SARDINIAN PARCHMENT BREAD & FENNEL ANCHOVY SPREAD

This little snack came together in fragments, beginning with a visit to the finest liquor store I’ve ever known — Mission Wine & Spirits in Pasadena. I was there in search of Amaro Nonino, a liqueur of grape distillate aged in barrels with mountain herbs (essentially aged, infused grappa). Enticing, right? True to Mission’s reputation, I found it, setting into motion my favorite pastime: pairing food with the drink you’re intent on having. The idea to make Sardinian parchment bread — “carta musica” (sheet music) — came about fortuitously while browsing a local deli. To go with it, I improvised a rustic spread made with caramelized fennel and anchovies. That’s how I welcomed Amaro into Mr. Alpenglow’s bar.

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SARDINIAN PARCHMENT BREAD
“carta musica”

recipe for about a dozen oblong breads:
2 cups unbleached flour
1 cup fine semolina
1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt
1 1/4 cups water, about
extra virgin olive oil, optional

Preheat the oven to 450F. In a large bowl combine the flours and salt and mix ingredients thoroughly. Slowly add water, stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a soft dough (you many not need to add all the water). With your hands, work the dough into a ball. Place on a clean, floured work surface and knead for about one minute. The dough should be firm and pliable, not sticky. Divide the dough evenly into 12 balls. Place the balls on a lightly floured surface. Flatten each ball into a thick 4-inch pancake. Generously flour the work surface and with with a heavy-duty rolling pin roll each portion of the dough as thin as possible into an 8″ to 9″ round. These breads are meant to be roughly shaped. Thinness is more important than the shape. The dough should be thin enough to see your hand through it.

Place several rounds of dough on an ungreased baking sheet, brush lightly with the olive oil, and place in the oven. Bake until the top of the bread is firm and lightly browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Baking time will vary and will also depend on the number of breads placed in the oven. With tongs or your fingers, turn the bread over and bake until the other side is slightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes more. (The bread should be rather bumpy, puffy, and irregular, with occasional pockets full of air.) Transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining rounds of dough. The bread cools quickly and can be served immediately.

FENNEL ANCHOVY SPREAD 

improvised recipe for about 2-3 cups:
extra virgin olive oil
3 medium-large fennel bulbs, diced
2 medium yellow onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tin of fine anchovies
1 cup of walnut pieces, toasted
juice of 1 lemon, plus a bit more to taste
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
one bunch of flat-leaf parsley
Aleppo chili peppers, optional

In a large skillet, heat a generous amount of olive oil on medium-high flame. Add the fennel and saute until caramelized and softened. Transfer to a dish. Reheat more oil and saute the onions until caramelized and softened. Transfer the onions to the dish with the fennel. Reheat a bit more oil and add the garlic and anchovies, using a wooden spoon to break apart the anchovies in the oil. When the anchovies are nearly dissolved into the oil, add the caramelized fennel and onions back into the skillet with the toasted walnuts. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer half of this mixture into a food processor and blend until smooth. Stir the blended and unblended portions together and transfer to a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and top with parsley and Aleppo chili.

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FOLDING SHRIMP WONTONS WITH MY MOM

Tsim Chai Kee is just a few steps from Hong Kong’s Central Mid-levels escalator. Famous for Cantonese-style shrimp wontons with noodle soup, this joint has been designated by Michelin guide as “Bib Gourmand” — that is, “inspector’s favourite for good value.” Good value is an understatement. Of all the luxurious delicacies on offer across that aromatic isle, these wontons perpetually monopolize my affections. Last Sunday when Los Angeles was blanketed in rain and fog, I had to make them.

Since these wontons are accented with faint notes of ginger, white pepper, sesame and salt, the theme is 99% prawn — so get the freshest ones you can muster. Making wontons can be a chore. It’s customary to have helping hands on deck. As my mom and I folded (127, she counted, hers superior to mine), we recalled with laughter all the shapes and stories from wonton-making sessions over the years.

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SHRIMP WONTON SOUP 

recipe makes about 30 wontons, 4 servings:
350g medium-sized prawns, peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
wonton wrappers (square)
8 cups Chinese chicken stock, below*
one bunch of watercress or bok choy

Dice the prawns, about 4-5 pieces per prawn. Add the white pepper, cornstarch, ginger, sugar, sesame oil, and salt. Use a wooden spoon to beat the shrimp mixture together. Cover the prawns and let them marinate in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes. To assemble your wontons, prepare a wonton “station”: wonton wrappers, a small bowl of cold water, the shrimp mixture along with a teaspoon, and a baking sheet lined with parchment. To form each wonton, spoon a teaspoon of the prawn mixture onto one wrapper. Dip your finger in the cold water and apply it against the edge of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half (see below), pressing the edges closed. With the seam facing down, take the top two corners and bring them together, using water to make them adhere. Repeat with all the wrappers/shrimp.

Meanwhile bring a pot of water to a boil. In a separate pot, bring your chicken broth to a simmer and ensure that it is seasoned with salt and white pepper. Quickly blanch your vegetables until tender (eg. watercress) and place them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Place a few wontons in the boiling water for about 4 minutes. Transfer wontons to each bowl and add the blanched vegetables along with the hot chicken broth. Serve immediately.

*If you won’t be making Chinese chicken stock from scratch, simply bring canned chicken stock to a simmer with water, a few fresh ginger slices, green onions, and ground white pepper.

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CHINESE CHICKEN STOCK 

for about 2 liters of stock:
2-3 lbs chicken bones
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, diced
3 green onions
salt and white pepper to taste

Use a cleaver to chop the chicken bones into smaller pieces, about 2-3″ in size. Add the ginger and and green onions. Cover the bones with cold water, about 2 liters, and simmer for 2-3 hours. Strain several times to remove impurities. Cool and store for future use. Season with salt and white pepper as needed.

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