Italian Wontons (Part One)

just made Italian wontonsGot a hankering for ravioli but don’t want to bust out the Kitchen Aid and rolling pin? Want some Crab Rangoon but don’t feel like shelling out $12 plus tip to get the greasy, unhealthy, trans fat soaked but oh-so-tasty ones delivered? The solution is simple, and one of the greatest time savers you should never be caught without: frozen wonton skins.

To show you how nice having a stack of these in your freezer or fridge can be, the next post will contain a nice, easy, recipe for Italian Wontons — roasted butternut squash-filled wonton skins served in a basic marinara.

But first, there are two staples you will want to have prepped and ready to go. After you make these once, you’ll find them so useful you’ll always want them around, so making the wontons will be a cinch.

  • 1 roasted butternut squash

This couldn’t be easier to make, but you have to do it ahead of time, preferably the day before, so it has time to chill. There are tons of uses for this, so roast one on Sunday and keep it in the fridge for the rest of the week. For the basic recipe you will need a medium-sized butternut squash, olive oil, kosher or sea salt, and some freshly ground pepper:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Clean the squash … not scrub, but just enough to clear away any obvious dirt or gunk (you know, the adhesive from the sticker?).
  3. Slice it in half lengthwise, and use a large spoon to remove the seeds.
  4. Paint the flesh of each half with a thin layer of olive oil (don’t be a wuss, use your fingers). Season both sides to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper, being generous with each.
  5. Place on a baking sheet (or directly on the rack), flesh side up, and roast  in the preheated oven for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the flesh is soft and mushy — not falling apart, but tender enough to mash with a fork if you wanted.
  6. Remove from the oven … carefully … and let cool to room temperature, then place in a plastic bag and refrigerate overnight.

This stuff is ready to eat after step 5 … scoop some of the flesh out, mash it, and serve it topped with butter and chives like you would mashed potatoes. You can also dice the flesh, stick it in a blender, add some minced ginger, chicken stock, and the flesh of one or two peeled and cored Granny Smith apples. Blend it, reheat in a stock pot, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve drizzled with some yogurt or cream, or crumbles of goat cheese, and splash with a few dots of sherry vinegar. Boom, you got soup. If you know how to make grilled cheese, you can avoid Panera all week long and keep some extra cash in your pocket.

The next basic item you will need is:

  • a basic red / marinara / pomodoro / tomato sauce

Yes, you can use the stuff in a can or jar if you want, so long as you like the taste of it, or can doctor it enough so that you like the taste. Otherwise, you can make your basic red sauce using canned tomatoes, some garlic cloves, kosher or sea salt, GOOD olive oil, and some patience:

  1. Buy a 28 ounce can of whole peeled ITALIAN tomatoes. The better quality you buy, the better the sauce will be. San Marzano are the standard, but any good Italian will work. Buy a few different varieties and find one you like … if they’re from California, so be it, we’re no hard guys, we just know what we like. If it’s tomato season, use fresh. Wait until the summer and you’ll see our series on making red sauce using fresh ingredients from the farmer’s market.
  2. Peel a few cloves of garlic. How many depends on how much you like garlic, but since this is a basic red sauce, you want it to taste of tomatoes, with just a hint of garlic, so 3 or 4 is probably enough. Give each clove a whack with your chef’s knife, and make sure you remove the germ — the greenish sprout in the center that gets bitter and gives you heartburn. After the whack, you should be able to scape the end up with your fingernail and pull it out.
  3. Gently (medium low) heat around 1/4 cup of GOOD olive oil in a sauce pan. The oil should cover the bottom of the pan and come up the side a bit; if it doesn’t, you’re using too big a pan. When hot (if the oils smokes, dump it, clean the pan, and start over with less heat), add the garlic and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until golden in color. If you burn the garlic, dump the oil and garlic, clean the pan, and start over. Burnt garlic is nasty.
  4. While the garlic is cooking, open the tomatoes and empty them into a bowl. Crush them with your (suitably clean) hands. Throw out any stems or pale green hard bits of tomato, and any whole herbs or leaves they may have been packaged with.
  5. When the garlic is golden, CAREFULLY pour the tomatoes (and juices) into the sauce pan, add two or three pinches of salt, and give it a good stir. Remember there is HOT oil in the pan that likes to splash up and burn things … things like your skin.
  6. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook uncovered for three hours or so, stirring every half hour. It’s done when it reduces enough to appear “saucy.” How long you need to cook it depends on the pot, the heat, and a host of environmental factors, so give yourself a break and don’t worry about anything but burning it.

When the mixture appears “saucy,” taste it and add some salt if you think it needs some. If it tastes like a basic red sauce should taste, and not like a warmed up can of smashed up tomatoes, then it’s done. If it doesn’t taste like sauce, let it simmer some more. Mine usually reduces by 1/3 to 1/2 before I feel like it’s “done.”

By the way, this recipe scales very well, and the way I see it, if you’re going to take the time to stir a pot for at least a few hours, you might as well make a ton of the stuff (just multiply the amount of garlic, olive oil, and pinches of salt by the number of cans of tomatoes you have on hand) and freeze what you aren’t going to use within a few days. Simply let the sauce cool for a couple hours, and stick it in the fridge. The next day, repackage it in useful quantities (1 or 2 cups) into freezer bags or containers and stash them in the freezer for a lazy day.

Note: g likes to add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper, chili powder, or, when he’s feeling fancy, Piment d’Espelette, to the sauce. Add it after the garlic has turned golden, give it a quick stir, and then add the tomatoes.

OK, so that’s the basics. The next post will cover the recipe for making the Italian Wontons.

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