I took Richard to the Big E last year, a large (to say the least) western Mass fair, and one that I've been going to since I was a kid. The food has always been a draw there and there's quite a lot of eccentric finds - things like deep fried Oreos and deep fried kool-aid. There's always been a couple of things that I get every year I've gone that bring back childhood memories. (And no, not the deep fried Oreos or Kool-Aid). One of my favorites, which until I formally introduced Richard to it he was totally not interested in, is a fat slab of apple pie with a thick slice of cheddar on top. When I first had it, somewhere in the neighborhood of ten years old, I was so hooked to the combination of tart, spiced apples and extra sharp cheddar and it stuck with me ever since.
I've been trying to shake up my normal apple routine a bit and try and embrace it in ways other than my usual pies and cakes. I've also, out of nowhere, been obsessed with making dumplings at home. Traditionally, I think of dumplings as being just Asian but I've been trying to do a little more with them and go in a different direction entirely. I made this fall version with one of Cabot cheese's newest cheeses, the Farmhouse Reserve, a specialty aged cheese that is extra sharp and perfect to pair with apples. I've been working with Cabot for years now and they sent me some of their new, specialty aged cheeses to try out. I couldn't help but pair them with apples and oh, I also added a little bit of bacon too, you know, just because.
Make these for the apple-cheddar lover in your life.
CABOT CHEESE, APPLE, AND BACON DUMPLINGS
2 pieces of bacon
1/4 cup diced onions
4 small apples, cored and diced
1 teaspoon fresh chopped sage
Pinch of salt
Pinch of allspice
1/2 cup finely diced cheddar cheese
3 cups flour
3/4 cup water
Neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola
To make the filling, start by heating a medium sized skillet. Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook bacon over medium heat, just until heated through and crispy, about 7 minutes. Remove bacon from the skillet and transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Reserve about 1 teaspoon of the rendered bacon fat and over medium heat, cook the onions until they soften, about 3 minutes. Add the apples, sage, allspice and a pinch of salt and cook just until the apples start to soften, but still have their shape. Remove from the mixture from the skillet and transfer to a plate. Cover the plate with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool.
While the filling is chilling, make the dough by placing a mound of flour onto a large cutting board. Add a pinch of salt. Make a well with your hands, pour water into the center of the well and using a fork, gently combine the flour and water, gradually incorporating the flour. (Note: you will not use all of the flour. But don't worry, it won't go to waste, you'll use it to roll out the dough). Once a loose dough has formed, use your hands to kneed the dough for about 7 minutes. The dough should be soft and elastic but still slightly tacky. Spray a plate with cooking spray and roll the dough around in it. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate it for about 20 minutes.
Once the filling is chilled, add the cheddar cheese and combine with a spoon. Cut the dough into little pieces, about the size of a silver dollar. Using a floured work surface, roll out each piece of dough with a rolling pin and stuff about 1 tablespoon of filling into the center. Using your hands, pinch the sides of the dough together and pinch the dough securely at the top, enclosing the filling. Using your fingers, squeeze the ends together a little to create a puckered pleat. Repeat process until all dumplings have been filled.
To cook the dumplings, heat a large skillet with just enough oil to coat the bottom. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the dumplings to the skillet (you may need to work in batches to avoid crowding the pan) and cook them for about 2-3 minutes, or until they're golden brown on the bottom. Turn off the heat and add enough water to the skillet to cover the bottom, plus a little more, of the dumplings. Place a lid over the dumplings and return the heart to high. The steam will cook the dumplings the rest of the way in about 4-5 minutes. They are done when all of the water is evaporated. Using tongs or a spatula, remove them from the skillet and enjoy them while still warm.