Semmelknödel, a childhood favorite, on TV culinary competition
In Episode 6 of this season’s “Top Chef,” the ‘Cheftestants’ were asked to make a sweet and savory holiday dish that reflected their heritage. Imagine my surprise when Stefan Richter came up with a multi-component dish that included Semmelknödel, tennis ball-sized dumplings made from dried-out rolls. I have made them. My mother made them. My grandmothers made them, and I’m sure that previous generations of family cooks made them too. They not only are delicious, but they address our new sensibilities about avoiding waste.
When I moved into my first apartment and was starting to cook, my mother went through tattered, well-used recipes written in old-fashioned German handwriting that I was unable to decipher. She neatly transcribed them onto index cards and lovingly découpaged a small wooden box to hold them.
One card is for Semmelknödel,not just a favorite in Austria but in much of the Germanic world. Stefan, it turns out, was born and Finland but grew up in Germany. I don’t know how Stefan made his Semmelknödel but I do know they were telegenic. Here’s my mother’s version:
12 dry rolls (or equivalent in bread), diced
1/2 cup butter
2 Tbsp. chopped onions
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 cups water
Salt to taste
2½ cups flour
Melt butter in a frying pan and sauté diced rolls, onion and parsley until bread is crisply toasted. Beat egg and water until frothy and add to mixture. Gradually blend with flour and mix thoroughly. Cover and chill for 2 hours. Boil salted water in a large soup pot. With floured hands, shape mixture into dumplings the size or medium oranges or tennis balls. Lower carefully into water and cover. Boil gently for 10 minutes. Lift from water and drain.
Makes 8 dumplings. Serve with goulash or other meat-and-gravy dishes, in a clear soup or a hearty beef broth– or chill, slice and sauté in butter until hot, brown and slightly crisp (my favorite way).
Back to the show: So far, Stefan is still in the running to become Season 10’s Top Chef, but some chefs have ben eliminated — or sort of eliminated. “Sort of” because a new wrinkle is the opportunity to give new life to eliminate chefs via the Save A Chef feature, when viewers have the opportunity to give a favorite another chance.