Some of the old Bohemian bakeries in the near west suburbs of Chicago used to sell “dumpling bread”: cubed, stale white or wheat bread in bags. You can easily make your own by letting the cubed bread sit out overnight, or by gently toasting the cubes in a low (200 – 250 degrees Fahrenheit) oven. Just don’t brown them since the dumplings should be uniform on the inside.
You’ll notice that making napkin dumplings is a lot like making turkey stuffing. And in fact napkin dumplings follow many of the same rules. They should be flavorful but not terribly salty, since gravy will be applied. They can be simple or fancy. You can make them basic, or you can dress them up with ham, bacon, mushrooms, chives, garlic and just about any spice or herb.
As for the cooking, these dumplings are traditionally boiled in napkins. I’m going to update the process a bit by using plastic wrap and tin foil, since that will both keep the dumplings from getting waterlogged and hold in all the flavor. Make yours like so:
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) butter
1 small onion, minced
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
8-10 ounces (about half a loaf) cubed, stale bread
salt to taste (no more than a teaspoon)
white pepper to taste
several gratings (maybe 1/4 teaspoon) nutmeg
1 cup milk
Place the bread in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and add the onion and sauté until it’s soft and translucent but not browned. Add the parsely and cook about 30 seconds more. Pour the mixture over the bread, sprinkle over the salt, pepper and nutmeg and toss to combine. In a small bowl whisk together the eggs and milk and pour it over the bread. Toss together until everything is moistened.
Set a large pot of water on to boil. Divide the mixture into three portions and spoon each portion onto a double layer of plastic wrap. Roll the mixture up and tighten the ends until the mixture looks like a thick sausage. Tie the ends and wrap the dumplings in foil. Simmer the dumplings about 30 minutes. Remove from the pot, gently unwrap, slice and serve warm.