Monday, October 21, 2013

Runzas, Apparently Famous In Nebraska

Good evening everyone! The most recent Food Network Magazine had a feature titled "Made in the Midwest". The featured looked at signature dishes from Midwestern states, such as Minnesota's infamous "hot dish". Given that we hail from the Midwest ourselves, we thought we'd certainly find familiar dishes across the pages of this feature - we immediately found we were wrong.

The first dish featured was a Nebraskan concoction known as a Runza. Now, as I said, we live in the Midwest and Nebraska and Iowa are neighbors (Nebraska is immediately to the west of Iowa, for those who are geographically challenged) and yet I've never ever heard of the dish is that (supposedly) ubiquitous in Nebraska? Needless to say, I was surprised.

A runza, as it turns out, is a beef and spinach stuffed pastry, baked into individual servings. The dish has German roots which makes the fact that I've never heard of it even more curious (Maggie is a Germanic dish connoisseur and she had never come across the dish either).

Tonight, I aim to right the (apparently) egregious wrong - we'll make up our very own runzas...with a bit of a twist.

The Recipe: Nebraskan Runzas
Original Recipe Found: Food Network Magazine, October 2013 Issue

What You'll Need:
(Serves 8)

For The Dough:

1/4 Ounce Packet Active Dry Yeast
3 Tablespoons Sugar
4 Large Eggs
3 3/4 Cups Bread Flour
12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 Sticks) Butter (Softened)
2 Teaspoons Fine Sea Salt

For The Filling:

1 Pound 85% Ground Beef
1 Large Vidalia Onion
3 Cloves Garlic (Minced)
1 1/2 Teaspoons Dried Thyme
1 Tablespoon Canola Oil
8 Ounces Baby Spinach*

* I immediately made some adaptations to this recipe. First, I reduced the amount of butter the dish called for. In the dough, I dropped the butter to 1 stick, rather than 1.5 sticks. Next, I removed the 3 tablespoons butter called for when making the filling and replaced it with vegetable oil. Also, where the recipe called for something to be greased with butter, I substituted cooking spray. Finally, I pulled the baby spinach from the recipe and replaced it with a vegetable medley. Perhaps this ruins the integrity of the runza (as it is now essentially a baby beef wellington) but I'd rather a mixture of vegetables be amongst my meat than spinach. If you want to follow the original recipe to the letter, I suggest picking up a copy of the October issue.

Begin by preparing the dough. Add 3/4 cup warm (110 degree) water to a mixing bowl and stir in the yeast and a pinch of sugar. Once stirred, allow the mixture to rest until the yeast begins to foam and the bowl becomes warm to the touch (10 minutes).

Next, whisk 3 eggs into the bowl with the yeast. Transfer this mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer (you can do this by hand, and the original instructions call for it to be done this way - but we have a kitchen aid mixer that was made just for these kinds of jobs - if you have one, use it!)

Set the mixer to low and slowly work in half of the flour, allowing the mixer to incorporate the flour before adding more. Once half the flour has been worked in, drop in the butter (softened and sliced into smaller pieces) and allow the mixer to work it in. Next, add the sugar and let the mixer work it in, 1 to 2 minutes.

Finally, slowly add the remaining bread flour, allowing the mixer time to work in the flour evenly. Next, remove the mixing paddle from you stand mixer and attach the dough hook (dough hooks come standard with many stand mixers - it looks...well, like a hook). Set the speed to low and allow the dough hook to turn and knead the bread until it forms a cohesive ball that sticks to the hook. The dough should be lump free, smooth in appearance and slightly sticky to the touch. Once the dough reaches this point, turn off the stand mixer and remove the dough.

Lightly grease a large bowl with cooking spray and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover with a tea towel and let the dough rise for 1 hour at room temperature. After this, transfer the covered bowl to the refrigerator and allow the dough to rise for 1 to 2 more hours or overnight.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and separate it into 8 even pieces. Work the dough into balls and set them on the counter (loosely covered) for 30 minutes.

While the dough rests, you can begin working on the filling.

Brown the beef in a large, non stick skillet over medium high heat along with the onion. Strain out any excess fat after browning and transfer the beef/onion mixture to a bowl. Set aside.

In the same skillet, add a small amount of vegetable oil (1 tablespoon) and heat your vegetable medley (or chose veggies) until cooked through and softened - 8 to 10 minutes, depending on the type of vegetables you are using. Stir this vegetable mixture into the bowl with your beef and set aside to cool.

While your filling is cooling, begin readying your dough.

Roll each dough ball out into a 3X5 inch rectangle. Use a rolling pin to flatten each of the corners of the rectangle extra thin, so you create "wings" or elongated triangles on each corner. (If you're like me and simply cannot roll a ball of dough into a rectangle, simply roll the dough flat and then fold the dough like a burrito when you've added the filling. Pinch the seams and roll the ends - it won't look as pretty, but it works!)

Next, spoon 1/2 cup of the filling in the center of each runza. Grab the "wings" you mad earlier and fold them in towards the center. Work the dough around the filling until you've create an elongated loaf (football shape). Repeat this process with the remaining dough balls until you've made 8 runzas. Transfer them to a baking sheet and allow them to rise for an additional 45 minutes. Towards the end of those 45 minutes, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Crack the remaining egg in a bowl and whisk it with 2 tablespoons of water. Use a pastry brush to rub this egg wash over the outside of each runza. Place your baking sheet in the oven and bake the runzas until they are golden brown - 30 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

The Results:

I likely destroyed the sanctity of runzas by swapping out the spinach, and I'm sure cutting out the copious amounts of excess butter has angered the runza society of Nebraska - but in the end, I was pleasantly surprised with the final dish all the same. The easiest comparison to make is that a runza is a lot like a mini beef wellington - crispy outer crust, delicious meat and veggie centers. They're a bit time consuming and a little heavy on the steps, but these runzas make for a good "change it up" meal. If you're feeling adventurous - give them a try!

That's all we have for you this evening. Be sure to stop back tomorrow night to see what Maggie has cooking. Until then,



  1. There is no spinach in an original runza. Cabbage, hamburger, onion, salt and pepper. No eggs in the dough either.

    1. They said they took that recipe from somewhere else then made it their own. So did I. I did my own bread recipe and the mixture was shredded chicken, cheese, spinach, onions, seasonings and thick cut bacon. My family loved it!