Dec 29, 2010

Recipe of the week: Runzas

Today I'm showing my roots, both literally and figuratively.  (My hairdresser will take care of one of those problems soon; in the meantime, we'll concentrate on my figurative childhood roots, which were grown in that good Nebraska farming soil.)

Runzas (pronounced just like you think: RUN-za) are a handful of warm comfort food, a "hot pocket" meaty sandwich that goes back to the late 1700s. Runzas became a fast-food phenomenon in the midwest in the mid-20th century, and I have enjoyed them since I was a youngster and have made them for my own children to eat as a meal or quick snack. As bowl games get underway, I try to balance easy-to-fix snackage with hearty, wholesome foods. Runzas fit the bill perfectly on both counts. You can make them with frozen bread dough, or make your own favorite plain bread dough.

The recipe for bread dough here is adapted from a basic bread recipe in Mary Gubser's "Mary's Bread Basket & Soup Kettle" cookbook and turns out reliably delicious white bread dough each time I use it.

Ingredients for Dough
2 loaves frozen bread dough, thawed and brought to room temperature

1 package (or tablespoon) dry active yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups milk, scalded and cooled
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
4-4 1/2 cups white flour (I prefer King Arthur's bread flour; can use all-purpose flour)

Ingredients for Filling
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 head cabbage, shredded (about 3 cups)
1 cup shredded carrots
1 medium onion, diced (1-2 cups)
salt & pepper to taste
10-12 slices American cheese (optional but HIGHLY recommended)

If using frozen dough, you'll need to make sure the loaves are completely thawed and warmed and relaxed (you may thaw them in the refrigerator overnight, then move the loaves to a counter and cover with a tea towel to finish warming and softening - the "dethawing" process cannot be shortcut.)

If making bread dough, combine yeast, water and sugar in large bowl. Allow yeast to "proof" (begin to bubble and expand), then add milk, melted butter and salt.  Begin adding flour one cup at a time, until a soft dough is formed.  Turn onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and satiny, about ten minutes (or use heavy mixer with dough hook.)  Place dough in large greased bowl, turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and a cotton tea towel, allow to double in bulk, about 1 hour.

Once the dough is ready to roll, make filling by placing all ingredients except cheese in large skillet.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Cover in between stirrings to speed up wilting of vegetables. Once the beef is brown and the vegetables are softened, drain well.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Divide dough in half (or use one loaf at a time) and roll out dough on lightly floured surface into a 10x18 rectangle. Cut into 6-inch squares (you should wind up with 10 or 12 pieces of dough.)  Place a slice of cheese in center of each square and top with a generous spoonful of filling.  Pinch corners together, easing sides of dough into a "knot" on the bottom of the bun.  Place runzas, seam side down on greased cookie sheet.  Repeat with second half of dough.  When all runzas are made, allow to rise another 30-40 minutes, then bake at 375 for 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Brush with butter (I always brush mine with milk or cream first, then rub with butter.) Allow to cool before serving. Can be refrigerated or frozen, then reheated.  Makes 10-12 runzas.

These are a bit of a "labor of love" especially if you are making the dough from scratch.  But you can make up a batch, then refrigerate or freeze them to reheat later.  Runzas are a delicious, easy way to get even picky eaters (pint size or full-grown ones) to nosh on some cabbage and carrots, and love the experience.

Happy eating,