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Author Notes: Canederli, also known as knödel, are one of Trento's most well known dishes. A more substantial cousin of gnocchi, canederli are made of cubes of stale bread held together with milk and eggs and flavoured with speck, slightly smoky dry-cured ham, or cheese. Cooked in homemade meat broth (http://food52.com/blog/1395-beef-stock), these traditional bread dumplings from Italy's north are found only in the north eastern regions of Trentino Alto-Adige, Friuli and Veneto.
Each cook will have his or her way of making these canederli with various methods for soaking the bread and making sure the resulting canederli aren't too hard or don't fall apart while boiling. Important in all cases is not to use too much flour, which can result in tough canederli that you can bounce off the walls. Better yet, avoid flour all together. Some use warm milk to soak the bread and allows for less flour. Carol Field in her cookbook “The Italian Baker” places her bread in the milk first and allows it to stand for an hour. The aim is to moisten the bread evenly without excess liquid (it can also be squeezed if there is too much liquid).
Once you have your mixture ready, test a small ball in the boiling broth to see if it keeps its shape. If it doesn't and it falls apart, you may need to incorporate some flour.
Bigger than a golf ball, these dumplings are hearty and heavy – you only need 2 a head if served as an entree! If you can't find speck, try prosciutto or pancetta instead. For the bread, ideally you'd want a white rustic country loaf or even dinner rolls. The crusts are usually left on unless you have a particularly hard, crunchy loaf. You can also try using some aromatics like freshly grated nutmeg or lemon rind in the mixture.
Makes 8 canederli
- 9 ounces (250 grams) stale white bread, crusts on
- 1 tablespoon chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) of speck, chopped
- 1 tablespoon chives, chopped, plus extra for garnish
- 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon flour (if needed)
- Salt and pepper
- Homemade beef broth or butter and sage, to serve
- Cut the bread into cubes about 1/3 inch wide and set aside in a large bowl.
- Melt the butter in a pan with the olive oil and gently saute the onion. When soft, add the speck and cook for a few minutes. Add the onion and speck to the bread, along with the herbs, eggs and milk. Season with a small pinch of salt and some pepper.
- Mix – hands are best – until well combined and leave the bread to soak up the milk for about 15 minutes. Stir the mixture occasionally so that the bread is evenly coated.
- You're looking for a mixture that you can roll into a ball. Depending on the bread and how well it soaks up the liquid, you may need to add a tablespoon of breadcrumbs and one of flour. Be aware not to use too much flour or the canederli will become too hard or chewy inside.
- With wet hands (have a bowl of water next on hand for convenience), roll a handful of the bread mixture into compact balls, about 2-2 1/2 inches in diameter until you have 8 canederli.
- Cook the canederli in boiling beef broth or water for about 10-12 minutes, or until they float. Serve with some of the broth and some chives, or alternatively, remove from the broth and serve with a sage and butter sauce, made simply by melting butter in a skillet, adding the sage leaves and gently cooking until fragrant, about 1 minute, then tossing the canederli in this with a few spoonfuls of the broth to create a creamy emulsion. Serve immediately.