One of the things I like to do with leftover braised beef (in our house it is likely to be brisket or short ribs) is to chop it up, mix it with Parmesan and cooked greens and make ravioli or some other filled pasta shape. These are served with a little of the sauce/gravy from the original braise. If the stew has been flavored with, say, thyme and orange and maybe some olives, this can be passed off as a terrific kind of ravioli they make in Nice.
I did this recently, using brisket and Swiss chard stems (saved when I used the leaves in another dish. And this time, I got myself into trouble (and, happily, out of it again).
Normally, I roll pasta to the second-from-finest setting on my 40-year-old hand-cranked machine, but that day I got it into my head that I wanted it thinner and more delicate. There are dangers with very thin wrappers:They are fragile, and moreover a too-moist stuffing can dissolve them into goo unless you cook or freeze them right away. (And if they’re kept frozen for any length of time, the pasta/wrappers can fracture.)
If I’d been paying attention, I’d have noticed that the chard, though quite dry on the surface, was very wet when chopped. I should have squeezed it to wring out as much of this moisture as I could, but I just scooped it right into the bowl with the meat and cheese, seasoned and mixed this well and spooned it into a disposable plastic pastry bag (by far the easiest way to deposit ravioli and other fillings onto pasta sheets).
So, when I started piping the mixture onto my circles of dough I saw liquid oozing out of the filling. I could have remedied this by piping the portions of filling onto paper towels, then transferring them to the pasta disks. Perhaps I should have. But I didn’t. I just soldiered on, folding the circles over the filling to form half moons, then bringing the ends around to make tortellini-like shapes, but a little bigger.
Knowing the risk of disintegration, I made these in groups of half a dozen and transferred them to a tray in the freezer as I worked. Thus, they did not lose their structural integrity, but I was pretty certain that they wouldn’t survive being cooked in boiling water.
After brainstorming with Jackie, three alternatives emerged:
* Boil them gently and hope for the best;
* steam them;
* and do something I’d been meaning to try for ages — cook them like Chinese potstickers.
The third option easily won the day. I’d long talked about how this technique shouldn’t be reserved for Asian dumplings and how an egg-pasta dough would be delicious steam-fried in that way. But I’d never actually tried it. It was terrific.
I put a tablespoon of olive oil in a nonstick skillet along with 2/3 cup of chicken broth (yes, water would have worked, but the stock yields a lovely, flavorful glaze). When this came to the boil I added the tortelli, straight from the freezer, and covered the skillet. By the time the stock had boiled off, its steam had cooked the pasta; then the oil took over and began to brown the bottom of each filled pasta. At that point I removed the lid and let the browning continue.
To serve, I reheated the last few drops of gravy from the original brisket (a mere two tablespoons or so) and drizzled it over each plate of crisp meat-and-chard dumplings. I could have been tempted to add some grated Parmesan, but there was enough in the filling and the gravy was intense, so cheese would have been superfluous. And no, the filling didn’t taste watery; just pleasingly moist.
Because the dumplings hadn’t moved around in the skillet, they developed no fractures, and the thin pasta was toasty and crisp on one side and tender and eggy on the other. Because of its combination of steaming and frying, the potsticker technique is an improvement on the typical fried ravioli method, in which the ravioli are boiled before being crisped (or even, sometimes, breaded and deep-fried).
How nice to have a pet theory proved right.