The patient art of loving vegetables

Pea dumplings

I am not a vegetarian. Why? Mixture of things – laziness, difficulty in planning, a hectic lifestyle so environmentally unfriendly that honestly I don’t think the amount of meat I eat makes much difference. I should stop catching all those planes first. And in general, I am not too keen on giving up on anything completely.

Anyway, I am quite aware that mass-produced meat is not good for the environment. I eat as little as I can, which usually means I have meat once or twice a week. This is something I am not very proud of, because it does not stem from any considerable effort: it is  natural to me because I just love vegetables. Vegetables are the sexiest things ever.

Pea dumpling filling

Pea dumpling filling

Not quite convinced? try this recipe. It does require some work. While I was preparing it, I reflected on how my attitude to cooking has changed over the years. It all started with cakes. I baked cakes and breads and cookies for years. My mum is an excellent cook and the only thing she did not make in massive amount was baking. I rarely ventured into the savoury side of things, but I had the greatest patience in preparing the most obscure dough types and fillings, and in shaping cookies and pre boiling bretzels… Then I started to add ravioli and other filled pasta to my cooking routine. I developed a passion for it. I am not by nature a patient person, but I do recognize that patience is indeed a great and underestimated virtue. I exercised it in many ways over the years. For instance, I spent almost ten years studying piano every day. I do not have any talent whatsoever for music – believe me, I did not learn much in those ten years. I still love music, but I probably would just as much even if I did not receive any training.  I found the half an hour a day I spent sitting at my piano the most boring thing ever, sometimes. And on the other hand, in a way, it felt good. My mind was empty, and this is quite a result for a hyperactive and over excited girl. I learned the virtue of patience, I learned not to give up, and I learned to appreciate other people’s talent, and the dedication it requires to make it grow.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not complaining. I do have talents. There are things I am good at – weirdly enough, they are not things I find particularly exciting or interesting, but I am good at them and they actually help me in earning a living, so I am proud of them. And I do recognize that my skills were partly a gift of nature, but if I had to measure, I’d say the countless hours I spent in learning to devote my attention to something, even when boring and frustrating, were the key to unleash my talent. It would be unusable otherwise.

So back to the kitchen. I spend years shaping ravioli and tortelllini. These are high satisfaction yield efforts, because they are bound to wake a compliment in the people you are feeding, while the latest broccoli salad may well pass unnoticed. Filled pasta makes people feel pampered and special: I still remember how my dad praised a dish of meat ravioli telling me that that dish alone could make the success of a restaurant. It is probably the nicest compliment he has ever made me, he is not the kind of person who would say something to me just because it is nice.

When I first heard of gyoza, I was bound to develop a obsession for them, also because a recipe for them was in the most crazy and funny manga ever. I never tried that recipe though. I have this dream in front of me: one far away day, in a far away place, I will be home. I will know I won’t need to move everything in six months. I’ll love the place I live so that I won’t even feel the urge to. I’ll have a beautiful house full of light and with a large kitchen, and all my books will be on display – cookbooks closest to the kitchen of course.  I will of course share my house with my love and his amazing collection of comics.  Among them one of the most prominent places will be held by Dorohedoro. I will leaf trough the whole collection with pristine hands, I promise, and find the number with the gyoza recipe. I will prepare them without substituting a single ingredient. And I will eat gyoza after gyoza after gyoza with my chopsticks. I might even start again with the piano lessons.

Dumpling dough

Dumpling dough

Now a stable place and lifestyle is a dream. But gyoza are not. Over the years I have tried a certain number of recipes and many of them are really good. What I really like is the cooking method. Steaming or pan frying gives gyoza and chinese dumplings a lightness, a delicacy which the Italian counterpart, boiled, kind of looses. Italian ones need eggs in the dough, or durum wheat, to hold their bite while boiling; while if you steam them, they won’t be soggy or overcooked, so the wrapping is just that – a subtle wrap meant to concentrate  flavours from the filling. On the filling side, I still prefer my flavours to be decidedly mediterranean.

So here you go. The filling is amazing – Heidi trained us to expect nothing less from her standards, but this one is even better than Heidi’s impossibly high average recipe. Standard store-bought wrapper? No way! Find you hidden domestic goddess and go for hand rolling. But don’t lose time with the wrong wrapping recipe. In the vast world wide web out there, there is of course a most talented blogger who has already done all the hard work for you. Here you go. This dough is perfect. It is so easy to work with I felt like crying of joy the first time I made it. Smooth, non sticky, non elastic – it just keeps the shape you give it and won’t stick. Just make sure you don’t make it dry too fast and you will be fine. A killer recipe for this filling. (By the way, not sure if you are familiar with Joycelyn’s website – her pictures are as perfect as her recipes and her writing; the only thing I would suggest her as an adoring fan, is a slightly better search/archiving facility)

And Heidi is of course right – steam the dumplings, don’t pan-fry them, they are so delicate. They also freeze well.

Pea and Lemon dumpling

Ingredients:

FIlling:

300 g peas, fresh or frozen
200 g ricotta
1 small shallot
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
30 g parmesan, grated
zest of half lemon, grated
pinch of salt

Dough:

250 g plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
150 ml water

Method:

Start with the filling, since the dough does not need any rest. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Blanch the peas for about one minute if frozen, maybe less if fresh. They must be al dente. Drain and cool them under some cold running water. Drain well. Peel and roughly chop the shallot. Put it in a large bowl, if using a hand blender, or in your food processor, together with the ricotta and the lemon zest, and whizz until almost smooth. Add the peas, olive oil, parmesan and some salt and quickly whizz again; the peas should retain some texture. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Set aside.

For the dough, measure the water and make it boil. Prepare flour and salt in a large bowl, pour the hot water on it, and mix well with a fork. The dough will come together very quickly. Let cool until you are able to handle it; then knead it for a few minutes on a lightly floored surface. It will quickly become extremely smooth. Cover it with a dump cloth and get ready to roll it.

To roll the dough: I decided to go for square shapes, but on Joycelyn’s site you’ll find instructions for obtaining perfect round shapes and gyoza shaped dumpling out of it. Divide dough in eight, with each part roll a square-ish shape  and cut 4 10X10 cm squares out of it (roughly). Collect the trimmings and put them under the wet cloth. You can then reuse them and get more squares. You will get 30 squares in this way. Stack the squares one on top of the other as you go, using a little flour if they tend to get sticky. I prefer to roll about eight squares and then fill them for variety, but you can do all the rolling first if you prefer. Just keep the dough well covered.

For filling place a scant (scant! don’t be greedy!) teaspoon of filling in the center. Fold two opposite corners create a triangle, close the borders carefully, and fold the two side corners towards the center, one on top of the other. This shape, which is roughly the one used in Heidi’s recipe, is very simple but pretty. You can choose to go for more elaborate shapes if you like or just go for the triangle. Let the dumpling rest on a bit of non-stick paper.

To freeze, put them on a rigid surface and wait until frozen, then store them in a bag.

To cook the dumpling, if you have a steamer you can use it; I don’t so I used my pressure cooker with the basket for steaming vegetables. Cover it with some sort of leaf (lettuce, cabbage…). Add water, bring to the boil, then arrange some dumplings, a few at a time, and close the lid (without closing the pressure valve). They are ready when they are translucent – this takes me about five minutes, because my hand-made dough is thicker than store-bought one. Allow maybe an extra minute if starting from frozen.

Serve with a few drops of good quality olive oil and a sprinkle of good quality salt.

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6 Comments to “The patient art of loving vegetables”

  1. amazing and moving post. Thank you

  2. That pea and lemon filling sounds amazing! And thanks for the detailed description of the pasta, I’ll have to give it a go…

  3. Hi caffetiera, this is really a brilliant idea to combine the best of eastern and western dumpling methods. My head is almost exploding with all the possibilities, like my favorite pumpkin ravioli as potstickers with sage-butter dipping sauce. And for these pea ones I even have a new bamboo steamer waiting to make its debut.

    As for Jocelyn’s dumpling dough, I’m not surprised it’s a dream. That woman is a kitchen *goddess*. She’s also one of the smartest, funniest and all around nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting (though I agree with you about the recipe archiving – she has so many gems and no way to find them…)

    • Thanks everyone for the nice comments! You made my day.

      @Melissa: Denis Cotter has a great recipe for oriental style wontons wrapped around a filling of pumpkin, macadamia nuts and lemon zest which I really love (they are served in a oriental flavoured broth), so I’m confident that a variation with pumpkin would work great (much more in season than peas, definitely!).

      I can’t believe you met Jocelyn! I’d love to be able to attend one of her classes, did you manage to do that? She’s a huge inspiration for me, like you are, by the way!

  4. This is such a precious post! As precious as these dumplings that you lovingly prepared for your family; I can think of several dishes in our Lebanese kitchen that could be adapted to these. Wonderful filling too.

  5. You share my attitude towards meat. I love it, but am happy eating it 2 or 3 times a week. It’s much better to focus on the quality of the products you’re eating, instead of which products you’re eating.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts

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