Confession time – I sometimes crush on a dish the way a girl normally crushes on a guy. Silly, I know, but I do. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my relationship with food borders on unusual most of the time.
Sometimes I am first acquainted with a new meal and it takes all the willpower I can muster not to become obsessed. I try my best to keep my mind focused on the things that should be occupying my time – work, friends, hobbies and the like – but my mind keeps wandering to said dish. I make other things for myself to eat but always wish I was having that dish instead.
Recently said dish was some pretty fantastic shaomai – Spence Farm Pumpkin Shaomai with sage, brown butter, blue cheese and poached shallot to be exact. They were so irresistible when I had them at Green Zebra, a fantastic mostly vegetarian small plates restaurant here in Chicago. I found myself instantly swooning the moment my first bite slipped through my lips and have been thinking about them ever since. So much so that they brought me back to the restaurant and I ordered them again. This coming from a girl who prides herself on her desire to try things and to not have too many repeats.
So this past weekend when I held a winter-themed potluck at my house I know it was finally time to acknowledge this dish that had been dancing around in my head, making everything else seem sadly inferior. I knew that a perfect replication would be down near impossible, so I opted for inspiration rather than true replication instead.
And so these Pumpkin Bacon Wontons were born. They took what I loved about the original – a smooth, creamy, and lightly savory pumpkin filling – and gave it a twist with a crispy exterior and some smokey bacon. I know there is humor in starting with a vegetarian dish and making it oh so not with bacon, but I couldn’t help myself. It does wonders to lend a savoriness to the pumpkin and surprisingly does a great job of adding umami without taking over the flavor entirely. I served them with a maple balsamic sauce, with further enhanced the sweet and saltiness of the dish.
The result was pretty fantastic if I do say so myself. I hate using such words because they are almost always hard to live up to, but this was easily one of the best things I’ve made in a long time. Yes this recipe is a little bit putsy. Yes it requires frying, which I know people will be tempted to forgo and bake these instead. But it’s all worth it. Because they are pretty divine.
Dipping sauce adapted from Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan
Yields approximately 24 wontons
-3 slices bacon
-2 tablespoons minced onions
-2 cups finely diced fresh pumpkin (or alternatively, two cups of canned pumpkin)
-2 tablespoons brown sugar
-1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
-1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
-1 pinch cayenne
-2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese (or alternatively, cream cheese)
-Salt and pepper to taste
-1 package wonton skins/wraps (I used a 12 ounce package from Nasoya, which I found in the refrigerated case by the tofu, but any brand will do.)
-1 egg, lightly beaten
-Cooking oil for frying
-¼ cup pure maple syrup
-¼ cup balsamic vinegar
-2 teaspoons unsalted butter
-1 medium clove garlic, minced
-1/2 teaspoon (rounded) sea salt
-1 teaspoon arrowroot powder
-3 tablespoons soy sauce
Lightly spray a skillet or cast iron pan over medium heat with cooking spray. Cook bacon until the fat has rendered and the bacon is crispy. Remove bacon from skillet with slotted spoon, reserving one tablespoon of drippings in skillet. Drain bacon on paper towels.
Return pan to the heat and add onions. Saute until onions have softened, about 5 minutes. Add pumpkin through cayenne to the pan and if using fresh pumpkin, saute until the pumpkin has softened and broken down, about 5 more minutes. (If using canned pumpkin, cook until some of the moisture has evaporated and the mixture has thickened slightly and the brown sugar has melted.)
Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool down to room temperature. Once cool, add to a food processor or blender along with the mascarpone cheese. Blend or process until the mixture has a smooth consistency and everything is well incorporated.
Crumble bacon and add to the filling. If mixture is still on the runny side, allow to chill in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour before stuffing wontons, giving the filling time to firm up. If not, proceed with making your wontons.
To assemble your wontons, on a flat, clean surface lay out a wonton wrapper so it form a wide diamond shape in front of you. Wet the wonton. Dip your finger into the beaten egg and use it to moisten the edges of the wonton wrapper. Add one teaspoon of the pumpkin mixture to the middle of the wrapper.
Fold the wonton. Fold over one side of the wrapper to meet the opposite side so the wrapper forms a triangle. Seal the edges. Use your fingers to press down all around the edges of the wonton to seal it. Re-moisten the edges if necessary. If you’d like to go a big fancier than the basic triangle shape, pull down the two corners of the folded edge to touch each other and use more egg to secure. Cover the completed wonton with a damp paper towel or damp kitchen towel to prevent the wonton from drying out and proceed to make the rest of your wontons. Using a teaspoon of filling per wonton, I got 24.
Heat your oil in a wok, dutch oven or deep fryer until the oil reaches between 360 and 375 degrees F. Add the wontons. Carefully add the wontons to the oil, being careful not to crowd the wok or deep fryer with too many wontons at one time.
Fry the wontons on one side for approximately 1 ½ minutes or until golden brown. Flip the wontons over and repeat the frying for another 1 ½ minutes.
Carefully remove the cooked wontons from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on a cookie sheet lined with paper towel. Repeat the cooking process until all the wontons are cooked. If desired, transfer the wontons on the cookie sheet to an oven on low heat (mine was set to about 200 degrees F) while you make the sauce.
To make the sauce, combine syrup, vinegar, butter, garlic, and salt, in a saucepan over low heat and cook for several minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl combine arrowroot and tamari, stirring through until well incorporated. Add tamari mixture to saucepan, whisk to combine, and increase heat to bring mixture to a boil, stirring continually. Let boil gently for 1 minute, then remove from heat and let cool slightly (the mixture will thicken more as it cools down).
Serve wontons with sauce.