Monday, October 24, 2016

Fried pumpkin & scallion flatbreads

The good news keeps on coming. This week, All Under Heaven was included in Amazon’s 100 Books for a Lifetime of Cooking and Drinking. I mean, I look at all of my heroes on that list – Julia Child, Fannie Farmer, Escoffier - and wonder how I managed to crash that particular party. I’m still reeling.

Speaking of heroes, many of my favorite living ones are going to be at the SF Ferry Building next month as part of the LDEI Literary Feast. Look at this list: Diana Kennedy, Dorie Greenspan, Joyce Goldstein, Paula Wolfert, Georgeanne Brennan, Mariela Spieler.... I snuck into that wingding, too, so please stop by my table if you can and nosh on some sample munchies from All Under Heaven.

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It’s the time of year when everything seems to be made out of pumpkin, even beer or tea. Now, in cases like these, I’m of the opinion that these are not really given a squashy boost, but rather have cinnamon or nutmeg in there to suggest autumn and the holidays. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but I really like the taste of good squash.

And that is why I am giving you genuine pumpkin here, which turns these breads into lovely golden rounds that are moist and yet flaky, but with a subtle squashy flavor. In fact, you can use any type of hard squash here, like acorn or butternut, or even sneak in mashed sweet potatoes, if you prefer.

Baked acorn squash
Like zucchini bread, the pumpkin is here mainly to bump up the moistness, color, and nutrition of this dish, rather than serve as an assertive seasoning. In fact, some squashes like acorn are downright subtle in color and flavor, but are good in their own way. If you want more of a pumpkin-y statement, use canned pumpkin. 

The only thing you need to be careful of is not using anything that is too moist, as then you’ll have to use too much flour, which will then turn all the ratios into a mess. Canned pumpkin is good here, too, but be really sure that you’re not using pumpkin pie filling, which already has sugar and spices added.

Once you get this recipe down, you should make it your own. Consider some whole-wheat flour for part of the white, toasted sesame oil or sesame paste for the filling, perhaps ground toasted Sichuan peppercorns instead of the black pepper... really, the possibilities are endless.

Welcome the upcoming holidays with a Chinese twist on old favorites, like this.
Layers can be seen in the flatbreads

Fried pumpkin and green onion flatbreads
Nánguā cōngyóubĭng 南瓜蔥油餅
Makes 4 flatbreads and serves 4 to 6

Around 6 ounces / 180 g (¾ packed cup) cooked, mashed pumpkin (see headnotes)
2⅓ cups / 375 g regular Chinese flour (or 1⅔ cups / 250 g all purpose flour plus ⅔ cup / 90 g pastry flour), plus just a little extra for kneading
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons / around 50 cc warm water
1 teaspoon oil of any kind to grease the bowl

2 tablespoons / 30 ml peanut or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped

Peanut or vegetable oil for frying

Fat flakes should form
1. Heat the mashed pumpkin until it is very hot to the touch (around 150°F / 65°C). Place it in a medium work bowl with the flour and sugar, and use chopsticks or a silicone spatula to stir them together to give you fat flakes, and add just enough warm water to form a soft dough. (The amount of water you end up using will depend upon how moist the pumpkin is.)

2. When the dough has cooled down to the point where it is easy to handle, turn the dough out on a very lightly floured board and knead it for about 5 minutes until it is smooth, adding a bit more flour as necessary. It should feel like an earlobe when it is ready. Clean out the bowl, wipe it clean, and rub the oil inside of the bowl with the oil and set the ball of dough in the bowl, then cover it with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for at least 45 minutes so that it is easy to roll out.
Sprinkle on the seasonings

3. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Form them into balls and work on one at a time, covering up the rest with that plastic wrap. Divide the salt, pepper, and green onions into 4 equal portions each.

4. Roll a ball out into a flattened strip that’s approximately 16 x 5 inches / 40 x 13 cm in size. Smear a quarter of the fat over the dough, and then sprinkle on a quarter of the salt, pepper, and green onions. Starting on a wide end, roll the dough fairly tightly into a fat rope, and then pull on it gently at each end to stretch it out a bit before coiling it around into a snail. Pinch the end into the edge of the bread. Cover the snail with a piece of plastic wrap to let it rest while you repeat this step with the other three balls of dough.

5. Now you can start to roll them out into discs. Roll each one out into a circle around 7 inches / 18 cm wide. You can freeze the discs at this point by laying them flat on a baking sheet covered with plastic wrap; store them in freezer bags and fry them directly from the freezer without defrosting.

Lovely bread snails
6. To fry the breads, set a flat frying pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, swirl in about 4 tablespoons / 60 ml oil. Slide one of the discs into the oil and immediately cover the pan, which will encourage steam to form and so give you a flaky bread, as well as cut down on the spatter. Turn the bread over when it is a light golden brown on the bottom, cover the pan again, and fry the other side. Remove the bread to a plate covered with a paper towel and cut it into wedges before serving. If you are not eating them immediately, keep the fried breads warm in an oven.