The Second Life Of Bread
My Austrian mother would always save the end of loaves, slice them thinly, leave them to dry out in a low oven and then grind them into breadcrumbs. Making schnitzel with home made breadcrumbs was second nature, just the done thing. Recipes that use up stale bread are a hallmark of good kitchen economics, whether in the home kitchen or a commercial one. Of all the food waste we generate ($42 worth a week per Victorian household) bread is probably the easiest one to give a second life to. Dried breadcrumbs keep a long time stored in an airtight container, so it is a no brainer to stop bread going to landfill. Fresh crumbs can be stored in the freezer and used for stuffing a roast chicken or be mixed with mince when making meatballs. Making bread crumbs was probably my earliest kitchen experience, along with coating the schnitzels in flour, egg and those lovely toasted crumbs. One of my favourite childhood dishes was dumplings made with bread (semmel knödel). These tasty dumplings could be a stand alone dish with a creamy mushroom sauce or be served as an accompaniment to stews. In fact they could get a third life sliced, pan fried and then stirred through with a beaten egg for brunch the next day. A lot of food cultures give bread a second life, think of fattouche (pita bread) salad, zuppa pomodoro (Italian bread soup), bread, cabbage and fontina cheese soup from the Italian/French Alps and bread and butter pudding. Next time you put together a cheese board or put out dips why not serve thin toasts of left over baguette or sourdough instead of bought crackers. It’s a simple and spontaneous way to give bread a second life.
These Austrian bread dumplings are made by toasting the cubed bread in a little olive oil until lightly golden before soaking in milk. This helps to keep the dumpling as an aggregate of bread cubes, stopping them from becoming doughy and heavy. If you cut through a cooked dumpling you should see quite a bit of the open texture of the bread.
The bread dumplings can be made as balls or formed into a long fat sausage, wrapped up in a serviette or muslin cloth, poached in boiling water and then cut into thick slices. The basic ingredients are stale white bread, milk, egg, chopped onion, parsley and a little flour with various optional additions like chopped cooked spinach or finely diced bacon.
for 4 people as a side
- 3 thick slices of white bread, crusts removed
- olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 1/3 cup chopped parsley
- freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 egg, broken up with a fork
- 1-2 tbs plain flour
Cut the bread up into 1 cm cubes. Heat a frypan with a little oil and toast the cubed bread, tossing it around until it is lightly golden in colour. Place the cubes in a large bowl and add enough milk to moisten them and leave for 15 minutes. Stir after 5 minutes to ensure all the cubed bread gets wet. Wash and wilt the spinach if using. Drain and when cool, squeeze out the water and chop finely. Alternately finely chop the parsley. Sauté the onion. Squeeze out the bread and discard the milk. Add the onions, spinach or parsley, a grating of nutmeg and the egg. Mix well, adding a little flour to help bind it. Don’t be too heavy handed as you want to keep the dumpling together but still light in texture. Wet your hands and roll the mix into balls slightly smaller than a tennis ball or form a large fat sausage, wrap in a cloth and tie the ends with kitchen string. Rest the dumplings for 20-30 minutes and meanwhile bring a large pot of water to the boil. To test the consistency of the mix it is a good idea to just cook one to see if it holds together in the water. Add dumplings to the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer and poach for 10 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon. Tie the cloth dumpling to a long wooden spoon to suspend it over the pot and simmer the dumpling sausage for 30 minutes. Serve with a mushroom cream sauce or melted butter, toasted breadcrumbs and a grating of cheese. This is a delicious and very economical vegetarian meal. Paired with a meaty stew with plenty of gravy, the dumplings really have equal billing.