If I were stranded on a deserted island and could only have three things with me, one of them would surely be pasta (considering this, the other two would probably be a big, heavy pot and a lighter, to create a flame). Most of my favorite meals are pasta dishes, and I eat a couple warm bowls of it in some form several times a week. Though I’m a sucker for good, old-fashioned, spaghetti and meatballs, I don’t discriminate; stuffed pastas, like ravioli and tortellini, or shapes, such as rotini and orecchiette, are delicious, too.
My appreciation for pasta goes beyond delicious, Italian feasts. A casserole dish, straight out of the oven, filled with oozy, gooey, macaroni and cheese, is hard to resist. Swedish meatballs over egg noodles in a warm, brown gravy are enough to satisfy a bottomless-pit of an appetite. Some of the best items on a Chinese menu contain noodles, and dumplings are the not-so long-lost cousin of the Italian ravioli. On that note, the Polish pierogi comes from the same family. I have quite a soft spot for this particular stuffed dough pouch, and I must admit: I have a special place in my heart for the frozen Mrs. T’s pierogies. Still, there’s nothing like one of your favorite foods homemade, so I decided to, ambitiously, play Mrs. T for a day.
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
1 cup warm water
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
Put flour in a large shallow bowl and make a well in center. Add water, egg, oil, and salt to well and carefully beat together with a fork without incorporating flour. Continue stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually incorporating flour, until a soft dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead, dusting with flour as needed to keep dough from sticking, until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes (dough will be very soft). Invert a bowl over dough and let stand at room temperature 1 hour.
10 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
1 onion, diced
1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
1 can sauerkraut
Cook bacon pieces in frying pan until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl, lined with paper towels; set aside. Drain most of the bacon grease from pan, leaving about 1 Tablespoon. Add butter and melt, then sauté onions until translucent. Add mushroom and cook about 3 minutes before adding sauerkraut. Mix ingredients until sauerkraut becomes warm, then remove from heat. Set aside and let stand until room temperature.
Sweet Potato Filling
2 sweet potatoes, skinned and cubed
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoons fresh sage, minced
1 small shallot, minced
Mix sweet potatoes with olive oil and roast at 400 degrees, Fahrenheit, for about 1 hour. Place in a large bowl. Melt butter and add fresh sage; remove when butter appears brown and smells nutty. Mix in shallots and add to bowl with sweet potatoes. Mash until smooth.
Form and cook pierogies:
Halve dough and roll out 1 half (keep remaining half under inverted bowl) on lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 15-inch round (1/8 inch thick), then cut out 24 rounds with lightly floured cutter (I used the mouth of a glass). Holding 1 round in palm of your hand, put about 1 Tablespoon of desired filling in center of round and close your hand to fold round in half, enclosing filling. Pinch edges together to seal completely. You can then mash the seal down with the prongs of a fork, to make it look pretty.
Bring a 6- to 8-quart pot of salted water to a boil. Add 3 to 4 pierogies, stirring once or twice to keep them from sticking together, and cook 5 minutes from time pierogi float to surface. Drain and pan fry in butter or oil over medium heat until crisp.
To create the end result, you pretty much have to refer to two separate recipes at the same time: the dough and the filling. Cookbooks, magazines, and the internet are packed with pierogi-dough recipes, and it was difficult to figure out which would be the best one to use. Eventually, I came across the same recipe, twice, on two separate (and reliable) websites, complete with elaborate pictures, and felt I could trust the source(s). The result was a sturdy, easy to work with dough that made a seemingly intimidating process simple and enjoyable.
Deciding on a filling was just as difficult; though I was craving a more traditional stuffing, I do enjoy thinking outside-the-box, and I wanted to experiment with other ingredients. My indecisive nature led me to create a batch of each. The traditional sauerkraut filling was laced with pieces of crisp, smoky bacon over an onion and mushroom base. Typically, I purchase bagged sauerkraut and, until now, never realized how much more powerful the flavor is in the canned version. It also was much more appealing when mixed with other ingredients, as the pieces seem smaller and did not overwhelm the other components. The experimental stuffing would have been delicious on its own: roasted sweet potatoes mashed with brown butter and sage sounds like a terrific side dish. Though it tasted fantastic, it would probably fare better in a thinly rolled, Italian ravioli as the flavors of the stuffing are on the delicate side and the tough, pierogi wrapper was slightly overpowering. Each stuffing recipe was enough to make about 40 pierogies, so if you decide to try both using the dough recipe above, halve the filling.
Also consider setting aside a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when committing to pierogies. It’s a time consuming process when all is said and done, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a few extra hands to help with stuffing them. The finished dish, served with fried onions and sour cream, is tasty enough to be considered a form of payment for any generous family members who offer to help.