Sunday, April 3, 2011

White Bread on the World Stage

I'm part of a dining group that has potlucks around a theme. I've written about some of those dinners in this blog. The next dinner's theme is German. I have in my head a notion about German food, so I was delighted when the host wanted to sample German culinary culture around the world - including Pennsylvania and East Texas.

My own family has German roots. My Stepmom's father was born in Germany. Until I started thinking about this meal theme, I didn't think that German had too much to do with the way I ate as a child and growing up. I'm changing my mind. My grandfather was a farmer in and Colorado. He always had a large garden and a root cellar. My grandmother raised chickens. I'm pretty sure they raised some pigs, too. Grandpa liked his sauerkraut. Grandma sometimes made him spaetzle, but more often chicken soup with biscuit dumplings.

I think underneath the food I grew up with was this Germanic theme that emphasized meat, root vegetables, and garden vegetables. We often baked our own bread and desserts. We rarely purchased prepared foods or ate out very much. The food was hearty and perhaps heavy, and often overdone.

So along comes this German-themed dinner. I decided to pick a place that was not Germany, but German-influenced. I also wanted to prepare a homey dish. I settled on a dish from the Alto-Adige region in Italy, Speck Knödel. It's a bread dumpling (as opposed to a biscuit dough or noodle dumpling) that uses Speck, a cured and smoked bacon imported from Alto-Adige.

Speck is hard to find in the greater Washington, DC area. I finally procured a (large) quantity from Antico Mercante in Atlanta, Georgia. It's a slab of bacon, and it has a subtle, smoked taste to it. I've been eating too much of it. It makes the Speck Knödel into a wonderful dish.

Of course, I get to experiment on Ron. I made this dish this weekend, and it tasted really good. I've had bread dumplings before, and they are often heavy. These were not. My Mother made a bread dressing and stuffing when I was growing up, and these dumplings taste a lot like that dressing. I think it's interesting how the form of food changes as it moves from place to place. Do noodles become spaetzle, then bread dumplings, and finally dressing? Maybe not, except that there remains a commonality of taste and ingredients. It's been a lot of fun exploring some (perhaps stretched) cultural culinary connections.