Sample the unique flavors of northern Italy with our recipe for canederli—simple bread dumplings.
When you think of Italian foods, does your mind go to sauerkraut? How about spaetzle or goulash? While many Americans are familiar with Tuscany’s fresh vegetables and charcuterie or Sicily’s pastas and pastries, fewer have been exposed to the unique blend of influences found in Alto Adige (also known as South Tyrol), the autonomous province of Italy’s far north. Sitting on the border of Austria, Alto Adige wears its Germanic influences with pride, with street signs in both languages, and shop keepers equally likely to greet you with Guten Tag as Buongiorno.
The capital of Alto Adige is Bolzano, which was part of Austria till World War I. Though now part of Italy, and home to a higher percentage of Italian-language speakers than the surrounding countryside, Bolzano still honors its Germanic past in the kitchen. Wurst is as common on the local menus as polenta, and a nice plate of tagliatelle might be accompanied by a glass of hearty Austrian blauburgunder.
You could be vegetarian in Alto Adige but it might merit an eyeroll or two from traditionalists, as meat plays a huge part in the cooking. Chicken and pork are commonly homegrown, but hunting is popular, so wild game—venison, mountain goat, rabbit—is in regular rotation. Fish is on the menu, too, especially brook trout poached in wine, vinegar, lemon and clove is served with melted butter. If you want the most local of all possible meat dishes try gemsenfleisch, which features the chamois, a goat-antelope that roams the lower mountainsides. The flavorful meat is marinated in red wine vinegar and local herbs, cooked with salt pork, and served with sour cream.
Perhaps the most classic of Alto Adige comfort foods is canederli (or knodel, in German), a name which refers both to a specific dish—the basic bread dumpling below—and to the whole category of variants on the recipe, including dumplings served in soup, filled with meat, or turned into dessert with the addition of fruit. It can be eaten dry or with broth (and suggestions for both are below).
Canederli (Bread Dumplings)
- 8 ounces hearty white bread (rustic loaves best)
- 8 ounces milk
- 4 ounces speck, prosciutto, or sliced pancetta
- ¼ cup flour*
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 ½ tablespoons parsley, chopped fine
- 1 tsp chives, chopped fine
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Dash of salt
- Dash of black pepper
- 32-ounce meat or vegetable broth
1. Trim the crust away from the bread. Cut the bread into small cubes.
2. Mixed with milk and eggs. Add speck, parsley, chives, and nutmeg. Let stand for 5-10 minutes to soak up liquid.
3. Add flour, salt, and pepper to dry up the dough enough to shape.
*If dough is still too wet to draw together, add more flour a little bit at a time.
4. Using fingers or two spoons, form balls the size of quarters. These are the canederli.
5. Bring broth to a boil.
6. Add the canederli to the broth and lower to a good simmer. Cook 15 minutes, making sure the broth isn’t boiling vigorously, which could break the dumplings apart.
7. Serve dry: Lift canederli from the broth, toss with butter, and serve on a plate with freshly grated parmesan. Serve wet: Ladle canederli into a bowl and top with its cooking broth.
Alternate option: To keep the dish vegetarian, substitute fontina or gouda for the speck, and use vegetable broth.
Savor the unique culinary traditions of Alto Adige when you join us for Northern Italy: The Alps, Dolomites & Lombardy.