Canederli are bread dumplings only found in the north-east of Italy (Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli, and part of Veneto), where they are served as a first course or as a main entree. Variations of this dish are common in all south-eastern Europe, where they are also served as an accompaniment to meat stews and roasts. The word ‘canederlo’, in fact, derives from the German and Austrian ‘knödel’ (dumpling).
Canederli can be considered part of ‘cucina povera’ (cuisine of the poor), as they are made of simple and inexpensive ingredients: stale bread moistened with milk and bound with eggs and a small amount of flour. However, the mixture is often enriched with cheese and Speck (a kind of smoked prosciutto also local to the north-east regions of Italy).
There are several variations of this regional dish, the following recipe describes one of the most common: filled with cheese. Once the dumplings are prepared and boiled, they are either served “dry” with melted butter or in broth.
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For the dumplings
- 300 g (10 oz) stale bread, diced (which can be obtained by dicing 450 g of fresh bread and laying it on a perforated tray for 24-48 hours, covered with a tea towel) - it's important that the bread is fully dried out and crunchy
- 225 ml (1 scant cup) milk
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 60 g (½ cup) white flour
- 3 Tbsp (minced) flat leaf (Italian) parsley
- 200 g (7 oz) cheese, e.g.: Fontina, Raclette (smoked or plain), or Gouda (smoked or plain), diced
- 45 g (3 Tbsp) unsalted butter
- 1 ½ Tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- 3 liters (12 cups) of vegetable stock (for boiling)
To serve them "dry"
- 20 g (1 ½ Tbsp) (per serving) unsalted butter
- 10 g (2 tsp) (per serving) grated Parmigiano
- 1 small bunch of chives, thinly sliced
To serve them in broth
- 1 cup (per serving) additional vegetable stock
- Some grated Parmigiano
- Some chives, thinly sliced (optional)
- Put the stale bread into a large mixing bowl (1). Add the milk (2), the eggs (3), as well as salt, pepper and nutmeg.
- Mix well and let it rest for at least two hours, covered with a tea towel, in a cool place or in the fridge. Stir occasionally to ensure that the mix absorbs the liquid uniformly.
- After the two hours, add the flour (4), then the parsley (5), and the cheese (6). Mix gently.
- Finely chop the onion (7) and fry it in oil and butter for ten minutes at medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- Let the onion cool (8), then incorporate it into the mix (9).
- Let the mixture rest for another half-hour covered with a tea towel. It should look uniformly moist and slightly sticky.
- Using your hands, form the canederli by pressing together enough of the mix to make balls the size of a small orange (60 to 80 grams each). You should be able produce 14-16 balls out of the entire mix.
- After making each ball, roll it in flour to seal the outside and prevent the canederli from sticking to each other (10).
- When all the canederli are ready, re-roll them into flour and compress them a second time (11).
- Have the vegetable stock in a large pot, well boiling on the stove.
- Place the canederli gently in the pot (12-13), wait until the boil is resumed (14).
- Boil the canederli for 12-15 minutes (they will be floating the whole time), then drain them gently.
- If serving the canederli "dry", warm up the butter just enough to melt it. Place 3 canederli into each plate, pour the melted butter on them, then sprinkle with some thin-sliced chives, a generous amount of grated Parmigiano, and some freshly ground black pepper.
Note: once boiled, the canederli can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
If serving the canederli in broth, prepare more vegetable stock (as the one used for boiling will be cloudy because of the flour). Place one or two canederli into each bowl, then pour the broth on them. Finish with some grated Parmigiano and (optional) chives.