“A Dumpling is a dumpling by any other name!”
Both my grandmothers lived in the same village in Yugoslavia/Croatia during the War in 1944. My mother’s mother, Oma-D – my favorite grandmother – was a refugee from her home in Dobrovic, a forest-covered area of Croatia. She left her home and her husband, my grandfather, in Dobrovic to seek shelter and safety. Tito and his Partisans (gang members) were hiding in the woods surrounding my grandparent’s home, which was a very beautiful Jagdt Schloss, Hunting Lodge, where they were making the area dangerous and unsafe for everyone who lived there. Oma-D came to live with friends near us in the village of Veliscovci. My parents, my brother and I lived with my father’s mother, Oma-R, in the house that once was an Inn, on the outskirts of that village.
Meals were usually varied during the weekdays, but on Fridays we had bean soup as a meatless meal for lunch, which was the main meal of the day. I disliked beans as a child. At only seven years old Oma-R made me eat a whole bowl of that bean soup while I was choking on every spoonful.
As soon as Oma-D arrived to live near us, I escaped many times, with my mother’s knowing smile through the small garden gate in the back of the vegetable garden, to run across fields between our house and the village to join her for a meal of Knoedel (dumplings). A Knoedel is a dough ball with a filling in the middle. It is usually boiled in water or in a meat broth.
As soon as I arrived at Oma-D’s door she would ask, “What would you like to eat?” When I told her “dumplings,” she would ask “what kind?” You see, there are many different kinds of dumplings in the Austro-Hungarian cooking. There are savory dumplings, like meat dumplings, bacon dumplings, ham dumplings, liver dumplings or anything else one can think of to fill them. The sweet dumplings are usually filled with some kind of fruit, like plums, apricots, cherries, grapes, apples, even jams or whatever other fruit one has on hand.
What my Croatian Oma-D probably did not know is that the dumpling is cooked in many countries and has many nationalities. In Austria a dumpling is called Knoedel and a small one is a Nockerl. In Germany they are called Kloesse and Spaetzle. In Italy they are called Ravioli or Gnocchi. In Russia they are called Pirog or Piroshky. Romania calls them Papanasi, and in Slovenia they are called Zlinkrofi, while in Poland they call them Knedliki.
In France they are Quenelles. In Switzerland they have no dumplings to call their own. But there are dumplings in China. There they call them Dim Sum, “Little Somethings”, filled with all kinds of interesting combination of meats or vegetables. They probably originated in China, a “left-over” from the Ottoman Empire and its troops that devastated and plundered that part of the world long ago. Here in the United States Dumplings are Dumplings!
Along with the dumplings I have mentioned above I should explain that some have no filling, but still are dumplings. A Nockerl and a Gnocchi is a flavored dough. The Gnocchi is a potato dough (a favorite in Italian cuisine as a first course) and the Nockerl dough can be made with a puree of liver or spinach. There is also the Knaidel or Matzoh Ball, which is made with Matzo Meal, eggs, chicken fat, seasonings and cooked in a chicken broth, as are the liver and spinach Nockerln. The exception to this rule is the Spaetzle in Germany. It is a simple egg dough that has the consistency of a paste and is dribbled as mini-dumplings into a boiling pot of water to be cooked.
And when someone tells you in Vienna that you are…..
“Ein Suesses Nockerl,”
you can be assured he has given you a compliment that comes from his heart.
Here are the recipes of my two favorite Dumplings!
Topfen Knoedel – Cheese Dumplings
2 lbs Ricotta cheese
5 oz Cream of Wheat (weigh it on a scale)
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup Wondra flour
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.
Let it rest for about 15 – 30 min.
In the meantime get two Dutch ovens ready with boiling water.
Make dumplings with wet hands and drop dumplings into the boiling water.
Dumpling should be about 2 to 3 inches in diameter….and it needs to be completely submerged in the water to be cooked.
Reduce the boil and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes
Test a dumpling by taking one out and cutting it in half on a plate.
If center is still doughy – return it to pot and simmer another 5 min.
When cooked take the dumplings out with a slotted spoon, place them into a Pyrex baking pan and keep warm.
Toast bread crumbs in a little oil or butter then coat the dumplings. Serve them with any creamed vegetable or serve them as a dessert with little sour cream and sugar.
Zwetschken Knoedel…..Plum Dumplings
8 to 10 or more…Italian plums….
4 cups of riced boiled potatoes, from 4 to 5 medium potatoes
2 cups of flour
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
Some extra flour if needed…..
2 cups Toasted Bread Crumbs
Start to heat a pot of water…..and bring it to simmer while you make the dough and the Knoedel.
On a clean surface place 2 cups of flour, make a well and add the riced potatoes.
With your hands mix the flour and the potatoes just slightly, then add the eggs. With your hands or with a wooden paddle mix all ingredients then, knead to make a soft dough.
This potato dough is not a noodle dough, it is a gnocchi dough. If it feels sticky add a little flour and continue kneading just long enough to incorporate the added flour.
If you noticed that I did not add any salt….. Salt draws the moisture out of the potatoes and makes it very sticky…..therefore, NEVER add salt to a potato dough.
Cut pieces of the dough large enough to encase a plum. Roll the Knoedel between your hands like you would a ball. When all the plums are encased and all the dough is used up……drop the Knoedeln into the simmering water. Cook about 15 to 16 minutes.
With a slotted spoon remove the Knoedeln from the simmering water and place them into a Pyrex baking pan…….and keep warm.
Just before serving – roll each Knoedel in the toasted bread crumbs.
I like to serve these Zwetschken Knoedeln as a lunch or a light supper with a dollop of Sour Cream and sprinkled with sugar.