I often think that a dumpling is an underrated thing. Not the wrapped sort, of course, which travel a direct line from China and through the various -stans to reach possibly their greatest iteration in the broth-filled khinkali of Georgia, spreading and mutating into manti, pierogi, varenyky, tortellini and the like; the boiled dough giving way to fillings of chopped or minced meat, scrambled or still-flowing egg or chickpeas or ricotta or anything at all is one of the finest sensations available to the mouth, and everybody knows it. I’m talking about the other, naked kind, the little lumps of dough or breadcrumbs which usually exist more as an accompaniment than as the main event. (To differentiate between these and a wrapped dumpling I suggest we rename the naked form a lumpling).
I last ate a suet lumpling in the depths of our recent second winter, nestling in the hollows of a stew of three kinds of sausage and numerous beans, the whole thing enriched by the liver pate melted through it, which was exactly as heavy as it sounds. You might think the lumpling appropriate only to this sort of heavy cold weather cuisine, rib-stickers designed to line the body against harsh north winds; if you have eaten, though, a plateful of the ricotta-based gnudi then you know how shockingly light a lumpling can be. It would be nice, I think, on a cold April evening, to make a dough with ricotta and shredded wild garlic, and to poach the little lumps in a white ragu of spring rabbit, pale and sweet and green.
What’s a food writer to do in the face of such ridiculous weather? I was almost ready to write about little boiled artichokes and loose green mayonnaise, poached fish, fricassees of rabbit and peas – about spring, in other words, and beyond it the faint potential for wine and roses; then along came the snow. I suppose it’s fortunate given these circumstances that I’ve already written an entire book about the possibilities of spring eating, or I would find myself quite frustrated. As it is, I’ve quite enjoyed the opportunity to reembrace thick soups, dark with brassicas and bitter herbs and dense with beans, black bread with tooth-marked butter, problematic Anglo-Saxon drinking, and all the other fond habits of winter.
It rarely gets cold enough in this country to properly appreciate, for example, potatoes covered thickly in oozy stinking cheese, or at least to do so entirely without guilt. We so often look to the Mediterranean for inspiration that it is quite refreshing to settle into the cushioning carbs of northern Europe. I have spent most of the last week with a powerful craving for dumplings of the Russian or Polish or Georgian varieties, which has yet to be sated, largely due to my own laziness. Although spring seems to be attempting a reboot, I’m hoping it might still be cold enough over the next few days to enjoy a dumpling or two. Whether free-standing and dough-wrapped or nakedly bobbing in stew or soup or sage butter, dumplings must be one of the great universal comforters, little pillows of softness in a cold hard world.