Delightful discovery in the Dolomites – canederli

We arrived at our hotel in the Dolomites (the Hotel Cir, thankfully rather off the beaten track and away from the madding crowd that swarms all over the Dolomites) in time for an hours walk before dinner. Before we left the receptionist gave us the menu and asked us to choose our meal.

I looked down the list of what was on offer…canederli…what on earth could that be?

Staying at the Hotel Cir – fabulous position away from the main tourist traps

I asked.

“Well, it’s bread and cheese soaked in eggs and full cream milk, boiled and then, sometimes, fried, with bacon and more cheese added. Sometimes they’re served in broth” she explained. Effectively they’re a type of Tyrolean dumpling (in Trieste they are known as ‘bread gnocchi’).

I commented that I probably needed more like a six hour march than a one hour evening stroll to absorb all those calories….but in the name of research, of course, I had to give them a go.

I was expecting canederli to be unbearably stodgy (as a lot of mountain food tends to be) so I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were delicious. The key to their enjoyment is definitely quantity control – like Weetabix (see clip below), two particularly as a starter – is quite sufficient.

The frescoes in the chapel of Castel d’Appiano..where’s the lady?
Courtesy ManfredK Creative Commons

Canederli is a very typical dish from the south Tyrol, particularly from the area surrounding the cities of Trento and Bolzano. It’s an ancient country dish developed by peasants as a way of using up stale bread, using other ingredients that they had to hand. But canederli are now cool – there are different types (one of my two was green – an effect produced with spinach or herbs), and there are also sweet canederli (made with potato rather than bread) produced as a pud. Some smart chefs have really gone to town making all kinds of variations…with shrimp, with baccalá, saffron sauce….but the original, ancient version is, in my view, the best. No need to gild the lily.

To see an early version of canederli (painted in 1180), go to the chapel of the Castel d’Appiano where there are Romanesque frescoes depicting a lady eating cenederli.

I’m putting up this post today – 28 September – because the end of September and beginning of October is the period when there are a number of food festivals held in honour of canederli. In Castelrotto, for example, there is an annual Canederli & Canederli week.

Where to eat canederli

Follow this link to go to a site which lists the best places to eat canederli (it is in Italian, but I’m sure you can get the drift! However, I reckon the ones in my hotel, the Hotel Cir, were pretty damn good!

The basic method for making canederli is this:

  1. First, make a stock (it can be a vegetable stock, or beef…or even chicken).
  2. Tear up some stale bread and leave it to soak in milk for half an hour or so.
  3. Fry some chopped onion and bacon. When cooked add to the milk and bread. Also add a beaten egg, parmesan, flour, some pepper and salt and some parsley.
  4. Give the flavours another half hour or so to meld, and then form into spheres about the size of a billiard ball.
  5. Poach the canederli gently in the filtered broth for about twenty minutes.
  6. Serve hot with a little olive oil drizzled over, or more typically more butter, and a few shavings of Parmesan. They can be served still in the broth – the usual way in Alto Adige, or ‘dry’ – like mine in the image to the side, which is more normal in Trentino.
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