01 February 2012

AUNTIE PASTA: Greetings Y'all From Sud Tyrol

SARONNO, Italy - If there was ever a recipe for a cultural, culinary stew, you’d find it in Italy’s  northern Trentino-Alto Adige region. It’s a spoonful of German, a half a cup of Austrian, a teaspoon of Venetian, and a large pinch of Italian all mixed together. Road signs are in German, a slice of the population speaks Ladin, described as a Rhaeto-Romanic dialect of the Engadine in Switzerland, whatever that means, and there are special educational scholarships for those who speak Italian. Where is this place? It is up in Italy’s most northern corner, situated in the Italian Alps between Verona and Innsbruck. 
The Breathtaking Italian Alps
The local cuisine is unlike any other in Italy, rich in rabbit, pheasant, deer, chamois and other four legged furry animals, and fresh water trout. What you won’t find is regular pasta. Instead you may be offered ravioli, often made from rye flour and filled with potatoes or other vegetables and served with butter and smoked ricotta cheese.  

But the most popular pasta type dish is knodel, dumplings made from stale bread, white or brown, mixed with other ingredients like onions, parsley, bacon or in South Tyrol, liver. The dumplings are served in broth or with melted butter. 
Another popular dish is barley soup, called gerstensuppe, which is flavored with bacon or ham bones, and in the Province of Bolzano, they take a frittata, cut it into strips and serve it in broth, and call it frittatensuppe.  

One of the more Italianized recipes calls for pigeon wrapped in sweet pastry. This particular recipe has been around since the sixteenth century when it was originally created to restore the exhausted Cardinals who had gathered to try and change the wild and wooly ways of the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in the town of Trento.
You thought I was kidding about the Smacafam truck, right?
This is mountain country, and when those cold winter winds start to blow though the mountain passes, nothing tastes better than a steaming dish of pasta and beans or polenta. One particularly popular polenta dish is ‘smacafam’ or ‘ammazzafame’  which means hunger killer. It’s a simple dish of polenta topped with bacon and sausage and sold from ‘smacafam’ food trucks as well as in restaurants. There is also a sweet version made with raisins, walnuts, pine nuts and milk. 

Another popular, distinctively Central European dish found throughout the Sud Tyrol is goulash, a meat stew cooked with fried onions and seasoned with cumin and paprika. It is can be served with potatoes, which are added during the cooking process, or boiled and served separately, but dumplings or spatzle are more common.
Barley Soup aka Gerstensuppe
Game is found on most restaurant menus, usually marinated in red wine and cooked with onions, raisins cinnamon, pine nuts, grated lemon peel and sugar – very Austro-Hungarian.  Another version marinates venison in red wine and spices, but then vinegar and sour cream are added. 
Just as it is throughout Italy, pork is popular, especially probusti, smoked sausages made from a mixture of pork and beef. These tasty sausages  are first boiled and then served with sauerkraut and mustard. In this mountainous province, sauerkraut is the classic side dish for sausage. To prepare it, cabbage is cut into thin strips and arranged in layers in wooden containers , sprinkled with salt, cumin and pepper and left to ferment for about two months. Then it is ready to be cooked along with a piece of bacon or a ham hock and white wine. Cabbage prepared this way is also used as a filling for ravioli.
A Sud Tyrolian Sausage and Spek Producer
If you've worked up an appetite reading this post, here's an easy recipe for knodel that will put you in a Sud Tyrolian mood. 

2 tablespoons butter, plus more for sautéing
1 chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped marjoram
1 tablespoon salt
1 pound baguettes or big, soft pretzels, cut or broken into ¼- to ½-inch cubes
2 cups whole milk
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 clove garlic, chopped (optional)
Pinch of  pepper

1. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté the onions until they are translucent.
2. Stir in the parsley and marjoram; cook briefly and then set aside to let the mixture cool.
3. Place the cubed bread in a large bowl and season, if desired, with salt. (If you use fat, soft, salted pretzels (not crispy pretzels), you may not need to season at all.) In a small saucepan, heat the milk almost to boiling and pour it over the cubed pretzels/bread. Set aside to cool and go relax for 15 minutes.
4. When the bread-milk mixture is cool, mix in the onion-parsley mixture and the eggs. Add the bread crumbs, garlic and pepper and mix well. If the mixture seems too soft to hold a shape, add more bread crumbs until it is thick enough. The mixture should be firm enough to form into dumplings that hold their shape.
5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer. Dip your hands into cold water and make a test dumpling, about the size of a large golf ball. Lower it gently into the simmering water and cook. If it doesn't hold up, add more breadcrumbs to the mixture. Once you've found the right consistency, shape the mixture into 20 dumplings.
6. Gently lower the dumplings into the simmering salted water and cook until they are puffed slightly and cooked through, about 7 minutes. When they are boiled you can brown them in a sauté pan with a tablespoon of butter and some extra chopped parsley or serve them in broth.

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post. I write Regencies and I have one I've begun in Venice. My characters are traveling from there to Ulm and I needed food.