Wanton Wonton

Wanton Wonton

Dear Diary,

Are wonton wrappers promiscuous? I mean, we know from our previous adventure making the wonton soup that prepackaged wonton wrappers are in fact ideally suited to wonton-making. But the fact is that they come in packages of 50 or so, so when you’re done making the 20 required for the wonton soup recipes I used, you still have 30 of those little Miracle Wrappers sitting in the fridge looking for a purpose in life.

I suppose I could have made more wontons, but with only two of us here it took several days to get through the soup and byWonton Wrapper then I was pretty much wontoned out. The label claimed they were also GREAT FOR RAVIOLI, which seemed almost too good to be true, except that it could have been that what Marco Polo brought to Italy from China was actually packages of wonton wrappers. But it is definitely true that the main reason some of us don’t make home-made ravioli much frequently (or ever) is because making fresh pasta is just such a pain.

Please don’t tell Alessandra Spisni I said that. Alessandra Spisni is my secret Italian Kitchen Saint. I acquired her much adored cookbook The recipes of “La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese” on a trip to Bolgona a few years ago when I was still struggling with a complete inability to make fresh pasta, and her book and a tip about 00 flour completely turned my life around. I’ve never met Alessandra Spisni, and I have no idea if she’s a huge Italian TV cooking show star or a humble Italian housewife, but the cover of her book suggests the latter.

Like me, Alessandra Spisni has a kind of a Manifesto, which is in her Introduction. It says things in charmingly badly translated Italian like, “Make a good shopping” and “Don’t waist food.” She knows things about the mysterious properties of foods that are never found in American cookbooks, like this advice she gives about her recipe for Anise Sugarplums:Alessandra Spisni

Sugarplums can’t miss during marriages; for us in Bologna they are like confetti: the symbol of a blessed sacrament. Newlyweds from the Appennino mountains still use to share sugarplums with their guests, at the end of the wedding party. Unfortunately, today they have been replaced by italian confetti, but we still believe they can’t miss when celebrating such an important sacrament.

Alessandra Spisni’s pasta recipes are excellent, but I’ve never actually made ravioli from scratch because frankly by the time I’ve got a fresh pasta dough all mixed and rested and stretched and rolled, I really only have enough patience left to cut it in strips and dump it in boiling water. That whole extra step of cutting little shapes out and filling them and wrapping them and only then, another whole hour or so later, dropping them into boiling water–well, I long for the grandmotherly day when I have the leisure for that, but it’s not what my life looks like right this moment.

My son George was game to come over and help me stuff fillings into wonton wrappers, though, so I whipped up a couple of Alessandra Spisni’s fillings: a thrifty Leftover Filling composed of old mashed potatoes and whatever meat you happen to have in the fridge, to which you add an egg as a binder and some seasoning, but especially you add fresh grated nutmeg; and a Cabbage Filling, which was basically shredded savoy and onions with some breadcrumbs and egg as the binder. George helpfully filled the wontons and crenellated them prettily with a dumpling press that’s been sitting in a drawer forgotten for several years, but which I recall buying in a period when I thought I was going to be obsessed with pierogis for a while. (And then I wasn’t.)

Meanwhile I heated up a batch of the farmer’s market tomatoes I roasted last summer, cooked into sauce, and froze for exactly such a cold late-winter night as this, when the taste of real–not bottled, not canned–tomato flesh would remind us that summer really might come again some day. We used that on the Leftover Raviolis, and dressed the Cabbage Raviolis simply with melted butter and parsley, as Alessandra Spisni suggests, in order not to overwhelm their delicate flavor.

The little dumplings we produced, dear Diary, were quite delicious–but I think you’d have to describe them as being something more like Italian Wontons than Ravioli, strictly speaking. For me, the reason I sometimes do go to all the trouble of making fresh pasta from scratch is that it does a much better job than dried pasta of attracting sauce to cling luxuriously to it. It actually soaks sauce into itself, like bread sopping up gravy, so that noodle and sauce melt together in your mouth as one. The wonton wrappers, though, behave in tomato sauce exactly the same way they behave in wonton soup, with that slippery, sliminess that’s perfectly desirable when you’re slurping hot liquid and the noodles come along for the ride, but not anywhere near as satisfying a vehicle for the delivery of a sauce you want to savor..

So I suppose next time I don’t use up my wonton wrappers I’ll chuck the rest of the package into the freezer. I’m sure Alessandra Spisni would have told me to do that in the first place. She is muttering something under her breath in Italian right now, something I can barely understand, about the Etruscans having already invented proper pasta long before the time of Marco Polo, and working hard over the centuries to develop its myriad forms and uses, to get it into shape for the moment when someday the ships would arrive from the other side of the globe, to deliver the tomato sauce.

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