Monday, September 21, 2009

Ricotta and pea dumplings

It has been a very busy couple of weeks, so although we have still been cooking and eating (Jon doing most of both), we haven't posted anything in a while. On top of that, my camera was totaled in an accident involving the floor. I have a backlog of food photos, but after that we'll be switching to a photo-free format until I can get a new camera. Luckily one of the last meals I photographed was very beautiful.
I got the idea from 101 cookbooks, and I didn't change much. I don't care for raw alium, so I omitted the shallots because the pea mixture wouldn't be cooked for very long. I also am not as artistically gifted as Heidi, so my dumplings were not as artfully rolled up as hers. But I was very pleased with them.

First, I must tell you about ricotta. In the past, I implied that ricotta and paneer were basically the same, but I used a dedicated ricotta recipe just for kicks instead of my usual paneer recipe, and it really made a difference. This was sweet and milky and soft. I think lemon juice, the acid of choice, is less acidic than vinegar, so it didn't curdle as quickly and tightly.
Here's my ricotta recipe:
Bring 2 1/2 quarts milk to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly so the milk doesn't scorch on the bottom.
Add about 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice and stir until curds form. Keep stirring for a while to get as much curdling as you can. Remove from heat.
Line a colander with 4 layers of cheesecloth or some loosely woven fabric like muslin. With a slotted spoon, scoop out as many curds as you can.
Here's where I deviated from the recipe. The whey was still pretty milky looking, so I knew there was more protein and fat we could get to curdle. I set aside the delicious, soft, sweet ricotta I had made and added a splash of vinegar to the remaining milk. It curdled instantly, and I drained the translucent yellow whey away. That cheese was not as delicate as the other ricotta, but there's no sense in wasting perfectly good cheese, so we used it for another recipe later. (Speaking of which, if anyone knows how to use whey, I'd love suggestions. I attempted to make an Icelandic whey cheese, and it didn't go so well.)

We have big plans for future ricotta. We think it will be excellent on pizza, perhaps with pesto and grapes or pears.

Back to the recipe at hand. We used the homemade ricotta and frozen peas to make this dumpling filling and then pan-fried some of them and steamed some of them. Both were good, but I thought that steaming let me appreciate the flavor of the filling more. The fried stuff tasted like delicious fried stuff, which is nice, but I when I go the trouble of making ricotta, I want to taste it. We think that this would also be great with spinach or chard in place of the peas. These don't need a dipping sauce. I think if you had one, it would overwhelm the delicate pea and lemon flavors.

Ricotta and pea dumplings (from 101 cookbooks)
2 cups frozen peas
2/3 cups fresh ricotta
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Zest of one lemon
Wonton wrappers (these can be frozen indefinitely and thaw very quickly on the counter)

Fill a small saucepan about halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add the peas and cook for 1-2 minutes. Run under cold water to stop the cooking. Combine peas, ricotta, oil, and salt in a food processor and process until mixed through. It's fine if there are still whole peas in the mixture. In a medium bowl, combine pea mixture with Parmesan and lemon zest.
Now you're ready for filling. Spoon about 1 tsp filling into the center of a wonton wrapper. Dip your finger in warm water and run it along the edge of the wrapper. Fold one corner up to the opposite corner to make a triangle, and press the edges together. If you're more agile than I am, feel free to experiment with other wonton shapes. Once you've filled as many as you think you want, either steam or pan-fry them. (I'm sure they'd be delicious deep-fried as well.)

To steam them, bring about an inch of water to a boil in a wide-bottomed saucepan. Place dumplings in a metal colander or strainer a couple inches over the boiling water. Cover and steam for about 4 minutes or until they look translucent. (Sometimes the corners of mine didn't cook all the way. It didn't bother me much.)
To pan-fry, pour a little oil into a small skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the dumplings and cover. Cook for about 2 minutes on the first side, then flip them and cook until the other side is brown and has those lovely little bubbles on it too.

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