Sometimes, I daydream about food, about flavours and colours that might well meet on a plate someday, that could just take a liking to each other. But most of the time, the sorts of thoughts about food that occupy me aren't so elevated. They are as practical as can be, driven by questions like `What to do with that neglected crust of bread?', `Is the parsley too far gone?', and `Can that cabbage be stretched to make a little lunch tomorrow?'. These, I take it, are just the sorts of day-to-day thoughts that occupy almost any home cook worth her salt. She does a sort of larder arithmetic to make as much as she can of what she has, especially of the odd scrap or two leftover from meals long cooked and eaten. It isn't glamorous, but there's an art to it (one that mothers and grandmothers seem to have down pat).
Well, that is the sort of arithmetic that I do most of the time. Every now and then, though, I get it a little backwards. I bake a loaf of bread, hoping for a few stale slices at the end of the week to blitz into crumbs. I devise ways of using up egg whites, thinking to add to my stash of yolks in the freezer. That sort of thing. Not terribly out there but still a little backwards. But my most recent round of such arithmetic--I don't think it can be described as anything but very backwards. Up until last weekend, you see, I'd been thinking a lot about whole chickens--about riding across town with them on the bus, about roasting them with garlic and paprika, about braising them with caramelized onion and cardamom rice--but all that, truth be told, was secondary. What I was really thinking about were their backs, necks, bones, and wing tips. I was in it for the stock, you see. I needed five pounds of such bits, and let me tell you, that's a lot of bird to collect, bird by bird. So there was a lot of scheming done on my part and a lot of chicken dinners from January on. (I have to confess--I eventually got impatient and bought some extra necks to supplement what I had.)
But this is not a story about stock. It in fact is about dumplings--soft, pillowy, parsnip dumplings. I first made them back in January with their intended broth. And for a vegetable broth, it was pretty good. Ottolenghi promised depth, and there was some. But I am just not a vegetable-broth kind of girl. For me, vegetable broth just never has enough depth, enough savour, to really hold its own. The carrots, the onion--they add a lot of sweetness, and there's nothing to counterbalance that. But I loved the parsnip dumplings and wanted to make them again. All I needed was a broth to really carry them. So that's how I ended up riding the bus home with whole chickens, how I ended up amassing a freezer full of chicken odds and ends, how I ended up spending most of Sunday morning perched on a stool, peering over a giant, steaming stock pot packed with those odds and ends.
All I can do is hope that these efforts do as much to illustrate how very good these dumplings are as they do how crazy I sometimes get. I won't even try to encourage you to follow my lead as far as the stock goes. I'll just say that these dumplings deserve good broth (vegetable or chicken, whatever pleases you) and that they're worth a little extra effort.
But for those of you curious about the stock, I was following the recipe from The French Laundry cookbook, which makes about 5 quarts (Keller claims 6) from five pounds of bones, an optional pound of chicken feet (that's about 9), and a mirepoix of carrot, onion, and leek. I am not quite sure what the chicken feet added, and given that they weren't exactly a bargain (oddly enough), I might try the stock without them next time. As written, the recipe produces a beautiful, pale gold stock. It is a bit subtle, but that isn't too surprising, given that in the restaurant it's intended to play a supporting role in risottos and the like. You can, of course, reduce it to good effect. This definitely won't be the last you'll hear of stock around here. I have my eye on a couple of other interesting-looking recipes.
Adapted, just a little, from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty
Note: You can get away with making the dough in advance, but it doesn't keep well past a day. It starts to lose its cohesion and won't hold its shape very well in simmering water. But if you want to get the prep out of the way and cook the dumplings a little later, make the dough as directed and chill but don't add the baking powder until you're just about ready to cook the dumplings. Otherwise, they won't float to the surface.
225 g russet potato (one small one), peeled and diced (half-inch dice)
180 g parsnips (about 3 modest ones), peeled and diced (half-inch dice)
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 tablespoons butter
70 g / 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 rounded teaspoon baking powder
50 g / 1/3 cup semolina
Salt and white pepper
4 cups good-quality broth, preferably homemade
1 small carrot, cut into half-inch-wide batons and cooked until tender or reserved from homemade stock (optional)
Cook the potato, parsnips, and garlic in plenty of boiling salted water until soft, 8-10 minutes. Drain well. Wipe dry the pan in which the vegetables were cooked and put them back inside. Add the butter and sauté on medium heat for a few minutes to get rid of the excess moisture. While hot mash them with a potato ricer or masher. Add the flour, semolina, egg, and some salt and pepper and mix until incorporated. Chill for 30-60 minutes, covered with plastic wrap.
Heat the broth and taste for seasoning. In another pan, bring some salted water to a light simmer. Dip a teaspoon or small scoop (something with a release mechanism will make things easier--the dough is on the tacky side) in water and use it to spoon out the dumpling mix into the water. Once the dumplings come to the surface, leave to simmer for 30 seconds, then remove from the water with a slotted spoon.
Ladle the hot broth into bowls. Place the dumplings and carrot, if using, in the broth, garnish with parsley, and serve immediately.