Melissa gets credit for the pun
in today's title, but Jarrett
gets credit for the theme. Today is the latest round of Is My Blog Burning?, the global culinary exhibition started by Alberto
, but now hosted by a different person each month.
When Jarrett suggested dumplings as the topic, I knew where to go for ideas: issue 66 of Art Culinaire. One of the articles focused on dumplings, and it featured roughly ten contributions each from three chefs. An aside: I don't really recommend this hardcover magazine for casual home cooks. Everything is aimed at a professional chef, the research for each topic is light and sometimes questionable, the recipes are probably not tested (given the corrections I've had to make), and they often have editing mistakes. On the other hand, the contributing chefs come up with fascinating ideas, the platings are intriguing, and the photography is wonderful. One should just view the recipes as rough sketches rather than finished art.
Finding ideas was easy; in fact, I decided to plan a whole dumpling dinner. Finding time for this dinner was the hard part; Melissa and I booked up August quickly. Finally, in desperation, I sent her an e-mail: "You're Invited! Join me on Saturday, August 21st, as we celebrate the wonderful world of dumplings. In preparation for Is My Blog Burning 7, Derrick (that is, me), is going to be cooking up a variety of tasty treats to enjoy. Mark your calendars now! This is not an event to miss!". Melissa wrote back that she was free, would love to attend, and wanted to know if she could bring anything (I pointed out that Derrick is such a control freak in the kitchen that she need bring nothing other than an appetite).
I decided to structure our dumpling dinner just as I would a normal dinner party, with several courses going from lighter to heavier. We normally offer bread and cured meats (along with other items) as appetizers, so the first dumpling was an Austrian "servietten knödel" accompanied by lightly fried serrano ham. The servietten knödel is essentially a poached torchon of stale bread soaked in egg and milk along with various seasonings (see pseudo-recipes, down below). When you unwrap the knödel, you slice it into rounds, which I then brushed with brown butter.
I did deviate from our normal dinner parties in one way: rather than a wine per course, we had one wine for the entire dinner. Since most of the dumplings I made were Austrian, we drank a 2002 Smaragd Grüner Veltliner bottled by Sighardt Donabaum from grapes grown near Zornberg in the Wachau, Austria's premier wine region. "Smaragd" is one of my favorite wine geek terms. It means "emerald" and refers to the wine's ripeness but is also "the name of a bright green lizard that suns itself in the [Wachau] vineyards," to quote Karen MacNeil's The Wine Bible. She says that the ripeness level is the highest in the Wachau, and that it's at least equivalent to spätlese in Germany (and the rest of Austria). The wine had aromas of minerals and dust and a flavor of Grüner's signature white pepper. The wine had a solid acidity and a long finish. Very well-balanced, and it complemented all our food wonderfully.
Our "salad" course was fried wontons stuffed with a mixture of heirloom tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and marjoram. (Another reason to choose Grüner is its ability to stand up to artichokes, which does funky things to most wines). I served the wontons on a thick slice of brandywine tomato, which was garnished with fleur de sel and an artisanal Piemontese olive oil. Simple and flavorful.
Our entrée was a "meat and potatoes" dish: potato dumplings stuffed with pork rillettes and served on a bed of thinly sliced raw fennel. This was so filling that Melissa and I only ate about half of our servings. However, the pork rillettes came out really well and made a nice counterpoint to the (deliberately) bland potato dough.
Finally, dessert. We didn't take any pictures of this, because the dumpling dough fell apart in the poaching. The dough was a mix of triple-creme cheese, sour cream, egg whites, bread crumbs, an egg yolk, butter, and various other items, which I rolled as best as I could in bread crumbs and then put on top of sliced peaches. I think I used too many egg whites, and so the dough was too liquidy. Either that, or I should have fried it. Mmmm. That might have worked nicely...
I think I'm starting a bad trend for myself with Is My Blog Burning? For the fish theme, I made two dishes, and now I'm doing a whole dinner around the theme. How long before I devote myself to an entire week of dishes around IMBB?! Thanks to Jarrett for hosting, and I can't wait to see what everyone else does!
Servietten Knödel - adapted from issue 66 of Art Culinaire, recipe by Kurt Gutenbrunner. Dice and sauté a small onion. Cut 10 oz. day-old bread into 1-inch cubes. Bring 2/3 cup milk to boil. Combine bread, onion, milk, 4 eggs, coarsely chopped italian parsley, salt and pepper in a bowl. Mix well, and let sit for 20 minutes. Lay out a big piece of cheesecloth, and dump the contents of the bowl onto the cheesecloth, a few inches from the bottom edge. Shape the bread mixture into a long, rectangular mound. Starting from the bottom, roll up the bread mixture in the cheesecloth, keeping the roll tight. Twist the ends of the cheesecloth firmly to compact and shape the bread. Poach the bread, still in the cheesecloth, for about 15 minutes (you can use a toothpick to gauge doneness). Gently remove with a slotted spoon, and drain on a rack for a couple minutes. Unwrap, slice, brush with browned butter and serve alongside lightly pan-fried ham.
Tomato Wontons - Cut a medium tomato into small dice. Add diced artichoke heart until you have an equal mix. Mince marjoram and add that. Season to taste. Wet a wonton wrapper by dipping your fingers in water and brushing the wrapper. Put a small heap of mixing in the center and fold the wonton wrapper along the diagonal to make a little triangle (it is some cruel joke by wonton wrapper makers that they're never exactly square; do the best you can). Fry in oil heated to 350°.
Pork dumplings (loosely based on a recipe by Kurt Gutenbrunner in Art Culinaire issue 66)- Start by making pork rillettes. (adapted from Bruce Aidell's Complete Book of Pork, due out in November) Take equal parts Boston Butt and pork back fat, cut into large dice, and combine in a saucepan. Cover with water. Add seasonings (garlic cloves, thyme, bay leaves, sage leaves, a little salt). Simmer until all the water has evaporated, roughly 3-4 hours. Remove the bay leaves. Cool for twenty minutes. Use a potato masher to break down the contents of the sauce pan into a paste and store, well-wrapped. Now make your favorite gnocchi dough and roll it into a log (I think the dough was too wet in the recipe I used, so I'd say you're better off using a gnocchi dough). Cut into six medallions. Flatten each medallion into a thin disk, put a heap of pork rillettes in the center, and fold up the edges of the dough to seal. I trimmed off some of the doughier parts. Poach until done (yours may float when finished; mine did not, part of why I think his dough was too wet).