Giulio and I are headed on a weekend trip to Trentino, which is a snowy escape in Northern Italy. Skiing holidays are a big thing in Italy. We call them settimana bianca and it really is just a delicious excuse for me to hit the slopes, do the absolute minimum amount of skiing required and spend the rest of the holiday eating polenta and drinking vov, which is the equivalent of egg nog on steroids. lt never goes bad, is available all year and is, at all good ski bars, mixed with whipped cream and a freshly made espresso. After three of them, I can’t even remember where I left my skis, let alone manage to get them on and get back down the mountain!
I am an atrocious skier. I had never even seen snow before I turned 19 and the first time Giulio and I went skiing, he parked me at the top of a red run and yelled until I made it to the bottom. His favourite phrase? “Up your ass”, which he screamed loud enough to cause an avalanche. It took me the longest time to realise he wasn’t sassing me, but trying and failing to say “lift your ass” as in lift your buttocks into a straighter position thus improving your posture and reducing the chances of you falling on your face. I got it in the end, but I don’t think anyone else on that slope has looked at skiing couples the same again.
Since I’m only in it for the food, I am looking forward to the change in culinary pace. We country Tuscan folk don’t have very exciting lives and its nice to get away from all the wild boar and ragù pastas.
Northern Italian cooking is really different from what we eat in Tuscany and even more different from the Southern Italian food I was raised on by my Calabrian grandmother. The Northern Italians loves their butter. Seriously, they still haven’t heard of olive oil. That’s not a joke. My Northern Italian grandmother on my dad’s side used to use what she called a toc of butter (the equivalent of half a stick) at every meal.
The cuisine up north is a lot heavier and richer. A lot of their dishes have Germanic roots, which isn’t a surprise since they speak German in Trentino and kind of look German too! My dad’s mum was a blonde, less curvaceous version of Marline Dietrich.
So next time you’re in Northern Italy, don’t be surprised if amongst all the polenta and meat stews, you see these little guys – Italy’s own bread and sausage dumplings!!
These bread dumplings are a local Trentino dish called canederli. Giulio believes he has mastered the recipe. He learnt it from his ex-Trentino girlfriend, whose parents have a restaurant in a small town called Male.
The recipe is surprisingly easy to make and delicious. It’s great if you have leftover bread and you can put whatever you like in the filling – mushrooms, bacon, mozzarella, even sausage mince. I’ve kept it traditional and used bread, parmesan and parsley, but since I’m also a carnivore at heart, I couldn’t resist adding a tiny bit of spicy sausage. I’m sure Giulio’s ex-girlfriend would die at the thought of me changing such a traditional Northern Italian recipe, but I find these bread dumplings a little bland without the spicy sausage. It adds a nice colour and a real kick, especially if you use a sausage that has some paprika in it.
The dumplings are cooked in a really simple chicken broth.
Whenever I make any kind of soup, I always add a tablespoon of tomato passata. It’s a habit I picked up as a kid. We put tomato passata in everything. You know how most people have salt and pepper on the table? My grandmother had tomato passata. If it didn’t have tomato passata in it, it was colourless and bland. Tomato passata was like a bunch of flowers in the kitchen, it lifted her spirits.
For something that takes max 40 minutes to make, this dish definitely has a comfort food element to it. Whip it up on a cold evening after work and you’ll definitely feel recharged for the week ahead. Just remember to serve with heavy lashings of freshly grated parmesan. If you can’t see the cobwebs of parmesan cheese all melted and gooey delicious, you haven’t added enough. Remember this ain’t healthy Italian cooking. It’s Northern Italian cooking and that stuff has to be rich and fatty enough to get you through the freezing winter.
BREAD DUMPLINGS (Italian canederli) with spicy sausage
300g day-old bread, torn into small chunks
1 tablespoon at leaf parsley, finely chopped
100g finely grated parmesan
200g spicy salami, finely chopped
4 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons milk
for the broth:
2 litres water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped brown onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
11⁄2 cup tomato passata
finely grated parmesan, to serve
Process the bread, parsley and parmesan in a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Place in a bowl and add the salami, beaten eggs and milk and mix to combine. Refrigerate for 20 minutes. Using wet hands, shape tablespoons of the mixture into walnut-sized bread dumplings. Set aside.
To prepare the broth, bring the stock to boil in a large saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Gently add the bread dumplings, reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring carefully with a wooden spoon, for 20 minutes. Serve with plenty of parmesan.