I miss my grandfather. He was a handsome Austrian fellow with piercing blue eyes and a mischievous grin. He died when I was 17 years old and I miss him. Here are some of the things that made him cool. He was a veteran of World War 2. He fought in the Pacific and looked better in a sailor uniform than Frank Sinatra. He taught me how to play poker. That was family game night. He was married to my grandmother for over 65 years. He used to sometimes swear in broken German. My grandmother would swear back in broken Italian. His name was Nick Sigl, but spelled Nicolaus. Isn’t that the coolest spelling? Nicolaus Sigl. Just try spelling it without looking at it.
He used to make this dish called Grout Fleckla. For years I have been haunted by the fact that I don’t remember much about the dish except that I loved it. It was savory, I think it involved noodles, and maybe onions? In addition to my frequent requests for it at family dinners, I asked him to make Grout Fleckla for me whenever there was any kind of cultural event at my school. All the families would bring their traditions and foods to share, and I can’t say I’ve ever had a strong sense of cultural identity, but there was Grout Fleckla. It was distinctly German, and distinctly Sigl.
I have known for some time that it could not have actually been called Grout Fleckla, but that was the phonetic experience of my young brain when met with my grandfather’s thick German accent (only employed when he actually spoke German). His command of the language may have declined over the years, but his commitment to the accent never wavered. It never occurred to me that in this, the year 2020, I now have any number of ways to look up the correct name of the dish. I don’t know why that is, except maybe the feeling of having lost something takes a stronger hold in our brains than the possibility it could be found, so when something like Google was invented, I never entertained the notion that I could sleuth out my grandfather’s dish. I think I also assumed it was unique to us, his invention. I had decided some time before that the recipe—whatever it was called—died with him, and I’ve mourned it ever since.
A few weeks ago, in the beginning of this quarantine, I decided to make a frittata. I don’t cook much, but this quarantine has made some kind of a chef of all of us. Frittatas are usually my husband’s specialty, but he was playing with the baby so I was on frittata duty. Frittatas in our house aren’t just crust-less quiches; they involve noodles. We will not go carbless in the Light house. Frittatas come about when we have leftover pasta and the next morning we put them in a cast iron skillet with a bunch of eggs, cheese, and veggies. I started by sautéing a ton of onions and garlic. While those caramelized, I rifled through the fridge in search of veggies and saw we had a head of cabbage. I chopped that up and threw it in. Once the cabbage softened, I added the noodles.
And that’s when it happened. I’m getting all flustered thinking about it. Something happened in my nose. The smell of sautéed onions and garlic mingling with the cabbage and noodles sent me into an overwhelming sense memory of being with my grandfather and eating Grout Fleckla. Oh my God. It wasn’t Grout. It was Kraut. Cabbage. And for the first time in nearly twenty years it dawned on me, I can look this up. I could have, for years, found a way to look this up. I’ve stalked old boyfriends with less information to go by, but now, I had cabbage.
Search: German noodle dish kraut…
I didn’t even have to type kraut, actually. As soon as I entered German noodle dish my results came up. Krautfleckerl. “An Austrian pasta with caramelized cabbage.” I felt like I found my grandfather. I thought he was lost. Now I can visit him in more than just a dream. I can taste this dish again and memories are so much easier to access with your mouth and your nose than with your brain.
I finished the frittata, but the next night I looked up a recipe and made Krautfleckerl. As I served it to my family, I could picture my grandfather holding a large aluminum tray full of the savory noodles, wearing a bomber jacket with a fur trim, and polyester pants, helping me bring a bit of Austrian, a bit of Sigl, to share with whomever might be interested.
If that’s you, if you’re interested, here is the recipe for Krautfleckerl. Though I might always call it Grout Fleckla.
I pulled this specific recipe from a restaurant in Vienna, but you could vary it. As long as you’ve got noodles, cabbage, onions, garlic, and caraway seeds, you’ll get the flavor.
- 1 white Onion
- 1 (head of) cabbage
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp. of caraway seeds
- 1/2 c butter
- Pasta, your choice on the shape but I think goes best with a Papardelle or Campanelle, or even an egg noodle
- 1 bunch of parsley
- 2 cloves of garlic
Cut the cabbage (white, without stalk) into squares, cut onion finely and chop garlic. Let the sugar and the caraway caramelize in a big pot. Now add the half of the butter, the onion and the garlic, stir. Add the cabbage, salt and stir again. Let it steam for about 30 minutes with a closed lid.
Bring sufficient water to a boil, add salt and cook the pasta until al dente. Strain, rinse in cold water and allow it to drain well. Chop parsley. Mix the pasta with the cabbage and stir. Add the rest of the butter and season with parsley and pepper. Serve while warm.