You Say Runsa, I Say Runza

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Folks, this installment of one-new-food-a-day features a homemade -- yes, made in the Donovan kitchen -- meat and cabbage stuffed pastry brought to my native Nebraska by German immigrants. I found the recipe by chance in a cookbook that crossed my desk "America's Best Lost Recipes" at the paper. The dough, made with sweetened condensed milk, provided a sweet to the savory, dare I say bland, cabbage, onion, beef, cheddar cheese filling. I'm hoping to find out what WGN-AM 720 host Nick Digilio thinks when he has me on his show tonight (Friday) at midnight to talk about the blog.

In Nebraska, the Runza fast-food restaurants are a nice change of pace from the burger joints. And the sandwich, as they are knowns, are something fellow Nebraskans -- particularly my pack of friends populating several newsrooms in this city -- crave from time to time. Sure, they can be ordered online. But on a cold winter day, why not crank up the oven and see what you can do.
Here's a little runsa background courtesy of the recipe author Pam Patterson of Kansas. She tells the story of Volga Germans, ethnic German farmers who moved to Russia before immigrating to the Midwest and introducing locals to their runsa's (the restaurant calls them Runza's while Patterson calls them runsas). When the Runza Drive-in opened in Lincoln, Nebraska (Go Cornhuskers) back in 1945, it would go down as one of the earliest fast-food restaurants around. Today, there are still dozens of franchises in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Colorado.
Maybe if this journalism thing doesn't work out, I could start my own.
Here's the recipe.

3/4 cup water (110 degrees)
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 packages rapid-rise or instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt

3 tablesppons unsalted butter (with 2 tablesspoons melted)
1 1/2 pounds 90 percent lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped fine
1/2 small head cabbage, cored and chopped (about three cups)
Salt and pepper
8 slices deli American cheese

1. For the dough: Lightly grease a large bowl with cooking spray. Mix the water, condensed milk, oil, sugar, and egg in a large measuring cup. Mix the flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with dough hook. With the mixer on low, add the water mixture. After the dough comes together, increase speed to medium and mix until shiny and smooth, 4 to 6 minutes. Turn the dough out on to a heavily floured work surface, shape in to a ball, and place in the greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

2. For the filling: Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook until just beginning to brown, about 6 minutes, breaking up any large clumps. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beef to a paper-towel-lined plate. Pour off all but two tablespoon of fat from the pan. Add the cabbage and toss until just beginning to wilt, 2 to 4 minutes. Return the beef to the pan. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Assembly and Baking: Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat two baking sheets with cooking spray. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into 7-inch circles. Place one dough round into a deep cereal bowl and top with one slice of cheese. Spoon 3/4 cup of filling over the cheese and pinch the edges of the dough together to form at bun. Transfer the bun, seam-side down, to a prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, cheese and filling, placing four buns on each sheet. Cover the buns with plastic wrap and let rise until puffed, about 20 minutes. Bake the buns until golden brown, about 20 minutes, switching and rotating the baking sheets halfway through the baking time. Brush the buns with the remaining melted butter and serve.

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I enjoyed your visit on WGN. While you were very engaging, I think the highlight of the hour was Digilio spazzing about all people calling in with the exact address of Russell's Barbecue. Ah, 'GN listeners.

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