You know you’ve been in Italy too long when your daughter’s copious drawings suddenly all consist of huge psychedelically decorated depictions of candy. Is she attempting to visually portray the sensation of a sugar high? Her latest covert source of caramelli is our next-door neighbor, who in all fairness does gift her seed pods of various sorts as well. They seem to have a special understanding. Who else would have intuited that the offering Axa would appreciate most (aside from those caramelli, of course), would be random yard clippings?
Yesterday we also inadvertently netted birthday cake, syrupy baked pears, and chestnut cake. Oh, well. At least I obsessively read labels for sugar when I’m the one contributing sustenance to the family. But sometimes it’s a little depressing for all my exertions toward healthy eating to still result in multiple daily desserts. So I just take out my frustrations on a poundable mass of 100% whole wheat, utterly sugarless bread dough. Today that bread dough turned into sio pao, otherwise known as Chinese steamed buns.
For some reason, I was thinking about sio pao when I got up this morning. Although they are Chinese, I ate them in the Philippines. They could be found in little street-side cafes, where they sat contentedly in the window, looking like softball-sized marshmallows. They were one of the many Filipino foods that look like they ought to be desserts, but actually aren’t. Even on the inside, the bright red pork filling resembled some kind of candied fruit.
After I had eaten sio pao a few times, I remembered that my mom used to make something called Chinese steamed buns that was somewhat similar. Hers were actually baked rather than steamed, and they had a cashew, mushroom, and scallion filling instead of pork. And they were whole wheat, so they turned out more crisp and nutty than squishy and fluffy.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any of the ingredients for either the BBQ pork or the vegetarian version. So I just opened my refrigerator and used what I had. What I had turned out to be leftover roast chicken, carrot, onion, lots of garlic, a bit of anchovy (standard in Italian kitchens), some more anchovy in the form of Worcestershire sauce, a squirt of tomato paste (yes, in Italy it comes in a convenient tube), a touch of strong dark honey, and some marjoram, just for fun.
I sauteed the vegetables, added the seasonings with a few spoonfuls of homemade chicken broth to keep it all from scorching, and then stirred in the chicken. Everything was chopped into tiny pieces so it would fit nicely into my diminutive-sized sio pao. I cooked half of them in my vegetable steamer (yes the same one I had used to roast the chicken the day before), and baked the other half in the oven.
The verdict? Well, my children were skeptical until I told them I had made the sio pao with ketchup. (After all, tomato paste and honey make ketchup, right?) My husband ate more than one, and complimented them, but I won’t know if he was just hungry or really liked them until I see if he chooses to eat them as leftovers. And me? Well, I think I may have been just a trifle too heavy-handed with the anchovies . . .