There are places in our lives that are so magical, so great, they become part of us to the point where, even if we don't visit them for years, they are still there, in our hearts. Val Gardena, a valley north of the city of Bolzano in Northern Italy, is one of those places for me. We used to own a vacation home there and, come hell or high water, we'd spend winter weekends and holidays skiing the magnificent Dolomites around there, and summer vacations hiking and bicycling them. That's where, at the tender age of three, I learned how to ski. That's also where I met one of my best friends in the whole world. In the summer we ran around barefoot and climbed trees. In the winter we skied and beat boys to the bottom of the slope.
The beauty of the valley is staggering, both in the winter and in the summer. The mountains there are a peculiar shade of pink and, at sunset, they almost sparkle. All the houses are painted and perffectly kept, a remiander that the folk there might have an Italian passport, but they are Austrians at heart. The food too is simply amazing there. A blend of Italian and Austrian, the cuisine has evolved and grown and has become much more than just the sum of its parts. One of the dishes I loved the most is knodel with broth, a pretty basic dish of bread dumplings cooked and served in a rich, beefy stock. It's a peasant recipe that uses up stale bread and it's also very easy to make -perfect for when you, or someone in your family, feels a little under the weather.
KNODEL WITH BROTHServes 4
7 oz. old white bread, such as ciabatta
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper
1 onion, chopped
4 oz. speck or smoked prosciutto, minced
2 tablespoons of parsley, chopped
A pinch of nutmeg
Abundant beef broth
Cut the bread into cubes, place in a bowl and pour the milk and egg mixture over top. Mix well and let rest, covered with a napkin, for about an hour. Don't forget every once in a while to stir the bread so that it absorbs the liquid evenly.
In the mean time prepare the broth and keep warm.
In a small saucepan cook the onion gently with the speck until it is translucent, remove from the heat, let cool and add the parsley.
Mix the onion mixture with the bread mixture. Sprinkle with flour if the mixture is too wet. Shape into balls, roll them in flour and gently lower all of them in the boiling broth. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the dumplings float to the surface. Serve with broth, sprinkle with cheese if desired.