Dumplings for perpetually hungry gannet-nieces

Today my visiting nieces requested dumplings for lunch and instead of going for the supermarket variety (Waiheke may be well-served when it comes to wineries but it is sadly lacking in cheap and cheerful Asian joints), we decided to make them ourselves. Of course that really meant me filling and pleating countless little parcels myself while they sheltered from the rain and watched a movie. It may take a little while to make up a decent number of them, but the other prep is quick and simple and I like the meditative quality of this kind of repetitive cooking task.

These dumplings are more like Japanese gyoza than the Chinese ones eaten in their dozens on the Balmoral dumpling strip. Half frying/half steaming them like this results in dumplings that are toothsomely crispy on one side and soft and chewy on the other; the best of both worlds.

Makes 30–40 with leftover filling

 

Dumplings 

500g pork mince (free-range, of course)

2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped

1 spring onion, very finely chopped

2cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated

5 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked to soften and finely chopped

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp sesame oil, plus extra for frying

pinch of salt

30–40 dumpling wrappers (available at Asian food stores and some supermarkets)

neutral vegetable oil for shallow frying

Dipping sauce 

soy sauce

rice vinegar

chilli (fresh, oil, or sauce), optional

toasted sesame seeds

finely sliced spring onion, for colour

 

Put the pork mince in a large bowl. Fill a small bowl with warm water.

Add all other dumpling ingredients except the wrappers to the pork and use your hands to mix everything together well.

Clean and dry your hands thoroughly (so the wrappers don’t stick). Place a dumpling wrapper on one hand and put 1 teaspoon of filling in the centre of the wrapper. (Don’t be tempted to use more or the dumplings will bulge and burst when cooking.)

Dip your finger in the warm water and wet the entire circumference of the wrapper, around the filling. Fold the wrapper in half to form a semi-circle and pinch the edges to form crimped, fully sealed little dumplings. Make sure they are sealed well, or they’ll open when you’re cooking them. If making 30–40 dumplings, you will probably have filling left over. You can freeze it for next time you have a dumpling-making craving, or if you’re more organised than me, make up extra dumplings and freeze them for a super-easy future fix.

Place one very large or two medium-sized frying pans over a medium-high heat and add the sesame oil and enough of the other oil to shallow fry. (Depending on how big your pans are you may need to cook the dumplings in batches; you don’t want to overcrowd the pan or they won’t go crispy.) Once the oil is shimmering, add the dumplings and cook for 3–4 minutes, until golden and crispy on one side.

Add 3 tablespoons of water to the pan and immediately cover with a lid. Cook for 6–7 minutes, until the wrappers are translucent, the meat is cooked (cut into one to check) and no water is left in the pan. Remove the lid and cook for a further minute or so to ensure the bottoms are crispy.

Mix together the soy sauce, vinegar, chilli (if using), sesame seeds and spring onion. Taste and adjust the ingredients as desired. Serve the dipping sauce alongside the dumplings and try to resist burning your mouth in the rush to get some before your nieces devour them all.

Although I’d like to say I always make my own wrappers, I’ve only done it a couple of times. I figure dumplings are fiddly enough without adding another step to something that I see as a simple meal, and the wrappers you can buy, such as these ones, are pretty good.

Mushroom, bacon and leek pappardelle (homage to the ‘godfather’ of Italian gastronomy)

Tonight I made this quick and easy mushroom, bacon, leek and rocket pappardelle in honour of the ‘godfather’ of Italian cuisine and fungi fan, Antonio Carluccio, who died today. It’s pretty simple – taking all of about 15 minutes to make – but then all the best Italian food is.

In general I’m averse to chains, but while living in London I spent a fair amount of time at Carluccio’s – the food was good, and the restaurants avoided the tacky look and feel of so many of the city’s numerous chains. When I first started going, always with the same good friend, I don’t think I even realised it was a chain, and I probably wouldn’t have known who Antonio Carluccio was. My friend and I would walk down to Carluccio’s in Ealing Broadway, where she lived, and have long boozy lunches that almost always involved a bottle (okay, two) of rose and the sea bass with crispy potatoes. I had worked at an Italian food store for a couple of years before university, so probably thought I knew a thing or two about that country’s cuisine, and today it’s my favourite to cook and to eat out.

Carluccio wrote something like 18 cookbooks, including A Passion for Pasta, with its wonderfully cheesy cover featuring the godfather joyfully cradling an enormous wheel of cheese filled with pasta.

Serves 2 with leftovers

 

2 tbsp olive oil

1 leek, thinly sliced

5 rashers streaky bacon, chopped

300g pappardelle (use the fresh pasta recipe in Carluccio and Contaldo’s Two Greedy Italians, or use store-bought; the Countdown ‘Gold’ brand one is surprisingly good I think)

2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

couple of handfuls mushrooms (I used brown button, but you could definitely be more adventurous), sliced

1 zucchini, cut into ribbons with a peeler

large handful of rocket

salt and freshly ground black pepper

olive oil, to serve

parmesan, to serve

handful of Italian parsley leaves, to serve

 

Put a large pot of boiling water on to boil.

While it heats, put the olive oil in a frying pan and when it’s glistening, add the leek and bacon. Cook, stirring, for 5-6 minutes until the leek has softened and the bacon is golden.

When the water is boiling, add a pinch of salt and pappardelle. Cook for approximately 3-4 minutes for fresh pasta (this will depend on thickness though so keep testing it) or according to packet instructions. Drain and reserve about an eighth of a cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot.

Add the garlic and mushrooms to the frying pan and cook for 2-3 minutes until the garlic is cooked but not browned and the mushrooms have softened slightly. Add the mushroom mixture to the pasta along with the cooking water, zucchini ribbons, rocket and salt and pepper, and stir through.

Serve with lashings of olive oil, grated parmesan and Italian parsley.

Pici carbonara

Yesterday I saw a post on Instagram that brought back vivid memories of two of my favourite meals in Italy. It was handmade pasta (tonneralli) with a really simple carbonara sauce. The tonneralli made me reminisce about the handmade pasta we had enjoyed all over Italy, but in particular Siena and Capri: rustic, thick, not-quite spaghetti. The woman who posted it described the meal as close to a religious experience, and I can relate to that; some of the meals we enjoyed in Italy will stick with me for the rest of the life.

In Siena we had a dish of toothsome pasta ribbons with a simple tomato sauce and finely chopped boiled egg. Apparently the egg addition is typical of Italian ‘peasant’ food – an affordable source of protein. In Ana Capri, the smaller, ‘top’ town on the island of Capri, we had thick worms of pasta that were deliciously chewy and served with a seafood sauce.

I’ve tried making pici pasta since, and it was a little overwhelming – the texture wasn’t quite right. That Insta photo set off a mad fresh pasta craving though, so I decided to try it again last night with the addition of a little olive oil, hoping it would add a little chewiness. Traditional Sienese pici is made with just flour and water so I can’t claim this is authentic, but it’s damn good.

I am firmly in the no-cream camp when it comes to carbonara.

Serves 2

pici

2 cups high-grade flour

½ tbsp olive oil

pinch of salt

carbonara

2 tbsp olive oil

100g pancetta (or guanciale, if you want to be traditional and can get it)

3 egg yolks, beaten

freshly ground black pepper

grated parmesan or other hard cheese

Put all the pici ingredients in a large bowl.

Start with about three-quarters of a cup of warm water and stir with a spoon to combine. Keep adding a little more water and stirring until you have a loose but not wet dough.

Tip the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface and bring it together into a ball. Knead the dough, using the heels of your palms, for about 5 minutes, until smooth and slightly elastic. It should spring back when you push it with your fingertip.

Shape the dough into a disc and wrap it in plastic wrap. Rest for at least two hours. (I left mine out of the fridge.)

Separate the dough into two pieces and rewrap one piece so it doesn’t dry out while you work with the other. Use a rolling pin (or bottle of wine . . .) to roll the dough out into a rough rectangle about half a centimetre thick. Cut into strips a centimetre wide. Don’t worry if they are different lengths or slightly different widths – this is rustic pasta.

Use your hands to roll each strip of pasta into a thick worm. As you work, place each worm onto a lightly floured clean tea towel.

In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.

Add pici to the boiling water. Add pancetta to the sizzling oil and stir until crispy then turn off the heat.

The pasta should take about 5 minutes to cook, but this will depend on the thickness so check it regularly. I like it al dente and slightly chewy.

Drain the pici and add to the pan with the pancetta. Take the pan off the element and add the egg yolks, stirring immediately to coat the pasta evenly and avoid the egg scrambling. Add more olive oil if needed. Season generously with pepper and taste before adding sea salt if required.

Before serving, sprinkle generously with parmesan.

I served the pici carbonara with baby peas on the side, which I admit I stirred through the pasta before eating it.

‘Peasant’ pasta at Osteria Nonna Gina’s in Siena. Part of a three-course lunch including rabbit and finished off with amaretto and espresso.
Lunch on the terrace in Ana Capri.
My pici carbonara.

 

 

 

 

Why I love what I do

I love that my job requires me to be open-minded. Sometimes a project introduces me to a subject that I wouldn’t necessarily seek out on my own and I become, for the duration of the project at least, expert in something quite niche or simply outside of my own daily experience; other times I get to indulge in well-established interests like cooking or design. Or cats.

If we’re lucky, us freelancers are sent copies of the books we work on. (Thank you, publishers! I really appreciate seeing, and owning, the finished product.) I’ve had a few arrive on my doorstep over the past couple of weeks and this lot represents the range of jobs I do quite well: copy-editing, proofreading, writing, research, project management (plus a fair bit of voluntary recipe testing!). These are all books that I’m honoured and happy to have played a part in.

Recently a publisher commissioned me to co-write a memoir of sorts. Helping someone tell their story is a fascinating and satisfying process. Assuming all subjects are as gracious, kind and easy to work with as this one, I’d love to do more of this kind of work, and I’m looking forward to sharing details of this book in due course. In the meantime, here are the new additions to my bookshelf, all available now (or very soon) in good bookshops or online:

Poached chicken spring soup with crispy chicken crack

After many a chicken roast over winter, I have a freezer full of both chicken stock and chicken frames waiting to be made into stock. I also have more lemons that I know what to do with at the moment; lucky I’m addicted to their citrus tang. This soup was a practice run for Evan’s turn to cook for the Monday Soup Club they do at his work (replaced with Monday Salad Club in summer; Waiheke Primary is full of great initiatives like this). We stirred in an avgolemono mix – whisked egg and lemon – at the end to lend it a dairy-free creamy silkiness. You could use whichever vegetables you like in this – baby turnips, asparagus and other spring veg would all be good.

Serves 4 (or 2 with leftovers for lunch the next day)

3 tbsp olive oil

1 leek, finely sliced

2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

1 carrot, sliced on the diagonal

1.5–2 litres homemade chicken stock

2 large boneless chicken breasts, skin carefully removed and reserved

200g green beans, trimmed and halved (asparagus would be as good if not better, if in season)

200g frozen baby peas (or fresh if you’re lucky enough to have them)

2 eggs

juice of 1 1/2 lemons

Put 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over a medium-high heat and when glistening, add leaks and carrots. Cook for 2–3 minutes, until beginning to soften, then add garlic. Cook for a further 2 minutes, until garlic is transparent but not browned. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Add chicken stock, followed by skinless chicken breasts (whole). Cook for about 6 minutes, until chicken is just cooked through. Remove from stock, turn off the heat, and leave chicken to cool slightly. Don’t worry if there is a little pinkness in the middle still; it will cook fully once added back into the soup.

While the chicken is cooking, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a cast-iron pan big enough to hold the chicken skin. Once the oil is glistening, lay the chicken skin flat and apply pressure with a fish slice; this will help the skin to crisp up. Once the fat has rendered and the skin has begun to detach from the pan and is nicely golden, turn over and repeat on the other side, until the skin is crispy, taking care not to let it burn. Remove from heat, sprinkle with sea salt and slice.

Once the chicken breasts have cooled enough to handle, use your hands or two forks to shred the meat.

Return the pot to a medium heat, add the green beans, peas and shredded chicken to the stock and cook for 2–3 minutes, until the chicken is fully cooked through and the vegetables are tender, taking care not to overcook them.

While the vegetables are cooking, whisk together the eggs and lemon juice, then remove the soup from heat and stir egg/lemon mixture in slowly (it’s important to remove the soup from the heat first otherwise the egg may separate).

Season to taste and serve soup with crispy chicken crack as a garnish, along with fresh herbs of your choice – I used torn-up basil leaves.