Reduce Waste Recipes: Italian dumplings from stale bread

Bread is one of the most commonly wasted foods. Research suggests that we throw away the equivalent of 20 million slices of bread a day in the UK. FoodHub volunteer Joanne shows us how to avoid waste by making Italian dumplings from stale bread.

Stale bread can be a great base for lots of meals

In the mountain regions of Northern Italy's Trentino-Alto Adige, they know how to make the best of old bread. Like neighbouring countries such as Germany, Austria and Slovenia, finding ways to use breadcrumbs is a traditional way of avoiding waste and eating frugally. In Italy, these dumplings are now celebrated as part of a distinctive Alpine food tradition. They aren't well-known in the UK which is a pity as they are a fantastic way of reducing food waste.


These dumplings typically bind together chunky breadcrumbs or tiny cubes of stale bread with egg and flour and the mix is then flavoured with a wide range of ingredients. Often known as canederli, common varieties are cheese or the dried ham speck or spinach, although they can be made with a wide range of ingredients including nettles and beetroot. Small cheese or ham dumplings are often served bobbing in a simple clear vegetable broth and larger ones with a range of sauces or toppings, most commonly melted butter and grated cheese. Many are vegetarian and there are now also recipes for vegan canederli. Plainer dumplings are sometimes used as a side dish for stews or roasts instead of potatoes.


We decided to try out three versions using bags of breadcrumbs we'd stashed in the freezer when we had leftover bread. Although it's not essential, these are typically made using white bread but there is room to experiment with whatever you have. We decided to tackle beetroot, spinach and bacon varieties.

Beetroot dumplings ready to cook

For Beetroot Dumplings we used a recipe we found online by Kathy Bechtel. They were easy to make, although the kitchen looked a bit like a crime scene. We substituted parmesan for the grana padano cheese because it was what we had in and we just used plain old red beetroot. We added a little more flour than the recipe demanded until the mix felt a little claggy. You can make them ahead of time and pop them in the fridge until you're ready to cook them. We were sure they'd fall apart when we simmered then but none of them did. We ate them with the yoghurt and horseradish sauce the recipe recommended but that isn't necessary - they'd be good with a salad or slaw or some sour cream or yoghurt mixed with dill.


Beetroot canederli with a Yogurt and Horseradish Sauce

Next up were Bacon Dumplings, based on a recipe in 33 x South Tyrolean Classics. Although you can find the more traditional speck in some British supermarkets, it can be expensive so we substituted smoked bacon. There are also recipes for cheesy versions.


Canederli made with bacon topped with butter and sage

To make these you'll need: 150g stale bread (cut into very small cubes), 1 small onion (finely diced), 20g butter, 2-3 rashers of smoked bacon (finely diced), 1 egg, 100ml milk, 1 tbspn parsley or chives (finely chopped) and 40g plain flour.


Method: 1) Sauté the onion in the butter for 5 minutes and then add the bacon and cook for a further 5 minutes. 2) Leave to cool a little and then mix with the bread. Add the flour and mix again. 3) Beat together the egg and milk, salt and pepper, and herbs. Then add to the other ingredients and mix very well so all the bread gets damp. 4) Leave to stand for 15 minutes. Form into approx 8 dumplings and chill until you're ready to use. 5) Bring a big pan of water to the boil, add the dumplings and then turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and serve.


Italian canederli topped with parmesan with a fennel salad

To serve: You can eat these just as they are or with some plain melted butter and herbs. We topped them with grated parmesan. They'd be good with a range of salads: we had it with a fennel salad but a cabbage salad would be more traditional and substantial.


Last up were Spinach Dumplings, based on a recipe from Sarah Raven's Garden Cookbook. To make these you'll ideally need a steamer although, if you're feeling brave you could try poaching them in simmering water.


Spinach dumplings with a tomato sauce

To make these you'll need: 100g breadcrumbs, 500g spinach, 1 garlic clove (crushed), 1 egg white, 50g of parmesan or similar cheese (finely grated), 1/2 tspn of freshly grated nutmeg, 1 tbspn of parsley (finely chopped) and 1 tbspn plain flour. You'll also need some greaseproof paper to line your steamer.


Method: 1) Finely chop the spinach (removing any thick stems if you're using large leaves). Cook for a few minutes in a little boiling water until soft. Drain and then squeeze out all the water - wrapping it up in a old (but clean!) tea towel and then squeezing it like mad really helps with this. Be careful not to burn your hands! Cool. 2) Combine all the ingredients and season well. 3) Shape into golf ball sized dumplings, pop them on a plate and chill in the fridge until you're ready to cook them. 4) Line a steamer with greaseproof paper and make a few small holes in it. Pop in the dumplings then place the steamer over simmering water, cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes. You may need to do this in two batches. Remove and serve.


The spinach canederli didn't last long

To serve: these are typically eaten with melted butter and grated cheese. Alternatively you can serve them with the kind of tomato sauce you use with pasta. We made our's by frying a couple of cloves of chopped garlic in a little oil, adding a tin of tomatoes along with seasoning (and a pinch of sugar), squashing the tomatoes with a wooden spoon and cooking uncovered over a very low heat for up to an hour.


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