In & Out of the Kitchen: Homemade pierogi
A few weeks ago, on a dark and drizzly Saturday morning, I found myself speeding west on the New York State Thruway with 66 pierogi on the back seat of my car.
I’m a Polish-American from Buffalo, and when I lived there, Mom and I always made a big batch of homemade pierogi for my grandmother’s birthday.
Grandma came to America from Poland as a young girl in 1904. She died more than 20 years ago.
But this year, mom was turning 80.
“Let’s have a Pierogi Party,” I said in an email to my uncle and cousins.
And so we did. There were 10 of us gathered at my mom’s table in Buffalo.
Cousin Dan brought Wardynski-brand kielbasa. Not the red-colored smoked sausage, but the fresh kind, gray-colored links with a distinctive marjoram flavor.
My brother Eric found some Polish beer and bought kapusta, a chopped cabbage simmered with bacon and onions, at Hapanowicz Brothers, a Polish food store near his home in Utica.
As guest of honor, Mom wasn’t supposed to cook, but she made a big pan of golumpki, also known as stuffed cabbage.
And I made the pierogi, the tender little pillows of dough stuffed with cheese.
Small red-and-white Polish flags decorated the table, and polka music bounced through the air from a boom box in the kitchen.
And there were amateur polka dancers, four women from ages 15 to 80, dressed in long, colorful peasant skirts that were discovered in the back of a closet.
In the kitchen, Mom gave the peasant girls a quick polka lesson, and then, as the doorbell rang, she led her daughter and granddaughters in a spirited dance to the door to greet our guests.
“Dzien dobry” (djane DOH-brayh) (“good evening”), we said in unison.
Then we sat down to enjoy the food and listen to stories from mom and my 90-year-old Uncle Henry, who both grew up speaking Polish.
Now about those pierogi.
I couldn’t find the old family recipe. It’s lost in a box in my basement.
So I used two different recipes to concoct my own easy version, which omits the cooked mashed potatoes. One came from the website of the Am-Pol Eagle, Buffalo’s Polish-American newspaper (ampoleagle.com), and the other I found in “The Art of Polish Cooking” by Alina Zeranska.
The Am-Pol Eagle has recipes for five kinds of pierogi, including sweet cheese, cheese and potato, sauerkraut and mushroom.
In our family, we like them filled with farmer’s cheese, a ricotta-like dry cheese. I found that at Price Chopper.
PIEROGI FOR MOM’S BIRTHDAY
(makes about 32)
3 1⁄4 cups flour
1⁄2 cup water
1 pound farmer’s cheese
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of salt
For the filling: Mix cheese, egg, sugar and salt in a bowl and set aside.
For the dough: In another large bowl, mix egg, flour and salt. Slowly add water and mix until it forms a dough. Add more water if needed. Put dough on a board and knead until the dough is smooth and pliable.
Pinch off a ball of dough, and put the rest back in the bowl and cover with a damp towel so the dough doesn’t dry out.
Roll the small ball of dough as thinly as you can. Cut into 3-inch squares. With a teaspoon, put a little cheese filling on the square of dough. Fold to form a triangle, pinching the edges firmly together with your fingers. (You can also use a glass to cut circles of dough and then fold those in half)
Repeat this process until all the dough is rolled and filled. You should have about 30 to 35 pierogi.
Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Drop six pierogi in the boiling water for about five minutes or until they start rising to the top like plump little angels.
Carefully remove them one by one with a slotted spoon. Rest them on wax paper and cover with clean dish towels to absorb excess water.
At this point, you transfer the pierogi to a warm platter, drizzle them with melted butter and serve. Sour cream is another popular topping.
If you want to make them a day or two before serving, refrigerate the pierogis in a covered container, placing them between layers of wax paper or plastic wrap to keep them from sticking together. Cooked pierogi can also be frozen. When you are ready to cook them, defrost or remove from fridge and fry them gently in butter just until they are warm.