La Cucina Stagionale

Blog for A Posto Personal Chef Services LLC in Newport, Oregon

Archive for the tag “dim sum”

Courageous Cooking

When Bruce & I lived in San Francisco, we would go to a Chinese restaurant in our neighborhood on Sunday mornings for dim sum.  We had to go early as the place would fill up quickly with hungry diners waiting to eat those delightful little dishes.  We had our favorites, of course, and were always willing to try something new on occasion.  Once we moved to the Oregon coast, our weekly dim sum breakfast tradition became a memory as there are no restaurants that serve it here in the same way.  I always felt that making those dumplings myself would be too hard or too much trouble, so I didn’t bother with trying, or I should say I lacked the courage to try.  Whenever Bruce & I traveled anywhere on vacation, we would always look for a dim sum  restaurant to go to, but were so often disappointed by the lack of flavor and/or quality we were used to.

Late last year, I discovered a wonderful video class website called Craftsy.  They have all kinds of DIY classes you can take and cooking is one of them!  Top notch chefs teach the classes and you can view them again and again as often as you like as your access never expires.  One of the classes offered is an Asian dumpling class taught by Andrea Nguyen, a well know Asian food chef and author.  I bought the class and watched the videos and realized that dim sum is really no more difficult to make than ravioli which I have been making for over 30 years!  I was so excited that I immediately bought Andrea’s book Asian Dumplings to learn more.  I went to see Mai at Mai’s Asian Market here in Newport and bought all the ingredients I needed to make my first batch of dumplings.  Mai is a godsend here in our little town.  She has just about anything and everything you would need for any kind of Asian, Indian, or Middle Eastern dish and I love her for that.

I started out by making Korean Mandu, a dumpling that is filled with tofu and kimchee and served with a tangy dipping sauce. The dough is a simple one of flour and water; however, I added rice flour to mine to make it extra chewy, used shrimp instead of tofu in the filling and they turned out delicious!  The shape of this dumpling is called ‘big hug’, but it also looks like an Italian tortelloni.

Korean_dumplings_cookedKorean_dumplings_raw

The next dumpling I made was Shanghai Soup dumplings, which are Bruce’s absolute favorite. They are filled with pork and a gelatinized soup that melts during steaming, so when you bite into it, you get a mouthful of soup along with the rest of the filling.  They are served with Chinese black vinegar and finely shredded fresh ginger.  The shape of this dumpling is called ‘closed satchel’ because it looks like a purse.

Shanghai dumplings_rawShanghai_dumplings_steamed

I was on a roll now.  I made shrimp dumplings next and upped the game by using wheat and tapioca starches instead of flour for the wrapper.  This dumpling is pure white and turns translucent when it is steamed.  I had always thought these dumplings were made with rice flour and making them could not be achieved at home, but I was wrong as they were so easy to make and delicious to eat!.  This type of shape is called the ‘pleated crescent’.

har_gow

My final dumpling was Japanese pot stickers or Gyoza.  Like Chinese pot stickers, they are fried, steamed and fried again to obtain a crispy bottom.  My mom made Gyoza when I was growing up with wonton wrappers, so I was familiar with making and eating them.  I made my own extra chewy dough with rice and wheat flours again. This shape is called the ‘pea pod’ and they were yummy!

Cooked Pot Stickers bottomPot Sticker up close

Since my exploration into Asian dumplings, I have made others too numerous to mention here.  All have been easy to make and all have been delicious.  The sky is the limit on the fillings just like ravioli or other stuffed Italian pastas.  I have realized through this exploration that the only thing that gets in my way is myself.  I left San Francisco for the Oregon coast in 1997 and have been pining for dim sum ever since.  Almost 17 years later, I discovered that I can make my own with as good or even better results as the beloved restaurant I used to frequent and I can have them whenever I want.  I thank Craftsy and Andrea Nguyen for showing me how easy it is to make my own Asian dumplings and I hope I have inspired you to go and make something you’ve been wanting to try, but just haven’t had the the courage to do so. Courage is all you need to master cooking any type of dish or cuisine.  Once you try it, you realize, like me, that it’s easy, fun and good to eat.  A presto!

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cucina bene; mangia bene (for the love of dumplings)

Fall is in the air here on the Oregon Coast; you can feel it in the morning: the crisp cool air, and the sun comes up a little later and is not as strong.  The families vacationing here have all gone home; school has started and the routine is back to normal.  Fall is my favorite time of the year; the menu ideas become more savory and a little heavier than what was made during the summer.  My thoughts start to turn towards mushroom, winter squash, dried bean, apple, and potato dishes.  One of my favorite potato dishes is gnocchi which is a type of dumpling.

According to Wikipedia: ‘a dumpling is a cooked ball of dough and is made from a variety of flours, potatoes, or bread.  A dumpling may be cooked by boiling, steaming, frying, or baking.  It may have a filling, or there may be other ingredients mixed into the dough. Dumplings may be savory, sweet, or spicy. They can be eaten by themselves,  put into soups or stews, served with gravy or sauce, or in any other way.’

IMG_1938

Gnocchi is believed to have originated in Italy during the time of the Romans who used semolina to make the dumplings; semolina gnocchi is still made today in the region of Lazio.  Other regions of Italy make them from bread (Trentino-Alto Adige), ricotta (Toscana), chestnut flour (Val D’Aosta), and wheat flour (Puglia).  Potato gnocchi, which has become ubiquitous across most of Italy, is a recent addition: around the 16th century when potatoes were introduced to Europe.

gnocchi with tomato sauce

I have never been very good at making potato gnocchi; I either put in too much flour which makes them turn out like hockey pucks or not enough flour which causes them to disintegrate in the pot.   It’s probably because I don’t make them enough and don’t have a good understanding of how the dough needs to feel for it to be ready.  I know that feel for pasta dough, but not for gnocchi…..sigh.

Gnocchi are delicious with toasted butter and sage, tomato sauce, pesto sauce, or in soups.  I also enjoy making (and am much more successful at) ricotta gnocchi or ravioli nudi.  These dumplings are made with ricotta cheese, chopped spinach or Swiss chard, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, egg, and a little flour.  They are shaped into quenelles (which are sort of football shapes done with spoons) and dropped into a pot of salted water to cook.  They are served with tomato sauce or with toasted sage butter and are really delicious.

Ricotta Gnocchi

Most cuisines around the world have some type of dumpling.  The Romans spread the tradition across their empire and the dish was adapted to what was readily available.  My mother’s family was from Poland and made a type of spaetzle which was served with lots of butter and fried onions.  There are variations of this type of dumpling all over Eastern Europe and is probably the most simple form of dumpling: eggs, flour, salt, and water.

spaetzle

This variation was transported to the USA via the various European immigrants and we have our own version of deliciousness: chicken and dumplings.

ChickenandDumplings

Other cultures, such as Asia, have a broad variety of different dumplings in their cuisines.  They are most often made from wheat or rice flours and then stuffed with various  fillings (savory and sweet) and steamed, baked, or fried.   One merely has to visit a restaurant that serves dim sum to witness the vast array of Chinese dumplings available for consumption.

dimsum

So you see, dumplings are common across most of the world in some form or another.   It’s always interesting to me to see just how similar and how different cultures and cuisines are from each other.  The similarity is the fact that most cultures make a type of dumpling; the differences are in the choices of ingredients and the cooking methods, both of which most likely originated out of necessity.

But back to gnocchi—I will leave you with as foolproof  a recipe for potato gnocchi as I can provide.  It’s from Fine Cooking Magazine and it worked for me the last time I made it.  Serve the gnocchi with toasted sage butter or your favorite tomato sauce.  Let me know how they turn out for you and know that you are enjoying a dish that is not only ancient in origin, but  shared by others in some form or fashion around the world…buon appetito!

http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/lauras-potato-gnocchi.aspx

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