I first had these in a very humble roadside restaurant in northern Italy. I had never heard of ‘canederli’ and was surprised to learn they were just made with bread, as they were so delicious. They are made the way we would make stuffing for a chicken, but the mixture is rolled into little dumplings and poached. You can also treat them like dumplings and serve them in soup.
For the canederli
- 200g (7oz) white bread
- 125ml (4fl oz) milk
- 40g (1 ½oz) butter
- 1 onion, very finely chopped
- 100g (3 ½oz) pancetta, in small chunks
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- generous grating of nutmeg
- leaves from 4 thyme sprigs
- 25g (1oz) flat leaf parsley, very finely chopped
- salt and pepper
- chicken stock or water, for poaching
- plain flour, to dust
- melted butter or chicken stock
- shaved Parmesan cheese
- Break the bread up into various-sized little chunks and crumbs with your fingers – the food processor does it too finely. Sprinkle with the milk, mix with your hands and leave for 15 minutes or so.
- Melt the butter in a frying pan and sauté the onion and pancetta until the onion is completely soft. Mix gently with all the other ingredients except the stock and flour, using your hands. Don’t overwork the mixture. Season really well; this is very important.
- Bring a large pan of chicken stock or water to the boil. Meanwhile, wet your hands and shape the bread mixture into balls the size of walnuts. Roll very lightly in the flour and shake off excess. Once the stock is boiling, reduce to a steady simmer. (If using water, salt it.) Drop in half the canederli, then cook very gently for about 7–10 minutes. If the stock boils it will break them up. They will rise to the top when they are done. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and drain well on kitchen paper to soak up excess water.
- Serve in soup plates with melted butter (you can flavour it by frying rosemary or sage in it) or in hot chicken stock, with shaved Parmesan sprinkled over.
They are also good with a soured cream and cucumber sauce: sauté chopped cucumber in butter, add soured cream and heat through. Spoon over the canederli then scatter with ground paprika or poppy seeds. Chunks of both roast beetroot and roast squash are lovely dotted among the canederli.