Imagine lying on a flowery Alpine meadow while inhaling the resinous scent of mountain pine, and enjoying the salubrious effect of a chalice of local wine. This is a typical relaxation treatment in one of many wellness centers scattered in the mystical Alto Adige territory, and where for an entire summer week I took some time off to embrace the power of the mountains and nature.
In seven days of pure bliss my tense body was wrapped in damp hay, massaged from head to toe with balsamic ointments, emulsions made from freshly pressed apple juice and wrapped in cotton sheets soaked in salt and apple vinegar. An entire week of bathing in mountain pine waters and lazy soaking in tubs of whey sourced from the farmstead just around the corner. The renovation phase was finally topped with a "Vinotherapy" wine bath. This local – and now very popular – pamper supreme begins with an initial body scrub using crushed grape skins, followed by a brief nap wrapped in a crisp linen sheet, followed by a hot bath, a glass of red wine and a massage with grape-seed oil. Not to mention the food that comes with it all.
I'm a lover of all soups, whatever the season, and in the seven days of spa heaven, I OD'd on Knödel, or Canederli. These scrumptious dumplings made with leftover bread, are tremendously similar to Jewish matzah balls, likewise cooked and served in stock, and consumed preferably in front of a blazing fireplace.
200 g (1 cup) stale bread
20 g (2 tbsp) butter
80 g (5 tbsp) speck, diced (Optional)
1 small white onion
1 tbsp chives
50 g (1/4 cup) unbleached flour
100 ml (3 fl oz) boiling hot milk
1 sprig fresh marjoram
1 pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Prepare good meat stock, important for best results. No bouillon cube this time, sorry.
Dice the bread and soak it in the boiling hot milk, allowing the crumb to absorb milk for 2 hours. It should bloat but still remain sufficiently pliable, not completely melt.
Finely chop the speck (if you're using it), onion and cut the chives and marjoram.
Wilt the onion in some butter, simmering it gently for a few minutes. Let it cool.
Mash the pulpy bread with the tines of a fork or in a food mill. Add the onions, flour, the chopped speck, part of the chives and marjoram, and the egg. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and knead well with your wet hands, shaping the mixture into several dumplings the size of golf balls, and set aside.
In a large pot, heat the skimmed meat stock with the remaining chives and marjoram. Toss in the canederli and cook for 6-7 minutes. Serve 4-5 balls in each individual deep soup bowl, swimming in the steaming clear broth.
Pair with a stuctured red.
At the above-mentioned spa in Val di Non where I was pampered for that divine week of nourishing treatments, the chef (who happened to be the chief masseuse’s husband) made his knödel as one single fist-sized orb instead of the usual several per bowl.