Jiaozi, manti, ravioli, pierogi, vareniki – dumplings filled with meat, potatoes, cabbage, even sweet cottage cheese and cherry compote, can be found anywhere between Shanghai and Stuttgart. But why do we have this urge to boil a tasty filling between two layers of pasta? The Swabians in southwest Germany have an answer. During lent, they would hide the meat in dumplings, so God or, at least, the pastor wouldn’t know they were cheating. That’s how the Swabian Maultasche was supposedly invented. With lent just around the corner, I decided to come up with a truly vegetarian Maultasche that wouldn’t need to hide its filling, but of course will continue to do so – for tradition’s sake.
Have you ever bitten into a dumpling in joyful anticipation of a delicious filling only to find yourself disappointed? Sometimes I wonder if the fact that the filling is not visible seems to make it forgivable to neglect flavor and the quality of the ingredients – especially of the meat used. That got me thinking – what’s a good vegetarian filling for a Maultasche?
My first thought for a tasty Maultaschen filling was mushrooms. But on a second thought – I’m not vegetarian, but if I were, I’d be so tired of the endless portobello and shiitake mushrooms that everyone feeds me. Also, I’m surrounded by people that hate mushrooms, so I’d be making this dish basically only for myself.
The basic structure of the filling is provided by little cubes of my self-baked rye bread. (Any bread with good flavor and some substance should do.) To make the texture even more interesting, I added hazelnuts. Shallots, garlic and spinach are a nod to the traditional Maultasche. Finally, dried porcini mushrooms add some earthy, deeper flavor without overpowering everything else. I hope this might pass with some of the mushroom-haters.
Maultaschen (that don’t need to hide from the pastor). Makes about 16 pieces/enough for lunch for 4 or an appetizer for 6.
For the pasta dough:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour.
- 4 eggs.
- 2 tbsp olive oil.
For the filling:
- 1/3 cup dried porcini mushrooms.
- 1 cup of rye bread cubes – about the size of a penny. I use my self-baked rye bread, but I imagine something like Trader Joe’s 100% Rye Bread or even a pumpernickel bagel might work.
- 2 tbsp butter.
- 1/3 cup whole hazelnuts.
- 4 cups spinach.
- 2 shallots.
- 2 garlic cloves.
- 2 tbsp olive oil.
- 1 egg, whisked together.
- salt, pepper, nutmeg.
To boil the Maultaschen:
- 1.5 quart good broth.
Step one. Before you start anything else, put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and add boiling water, until they’re just covered. Then make a pasta dough. On a large cutting board or on your clean kitchen counter, pile up the flour. Make a hole in the middle, put in the oil, a pinch of salt and eggs. Starting from the middle, mix eggs and slowly work in the flour. Use your hands. By doing this on a surface rather than in a bowl, you can slowly mix in the flour until you get a good dough. Make sure it’s still wet enough, but not sticky any more. In some cases, that means you don’t even need all the flour, while in other cases you may even need to add some extra. It all depends on your flour, size of eggs. Wrap the dough ball in saran wrap and put into the fridge for an hour.
Step two. Toast the hazelnuts in a pan over low to medium heat. Transfer into a large bowl. Melt butter and toast the bread cubes in it. Transfer to bowl. Take the mushrooms out of the water and save the water for letter. Lightly press them and chop finely. Chop shallots and garlic. Put the oil in your pan, brown the shallots on medium heat, add garlic and mushrooms and cook for a little more. Finally, add the spinach and cook until it has wilted. Transfer everything to the bowl with the bread crumbs. Add one egg, season with salt, pepper and a bit of fresh nutmeg.
Step three. Lightly dust a cutting board or kitchen counter with flour and roll out a quarter of the pasta dough into a rectangle – about 10 x 20 in. You can use a pasta machine, but who has space for all these kitchen tools? I don’t even have rolling pin, but use an empty wine bottle. You want the pasta to be as thin as a penny. Next, put four little piles of filling (1-2 tbsp) next to each other on the left half of the dough with enough space in between. Using a kitchen brush, wet the dough around the filling. That will make it stick better.Fold over the right half of the dough, carefully push the two layers around the filling together, cut into rectangular Maultaschen along those lines. Make sure each one is securely close without any air in there. Using a fork, you can enforce the seams and make a nicer pattern.
Step four. In a medium-size pot, bring the broth to a boil, add the mushroom water and taste. Adjust salt and pepper, throw in a rosemary twig. Turn down the heat, so the broth is just below boiling. Now put in your Maultaschen, a few at a time. Let simmer, but not boil for 5-7 minutes. Serve with some of the broth.