This year, most uncharacteristically, I find myself enjoying, if not reveling in, the season, even as temps have dipped into the teens (that’s cold for Virginia). There have been brisk afternoon walks with the dog ~ as brisk as you can get with a cavalier king charles spaniel ~ and bracing Sunday morning trips to the farmers’ market.
There have been rich stews and hearty pastas and pots of soup. (It’s always easier to appreciate winter from the warmth of your own kitchen, isn’t it.) Last week, I dipped back into my first book for a recipe I hadn’t made in awhile: canederli in brodo, or bread dumplings in broth.
Canederli are a specialty of Trentino-Alto Adige, a mountainous region in the northeastern corner of Italy that was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is now one of five autonomous regions, a special status granted after World War II to prevent secession from Italy. Both German and Italian are spoken, and the food reflects its Germanic heritage.
The dumplings are known as knödel in German, and you will also find versions in Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, among other places. They are typically made with bread, potatoes or semolina and poached in broth or salted water. You can serve them in the broth, or as a side dish for a roast or stew. They are also good dressed with herbed butter.
In Alto Adige, canederli usually contain speck, smoked prosciutto produced in the region. I sometimes use mortadella and salami. You can make them vegetarian by using chopped spinach in place of the meat.
Canederli are not difficult to make, but they can be tricky. Pack them too loosely and they will fall apart in the broth; make them too sturdy and you’ll end up with little boulders. Some things to keep in mind:
* Use good-quality sturdy bread and trim the crusts.
* Let the bread soak in milk long enough to adequately absorb the liquid. Then gently but firmly squeeze out any excess.
* Cut the speck or ham into very small dice so that they can be fully incorporated into the mixture.
* Moisten your hands lightly when shaping the dumplings to keep the mixture from sticking to them.
* Use homemade broth to give the dumplings their due. Canederli poached in canned broth will taste like…canned broth.
* Gently poach the canederli in barely simmering broth to keep them from being jostled about in the pot.
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Speaking of soup, Craftsy, the online educational website that hosts my class on Italian soups, is having a flash sale. All classes, everything from knitting to photography, plus a growing number of cooking classes, is up to 50 percent off through the weekend. Click here to check out the selection. Cheers friends, stay warm.
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There is something undeniably alluring about these oversized dumplings. In spite of their hefty appearance they are surprisingly light and fluffy. They are a specialty of Trentino-Alto Adige, an alpine region in the far northeastern part of Italy. Be sure to use homemade broth to give these dumplings their proper due. (Adapted from The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy.
- 8 lightly packed cups cubed day-old Italian bread, crust removed
- 2 cups milk, heated to lukewarm
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 small yellow, finely chopped
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 ounces imported speck or mortadella, cut into very small dice
- 1 1/2 ounces Genoa salami, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for coating
- 8 to 10 cups Brodo di Carne
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving
1. Put the bread in a large bowl, pour the milk over it and stir. Let the mixture sit for 1 hour to allow the bread to absorb the milk.
2. In a small skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
3. Squeeze the bread to remove excess milk. Return the squeezed bread to the bowl. Add the cooked onion, eggs, parsley, speck or mortadella, salami and salt and mix until thoroughly combined. Sprinkle in the flour and mix again.
4. Divide the mixture into 8 equal portions. Wet your hands lightly with cold water to keep the mixture from sticking to them. Shape each portion into a round dumpling slightly smaller than a tennis ball. Be sure to pack the mixture tightly. Spread some flour on a plate, then, one at a time, roll the dumplings in the flour, coating them lightly but thoroughly. Put the dumplings on a wax paper-lined baking sheet or platter. Let them rest at room temperature for 10 to 20 minutes, or in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours.
5. Select a pot just large enough to keep the dumplings submerged in broth as they cook. Pour in the broth and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Carefully lower the dumplings, one at a time, into the broth. Reduce the heat to medium-low or low to maintain the gentlest of simmers. Cover partially and cook the dumplings for 18 to 20 minutes. It will be hard to tell when they're done, though they will at some point bob to the surface. (You should be able to poke through them with a cake tester, though I sort of take it on faith that they'll be done after the allotted cooking time.)
6. Scoop out the dumplings with a large slotted spoon and transfer them to a serving tureen or to individual bowls. Pour the hot broth over the dumplings and sprinkle with cheese. Serve hot.