour, kosher salt and water. Mix together “until it's shiny.” Really? Yup. Shiny and very stretchy. Katja demonstrated her grandmother’s process – she would dump the batter onto a standard dinner plate and then spread a thin amount along the plate’s edge. Using a butter knife, she would cut tiny pieces of the batter off the edge of the plate and flick them into the boiling pot of water below. So we set about it, getting all kinds of sizes of little puffed up delicious pasta mini dumplings. It was a pleasure to see just how much they puffed up once they rose to the top of the pot and cooked for the allotted 20 minutes. Grandma Regina’s final tricky tip: after each flick, dip your knife into the water in the pot, thereby keeping it clean and hot, so it easily cut through the stretchy batter.
Of course we love to play with tradition and being that this is 2015 AP flour alone didn’t seem quite right to us. So we tried the batter with half the amount whole-wheat flour and half the amount AP flour. The result – still tender but with more complex flavor and an obvious boost on the healthy eating scale. One last adaptation brought us back to those “shhpaaeettzly.” For about $15 you can buy a späetzle maker that sits atop your pot. Place some of the batter into the well on top of the contraption and slowly slide it back and forth over the metal grate attached below the well. Then, small pieces of the batter will elegantly drop into the boiling water below. You control the size of your pasta pieces based on how quickly or slowly you slide the well. That’s it. We still love the rough cut pieces, but the späetzle maker uses a lot less wrist work and avoids dipping your hand into steaming hot water.
Knuck-a-knuck – a real winner. Go figure.
Recipe: Nokedli (Hungarian Späetzle)
Serves 6 as a side
5 extra-large eggs
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a fork until smooth. Add the water and salt and beat to combine. Gradually beat in the flours ¼ cup at a time to make a soft, sticky dough. The dough will be very stretchy. If the dough is dull looking, continue beating until it shines. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
Spoon half the dough onto a dinner plate. With a blunt knife, move some dough towards the edge of the plate and spread it until it is about ¼ inch thick. Use the knife to scrape tiny bits of the dough off and flick them into the pot of boiling water. Dip the knife blade frequently into water to help the batter slip off. The dough will grow as it cooks, so cut very small (about ¼-inch) rectangular pieces; this is just a guideline, you can experiment with the size and shape until you find the ones that you like best. (Or use a very simple inexpensive spätzle maker; they are easy to find online and at gourmet kitchen stores.) Make sure the water stays at a boil.
After cutting in about half of the dough, cover the pot partially and boil 10 to 20 minutes, until tender throughout, depending on the size you cut. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon, and drain in a colander. Repeat with remaining dough. Salt to taste.
Katja Goldman is known as the unofficial challah teacher of the upper west side, having taught literally hundreds of men and women to bake challah. She co-authored the Empire Kosher Chicken Cookbook: 225 Easy and Elegant Recipes for Poultry and Great Side Dishes.
Lisa Rotmil has a Ph.D in Art History from The Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She has worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. She is an avid cook and has an interest in design.
Having studied cooking in Milan, London, New York and anywhere she found herself, Judy Bernstein Bunzl's interests in all three vocations came together with the publication of this cookbook.
- At Oma's Table: More than 100 Recipes and Remembrances from a Jewish Family's Kitchen by Doris Schechter
- Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited by Arthur Schwartz
- Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks