Italian Wontons (Part Two)

OK, you’ve got your basics: red sauce and a not-incredibly-steaming-hot roasted butternut squash. Let’s get on to the business of how to take these fundamentals, add wonton skins, and turn them into something special.

Italian Wontons

To get you motivated, the end result should look something like the picture to the right … poached roasted butternut squash wontons in marinara sauce sprinkled with basil.

Note that these are not quite dumplings, and not quite pasta, but somewhere in between. The wonton skins should make these little packages light and pleasant, like the red sauce, rather than heavy like you would have with a rustic homemade ravioli in bolognese. Oh yeah, did I mention this is a vegetarian dish?

First things first, you are going to need to collect the following ingredients:

  • your red sauce (see part one)
  • your squash (see part one)
  • a nice stack of wonton skins … thaw them in the fridge or carefully in the microwave
  • Chinese Five Spice powder and some Sweet Paprika (we like smoked paprika from Hungary), you’ll need about a teaspoon of each
  • fresh thyme … you want to strip the leaves and finely mince them … you’ll need a tablespoon or two
  • kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • the usual kitchen hardware, plus your wonton factory equipment: bowl, another bowl, cutting board, and one or more baking sheets, each with a sheet of wax paper

After collecting the ingredients, the first stage is to prepare the filling for the wonton skins and create your packages.

  1. Using a butter knife, spoon, or your fingers, remove the skin from both halves of the squash and mash it in your hands into a large bowl. Taste it, and season with salt and pepper if you feel it needs some. It shouldn’t take much, if any; you’re shooting for sweetness here.
  2. Add the Five Spice, paprika, and thyme. Mix with your hands (or, if you must, a spoon), taste it, and adjust the seasoning as you like it. At this stage, you can cover the bowl and stick it in the fridge for later if you aren’t ready to make your packages.
  3. Time to set up the wonton factory: lay out (left to right) the stack of wonton skins, the bowl of filling, a cutting board, a small bowl or cup of water, and a baking sheet covered with wax paper.
  4. Lay out some wonton skins on the board (how many depends on the size of the board), and put 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of filling in the middle of each skin, slightly off towards the lower left corner.
  5. Pick up the wonton in one hand, dip your (clean) fingers in the water, and wet the edges of the square.
  6. Working carefully, fold the skin into a triangle, so that the filling  ends up in the center of the longest side of the triangle. Using your fingers, remove as much air as possible from inside the skin — it will get trapped next to the filling, so you kind of smooth it out from the filling, squeezing gently towards the edges of the triangle.
  7. Wet the bottom corner of the triangle, and bring the top corner of the triangle towards the center filling, being careful not to press the corner into the filling. Bring the bottom (wet) corner towards the filling, place it on top of the folded over top corner, and press the two together. It should look like a little overstuffed envelope. Place your package flat side down onto the baking sheet, and repeat from step 4 until you run out of filling or patience.

This sounds a lot harder than it really is, and with a little practice, you’ll cruise through your stack of skins in no time. We’re working on a video to show the technique; it’s really one of those things that is easier to do than describe. If in doubt, just follow the diagrams on the wonton skin packaging and do the best that you can.

If you’re not going to cook these now, stick your baking sheet(s) in the freezer. After the packages are frozen, take them out, place them in a freezer bag or container, and put them back until you’re ready to use them.

Now, here’s how to put it all together:

  1. Put a large pot of salted water over high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. When it boils, reduce the heat and bring it down to a nice simmer. The water should be active but not violent.
  2. Gently heat the red sauce you’ll need in a sauce pan … the amount depends on how many skins you’re going to cook.
  3. While all that is happening, tear or roughly chop some fresh basil leaves for garnish.
  4. When the water is back down to simmering, give it a good stir to get it circulating, and drop the filled wontons in one at a time. Keeping the water circulating at this stage prevents the wontons from sinking to the bottom and sticking to the pot. Bring the water back to a simmer (raising the heat temporarily if you’re using frozen wontons), keeping your eye on the clock, stirring your red sauce as needed, and giving the water a good swirl every so often to keep the skins from sticking.
  5. After around three minutes (longer for frozen packages), the wontons should be bobbing to the surface. When they’re floating consistently, they’re done. Pull one out and cut it in half … if the inside is hot and the skin isn’t gluey, you’re done. If not, give it another 30 seconds, and test one again.
  6. Using a skimmer (or whatever you have), remove the wontons from the water, and place them on a paper towel to drain. (I suppose you could drain them like pasta, just be careful you don’t tear them open in the process.)
  7. Place the wontons gently onto a plate, spoon over some of the red sauce, and sprinkle some of the basil on top. Grate some cheese (parm would be awesome) over the top if you want to be particularly decadent, or hit it with a few drops of truffle oil. Neither of those is required.

The cooking time for frozen wontons shouldn’t be longer by more than a few minutes. If your packages tear open while cooking, then (1) they stuck to the bottom of the pan; (2) your water was simmering or boiling too rapidly, or you were uber-aggressive with the swirling; (3) you didn’t squeeze enough air out of the skins when you were assembling the packages; or (4) you were unlucky, and need to try again.

Enjoy this, and send us a pic of what you end up with, either here, or on Facebook!

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