The name maultaschen is distinctive enough. It can translate as “mouth bags” or “feedbags.” But there’s an even more striking nickname for these ravioli-like pouches stuffed with minced and smoked meats, mushrooms, onions, parsley, and breadcrumbs. In the Swabian region of southern Germany, they’re called herrgottbescheisserle, which means, roughly, “things you want to hide from Mister God.”
Legend has it that maultaschen originated at the Maulbronn Monastery, about 28 miles northwest of Stuttgart, in the 13th century. During Lent, when the monks were supposed to abstain from meat, they folded bits of ground pork and beef in with their vegetables and herbs and hid the mixture inside palm-size pasta dumplings. The reasoning: God couldn’t see the meat and punish them for breaking their fast.
Today, while still a staple of Lenten dinners, maultaschen are eaten year-round, and since the 1980s, they have enjoyed a culinary renaissance in southern Germany. You can find them on nearly every restaurant menu in the region. Inside the Hotel Am Schloss, in the tiny university town of Tübingen, the second-generation chef Herbert Rösch makes maultaschen the centerpiece of the seasonally changing menu at his Restaurant Mauganeschtle (Hidden Place). The traditional version, which Rösch offers throughout the year, features a filling of hackfleisch (ground beef and pork), mixed with breadcrumbs, eggs, and herbs. The dumplings are served in a shallow bath of bouillon and topped with flecks of parsley.
Rösch’s father compiled a maultaschen cookbook, Schwäbisches Maultaschenbüchle, which includes more than two dozen recipes, both conventional and unusual (with green pepper–cognac sauce). Rösch follows that example by preparing different variations of maultaschen every few months.
In the late summer, after baking the doughy rectangles, filled with mushrooms and a mild, local white cheese, Rösch might brown them in butter until the pasta is slightly crisp. He finishes the presentation with chunky basil pesto and fresh mâche salad from the hotel’s garden. When you cut into one of these maultaschen, the melted cheese wraps around your fork like spaghetti and pulls the mushrooms along. The chef says his personal favorite is truffled veal maultaschen, in which he uses veal paté for the stuffing and dresses the dumplings with fresh truffle shavings or truffle oil.
In another example of south German wordplay, maultasche is sometimes translated as “a smack in the face”; the puffy pocket’s shape is like that of a swollen cheek. But when you’re stuffing your cheeks with these dumplings and sipping a glass of fresh-pressed local pear juice on Mauganeschtle’s terrace overlooking the Neckar River, it’s hard to imagine God is too upset with these “little cheaters,” having let them survive all these years.
How to Make Traditional Maultaschen
(SERVES 2 to 4)
Based on a recipe by Herbert Rösch
3½ tbsp butter
1 white onion, diced
½ bunch of parsley, chopped
½ pound ground beef
½ pound ground pork
2 ounces bacon, chopped
3 eggs, beaten
2 slices of white toast, crumbled
A pinch each of salt, pepper, and nutmeg
One large sheet of pasta dough, rolled thin and cut into 16 squares, 2 x 2 inches each
1 egg yolk, beaten
2 quarts beef broth or bouillon
1. In a large frying pan, melt the butter over low heat.
2. Sauté the onion and all but a few tablespoons of parsley in the butter until the onion is soft and transparent.
3. In a bowl, mix the onion and parsley with the meat, beaten eggs, and all but a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs, and season the mixture with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
4. Place a heaping spoonful of the filling mixture in the center of each 2-inch square so that there is a ¾-inch space between the filling and each edge of the dough.
5. With a pastry brush, paint the edges of the dough squares with egg yolk.
6. Lay a second 2-inch-square piece of dough over the top of the filling on each square and pinch the edges together well.
7. In a large pot, bring the broth or bouillon to a boil, carefully add the maultaschen, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the pouches float to the surface.
8. Serve the maultaschen in a shallow bowl of broth.
9. Alternatively, drain the maultaschen, brown them on both sides in a pan with butter along with a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs, and serve garnished with fresh parsley and the butter-browned breadcrumbs.
NOTE: A typical serving is 2 to 4 maultaschen per person. If there are any left over, cut them into 1-inch slices the next morning and fry the pieces in butter or bacon fat. Stir in beaten eggs and cook all together for a traditional German “scramble.”
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