My memories are strongly bound to my senses of taste and smell. So I guess it’s no surprise that my most basic childhood memories are tied to food. This recipe is not very hippie, but I’m posting it anyway because it encapsulates a memory of someone special.
Today marks the 1-year anniversary of my godmother’s death. I have been trying to do a tribute recipe on the blog for quite some time, but it just hasn’t been working. The problem has been mostly this part – writing about why Barb was (and is) such a huge influence in the way I live, love and cook. She faced a rare and aggressive cancer head-on, weaving an inspiring cloth of courage, humility, faith, dignity, strength, and humor. Throughout my life, Barb was also a perfect example of unconditional love – her forgiveness and compassion knew no bounds. And she expressed her love with food in so many ways. As we gathered to celebrate her life, each “kid” in my generation shared their special food connection with Barb. For some, it was a packet of Kool-Aid sent with each birthday card. For others, it was the bowl of M&Ms that was ubiquitous at Barb’s parties, or the red white and blue jell-o cups at her annual Independence Day Bash. For me, it was two things: a box of Cadbury eggs arriving in the mail each spring, and – more poignantly – the fact that one of the last things Barb did before going into the hospital for a long, final stay was to cook for my family while I was recovering from surgery last summer. Even as death crept so close, her love and care told her illness to take a seat so she could take care of me one last time.
So which recipe do I choose? I didn’t want to make and post one of her delicious recipes (I will someday, I promise). I knew that the finished product would fall short because instead of the love and joy that she baked into each dish, there would still be mostly sadness. The loss is still fresh, even a year later. So I decided to pick a food that is forever connected to my memory of a childhood ritual at Barb’s house; a ritual that is so very emblematic of childhood in the 80’s.
Pizza rolls. One of the hundreds of items in Barb’s freezer and the candy bowl in her pantry that were always available for the kids in her life. One summer, her son and I had a fairly common routine when I came over to play. After we got sick of Transformers and Star Wars figures (or reached an impasse over who got which toy), we would gather around the VCR and watch Charlotte’s Web. And while we were watching, Barb would make us pizza rolls and serve them to us. It was the perfect 80’s rainy-day activity snack. I loved them. And since then, I have always associated pizza rolls with my godmother.
The frozen pizza rolls you can buy at the grocery store are full of all sorts of gross things: trans fats, nitrates, “mozzarella cheese substitute,” high fructose corn syrup, and tons of chemicals. I just can’t justify eating them, even to indulge a food-memory/comfort-food yen. So to mark the one-year anniversary of Barb’s passing, I shed a few tears while trying my hand at making my very own pizza rolls. These are certainly a Sometimes Food, as they are still deep fried pockets of cheesy deliciousness (even the vegan filling below is wrapped in fried dough). But they would be pretty well-received at a party this fall, especially if people at the party will be watching football.
The ingredients are highly adaptable. Add or subtract ingredients as you like. I made some of ours with roasted tomatoes and garlic instead of pizza sauce. The commercially-produced pizza rolls include tiny bits of processed pork. As long as you combine the ingredients thoroughly before filling the pockets, you’ll be all set.
- 24 wonton skins
- 1/4 tsp. cornstarch
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1.5 cups shredded mozzarella
- 2 Tablespoons minced onion and green pepper (or any other vegetable or filling ingredient)
- 1/4 cup pizza sauce
- Canola or peanut oil, for frying
- In medium-sized bowl, combine the cheeses and sauce (and any other filling ingredients you want to add).
- Start heating your cooking oil in a pan suitable for shallow frying (or deep frying, if you have a basket. I don’t, so I put in 1/2 inch of oil and used tongs to flip the rolls halfway through the cook time).
- Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl.
- Assemble the rolls. I took a page from my husband’s days working in a Chinese restaurant in high school. He can assemble 50 crab rangoon in record time. I like the triangles because there are only two sides that can pop open and cause problems. Working in batches, lay 4-5 wontons on a cutting board or work surface. Cover the others with a damp cloth so they don’t dry out.
- Put a heaping teaspoon of filling in the middle of each wonton.
- Dip a finger in the cornstarch mixture, then run it along two adjacent sides of the wonton.
- Immediately pull the other two sides up to meet the cornstarch sides in a triangle shape. Press the dry edges to the wet edges starting at the top of the triangle and working your way down both sides. Carefully press out any air bubbles as you are sealing the pockets. Any air trapped in or around your filling will cause big empty pockets to form while you are frying. Set the completed rolls aside until it is time for frying.
- Repeat this process until all wontons are filled.
- Deep fry in batches until the rolls are golden brown.
- Just like the ones you can buy in the store, the filling will be extremely hot! Give it a few minutes before digging in.
2 cups of chopped roasted vegetables. For the ones pictured below, I used potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, zucchini and tomatoes. I smushed the potatoes a little extra to help bind the filling together.
Next time I make them, I will increase the ratio of tomatoes and garlic relative to the other ingredients for a more pizza-like taste.
These were pretty good, too. Not quite as indulgent as the oozy, cheesy ones, but they looked a lot better.