Whenever I travel there is an array of activities I like to seek out wherever possible. Things I love to do and experience such as rafting, biking, shopping, tasting local specialties and so on. Speaking of local specialties – what’s the only thing better than tasting them? To learn how to make them yourself! So whenever I get to a country or region with particularly good food, I always try to book myself into a cooking class to see first hand how to make an Indian Mango-Fish Curry, original Italian pasta or – the most recent addition to my cooking skills – South Tyrolian dumplings.
This past weekend I took some time off in South Tyrol, a region in Northern Italy where most people speak German and much of the area is reminiscent of Austrian heritage. It differs to Tyrol, the Austrian part, in the sense that the climate is milder and the overall atmosphere has a more southern – Italian – flair. A lovely clash of cultures, which still feels natural and accommodating to visitors and locals alike.
I was surprised to learn that this region has the highest concentration of Michelin star chefs in Italy and it might just be due to the elegant fusion cuisine that can be found in many restaurants, most notably a restaurant in Merano called Sissi, run by Andrea Fenoglio where the milk lamb or the calf’s sweetbread will almost melt in your mouth.
Unfortunately Fenoglio doesn’t offer any cooking classes at the moment, but Martha Thaler does in her home, the Zmailer Hof up in Schenna, a small village just North of Merano. In a wonderfully homey and traditional ambiance she dishes up local specialties such as stinging nettle dumplings (which she actually invented before everybody else started making them as well), Kaiserschmarrn or apple strudel which has the crowds flocking up to her residence despite the mountainous ascent. Experienced drivers can also tempt to make their way up here with a car. It takes some nerves to drive up the narrow streets but once arrived, the view and the food make up for it all.
Cooking classes with Martha Thaler are not a customary everyday option at the Zmailer Hof but if you’re very interested, you can email them (firstname.lastname@example.org) and ask if there is a slot available. In our case we learned how to make dumplings (with bacon, but variably you can exchange the bacon for cheese or stinging nettle) and after that we were shown how to make apple strudel, both of which are surprisingly easy to make while still being an awesome sensation to your taste buds.
First things first: ingredients
To make dumplings for 4 people you need:
300 g white bread cut in small squares (toast works)
100 g smoked bacon (instead of bacon you can also add 250g of alpine cheese)
1 small onion
1 big spoon of butter
2 big spoons of flour
1/4 l milk
parsley or chives
First you add the milk to the bread (I recommend only using about 2 thirds of your milk and adding more only if necessary) and mix it all a bit. Then you cut your onion in small pieces and at medium heat fry in butter until glazed. Then fry your bacon in some oil and add it along with your eggs (2 if they’re normal/big in size and 3 if they are small), chives/parsley and salt. Now mix with your hands.
Hopefully your batter will look somewhat like it does in the shots above where Martha is mixing her ingredients. I made this recipe last night and I had added too much liquid so I had to double the amount of bread to soak up the extra milk. Once all is well mixed, form nice and round dumplings like Frank and I did here.
Help yourself with some water to ensure the dumplings are nice and round on the outside and eventually look a lot like this:
Now they can go in boiling water for only 10 minutes and are ready to be served after that. Locals with have them with only some butter and Parmesan and maybe a salad, but of course you are free to have them with Goulash or a nice piece of lamb for example.
If you’ve enjoyed this recipe I will gladly do another post on how to make apple strudel according to the magic cooking skills of Martha Thaler.