Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Back when I was really young, pierogi used to be a special-occasion food. Mostly Christmas Eve, when one of my aunts would serve them.
When I got old enough to be interested in cooking, I asked her for the recipe, and was devastated to find out that she bought them from a Polish deli. I wanted to know how they were made, and my aunt had no idea.
While pierogi are similar to ravioli in form, they're not served the same way. Traditionally, they're boiled and served with some melted butter, sauteed onions, or bits of cooked, crumbled bacon. Leftover pierogi are pan-fried the next day - either in butter alone, or with a little bacon fat - to brown and reheat them.
The thing is that I like the reheated version better. That slight browning adds a lot of flavor. So usually I boil them first, then immediately fry them a bit.
While pierogi dough is very similar to other noodle doughs, one thing that makes it different is the addition of sour cream. Not all recipes use it, but I think it makes a difference. And of course, when you eat pierogi, it's traditional to serve it with sour cream.
Now that I think about it, the common ingredients in the traditional Polish foods I grew up with were sour cream, smoked meats, cabbage, black pepper, potatoes, and mushrooms. Not every dish had every ingredient, but it was a sure bet that one or more of them would show up. Most of those appear in this one dish.
When I most recently made these pierogi, I used my home-canned sauerkraut - 1 pint - but you can use commercially canned sauerkraut in a 14-ounce can instead. As far as the dried mushrooms, I used a dried Polish mushroom, but anything you like would be fine. If you don't have dried mushrooms, fresh cooked mushrooms would work as well.
2 cups flour
1 large egg
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water (as needed)
for the filling:
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 small onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 14-ounce can sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
4 -6 dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water until soft, then finely chopped
Several generous grinds of black pepper
For cooking and serving:
Cooked, crumbled bacon
To make the dough:
Combine all of the ingredients (holding back a couple tablespoons of water) and knead until you have a soft, stretchy dough. Add the extra water, if you need it. More, if you need that. If the dough is too wet, add flour as you knead. The dough should be soft and pliant, but not at all sticky or tacky. Wrap the dough in plastic and set aside while you make the filling. You can also refrigerate it and assemble the pierogi the next day.
For the filling:
Heat the butter in a medium frying pan and add the onions. Cook until they soften. Add the finely chopped mushrooms and stir to combine. Cook for another minute. Add the sauerkraut. I like my sauerkraut well-cooked - until it softens and browns a bit, but that's up to you. If you want extra mushroom flavor, add some of the mushroom-soaking liquid. Cook, stirring as needed, until all the liquid is gone and the sauerkraut is as done as you like it. Taste for seasoning. You shouldn't need salt, since the sauerkraut is salty. Add pepper. Allow the mixture to cool completely before filling the pierogi.
To assemble the pierogi:
Using a large biscuit cutter, or a drinking glass, cut circles from the dough. Place about a teaspoon of the filling in the center of your dough circles. Wet the outside edge of the dough circles, fold the dough over, and press to seal, pressing out as much of the air in the center as possible. Crimp the edges with a fork to seal completely.
Continue with the rest of the dough and filling. You can reroll the scraps of dough and use it to make more pierogi.
To cook the pierogi:
Heat salted water to boiling and add the pierogi. Since this is a fresh pasta and the filling is already cooked, these cook very quickly. Once they come to the surface, let them cook another 30 seconds and remove them.
You can serve them as-is, or heat a bit of butter in a pan and cook the pierogi until they are browned on the bottom. Flip them over and cook until they're lightly browned on top.
Top with sauteed onions and/or cooked, crumbled bacon if desired. Serve with sour cream.
Note: uncooked pierogi freeze very well. Just lay them out on a sheet pan and freeze until solid. Then place them in a zip-top bag for storage. Cook the frozen pierogi in boiling water, just as you would cook the fresh ones. They take just a little bit longer.