Pierogi Triumph (or Take That, Pittsburg!)

In honor of the Zookeeper’s Wife (our book club selection for April) Jen solicited my help in making pierogi for the book club meeting at her house. Why pierogi? The book is set in Warsaw in the late 1930’s and through WWII – while pierogi did not figure as prominently as horsemeat and even less appetizing animal protein (don’t ask, don’t ask) it is one of the most famous Polish specialties in this country. Of course I agreed to help with the project, and joined her at Chez Op for dinner of fresh pasta, bacon and local chard as a precursor to the hard labor. At dinner we discussed our collective dread of cooking projects that require dough, but Jen had picked a straighforward recipe (see the end of this entry) and I was feeling confident.

We decided to quadruple the recipe, but to make it in two batches. The dough came together easily, and while it was a bit sticky at first it firmed right up and behaved. Jen had selected a recipe with sour cream in it (which is apparently Pittsburg style) which I supported because sour cream tends to cause deliciousness. Apparently, Pittsburg residents eat 11 times more pierogi than the rest of the country – this is our attempt to get Central Virginia on the charts! We let the dough rest in the refrigerator (wrapped in plastic wrap) for about a half hour while we prepared the fillings. We boiled some peeled potatoes, sauteed diced onions in butter, and mixed in some sharp cheddar cheese and plenty of salt and pepper. On the lighter side, we sauteed local chard (along with the crunchy stems) and sprinkled in some queso fresco (like farmer’s cheese or feta). We also prepared a ricotta filling, sweetened with vanilla and sugar. Finally, from some dried plums found in the kitchen we made a pureed paste and planned on pairing that with unsweetened ricotta. Dried plums? Aren’t those prunes? Yes, and we agreed that the Prune People are making a concerted effort to shift to the term ‘dried plum’ on packaging and in recipes. Hmm.

So the dough is rested, the fillings are ready, and it’s time to make the pierogi. We used a 2.5 inch glass to cut circles out of the rolled-out dough. Given my recent experience with pasta making, I suggested we seal the pierogi with an egg wash to avoid blowouts in boiling water. I cut, Jen filled, and we stored the cute little half-moons on a cookie sheet, separated by type and wax paper. We switched jobs and rotated through all the fillings, astonished as the pierogi piled up – how many people are coming to book club? At the end of the project, we tidied up the kitchen and put the pierogi in the refrigerator to rest overnight. Night night.

I arrived at book club a little early to begin the pierogi task; I knew that Jen would have Francesca at her feet, and the boiling and frying seemed a better task for me. I brought my apron in case it got messy. There were several pots of salted water on to boil, and I diced an onion and began to cook it in butter as our finishing sauce. I’ll admit that I felt nervous about the process; there’s nothing more disturbing than unmanageable dumplings for a group. However, the pierogi were nice and firm and lined up like little soldiers to go plop! into the water. I kept them separated by type, and boiled each batch for 8 to 10 minutes. Despite the fact that we made all the pierogi in the same manner and from the same dough, each pot behaved a bit differently, with one pot growing in size and the dough on another batch growing mottled and bumpy; I assume that the filing affects the growth, and that salt content in the water caused bumpy dumpy. However, they all stayed together and bubbled away merrily as the book people arrived, opened beers and wine, and enjoyed the project.

Jen recounted to me a mutual friend who has some experience with pierogi; she cautioned that the pierogi must be dry when they go in the pan to be fried, or else they won’t brown and crisp (and also, if you put a wet item in oil, it causes the oil to spit like a pan of bacon – ouch). Taking great pains to drain, rinse, drain, and pat dry, we began pan frying in a teflon skillet, which seemed to be the failsafe in this case. We served the savory pierogi sauteed in onion and butter with sour cream on the side, and the sweet pierogi sauteed just in butter and with honey on the side. By all accounts they were all delicious, with the dried plum and ricotta being a surprise hit with Jen. My favorite was the swiss chard – somehow the starch in starch of the potato filling seemed like too much, although if I were trying to live through winter in Poland it might be just right.

Sour cream in the dough is a favorite secret of many Pittsburgh pierogi makers.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups flour, plus extra for kneading and rolling dough
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, plus extra to serve with the pierogi
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened and cut into small pieces
  • butter and onions for sauteing
  • ingredients for filling of your choice (potato & cheese filling recipe below)

PREPARATION:

Pierogi Dough
To prepare the pierogi dough, mix together the flour and salt. Beat the egg, then add all at once to the flour mixture. Add the 1/2 cup sour cream and the softened butter pieces and work until the dough loses most of its stickiness (about 5-7 minutes).

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You can use a food processor with a dough hook for this, but be careful not to overbeat. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes or overnight; the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.Prepare the Pierogies
Roll the pierogi dough on a floured board or countertop until 1/8″ thick. Cut circles of dough (2″ for small pierogies and 3-3 1/2″ for large pierogies) with a cookie cutter or drinking glass. Place a small ball of filling (about a tablespoon) on each dough round and fold the dough over, forming a semi-circle. Press the edges together with the tines of a fork.

Boil the perogies a few at a time in a large pot of water. They are done when they float to the top (about 8-10 minutes). Rinse in cool water and let dry.

Saute chopped onions in butter in a large pan until onions are soft. Then add pierogies and pan fry until lightly crispy. Serve with a side of sour cream for a true Pittsburgh pierogi meal.

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~ by a local notion on April 29, 2008.

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