Austrians love eating soups as a starter to their main meal. Most of the time these are made from beef stock to which is added one main ingredient. The most popular soups are Frittatensuppe (made with sliced pancakes) and Leberknödelsuppe (containing liver dumplings), but they can also contain strudel1, different kinds of pasta, Backerbsen (little pearls of baked dough) and many more.
The third most popular soup ingredient after Frittaten and Leberknödel is certainly Grießnockerl. In culinary respects 'Nockerl' can probably be seen as the smaller siblings of Knödel (dumplings). While dumplings are formed into balls with your hands most Nockerl are shaped with spoons. Sometimes 'Nockerl' in Austria is also synonymous with Spätzle, which is batter pressed through a Spätzle-sieve and dribbled into boiling water.
The word 'Nockerl' derives from 'Nock', which often appears in place names and describes a hill or mountain with a rounded top. There are various mountains with names like Nockberge, Nockspitze or Nockstein in the alpine regions of Austria. The ending '-erl' in Austria is what '-chen' is in Germany: a diminutive suffix. 'Nockerl' therefore are basically little mountains made from dough. This is also where the Italian word 'gnocchi' comes from, but Nockerl are much easier to make. Another similar dish are French quenelles, which usually contain fish.
For a starter soup for 4 people:
- 1 egg
- The weight of 1 egg (with shell) in margarine or unsalted butter
- The weight of 1 egg (with shell) in wheat semolina
- Grated nutmeg
You will also need about 1.5 litres of beef stock (either from cubes, cartons, or made yourself from bones or cheap meat and vegetables).
Mix all the ingredients: the result will be a soft mass in a bowl. Let it rest for about 10-20 minutes so the semolina can soak up some fluids. Meanwhile get the beef stock to a boil. If you like you can also add sliced carrots and wait with the next step until they are almost done.
Take two teaspoons2 and take some batter from the bowl with one of them, then scoop it from the first spoon with your second spoon. The result will be an oblong portion of dough which you can drop into your boiling soup. Do this with all your batter and then let it boil for about 10 minutes. Your Grießnockerl are done when they swim on the surface and are soft all the way through.
Many people boil their Nockerl in salt water instead of the beef stock, take them out when they are done, put them in soup bowls and pour the stock over them. This method will keep the stock clearer than it is when you boil the Nockerl directly in it.
Serve in soup bowls and sprinkle some chopped chives on the top if you like.
Nockerl come in many different tastes, savoury and sweet. Depending on the kind of Nockerl you have you can eat them with cheese, eggs, different sweet or savoury sauces, sauerkraut and bacon or as a side dish.
Butternockerl for instance are made from eggs, butter, flour and salt. They can be eaten in beef stock like Grießnockerl but also make a great side dish for goulash, paprikas3 and similar dishes.
Topfennockerl are made from curd cheese, eggs, semolina or flour and salt. The finished Nockerl are covered in breadcrumbs which were roasted in a pan with butter and caster sugar. They are usually eaten with a fruit sauce.
One of the most famous Nockerl are Salzburger Nockerl - sweet soufflés. They are made mainly from eggs and sugar with a little bit of flour as well as vanilla. They are a warm dessert, sprinkled with caster sugar. The Nockerl with their white sugar tops are said to be reminiscent of snowy mountains.