My great-grandfather Dimitri made a huge wooden board for his daughter, my grandmother Józefa, just for making pierogi. It was a very generous size, covering half the kitchen table, and had beautifully carved raised edges so you could roll out pastry dough without spilling flour onto the floor. When Józefa put it on the table and started to sprinkle it with flour, I knew she would be making my favorite meal—pierogi.
The far end of the oak kitchen table, wedged under the window, was always my kingdom, my old childhood friend, inhabited by crocheted dolls and bears, walled off by boxes of wax crayons and stacks of colored paper. But at least twice a week it had to be cleared when my grandmother made pierogi. She’d work and roll the dough out across the floured wooden surface of the board, then cut out circles with an overturned cup. She made them into pasta pockets with different fillings—potato and farm cheese, minced beef, fresh blueberries in summer—but at Christmas, always cabbage and mushrooms. She used to give me my own small lump of dough to play with, to flatten with her giant wooden rolling pin, to cut out stars, flowers and smiling moons. All this to the sounds of Chopin and cosmic radiation mixed together, hissing through her wooden radio. It’s been 30 years since my grandmother died. Time has dried only my outside tears.
This variant of pierogi, pierogi ruskie, with its traditional cheese and potato filling, comes from the Kresy in the east where my great-grandparents Dimitri and Julia grew up. You can eat the pierogi with a little melted butter drizzled on top and sour cream on the side or some chopped bacon. This recipe makes about 120 pierogi, which sounds like a lot, but if you have a big family or more than a couple hungry friends they will all soon disappear. Any leftovers are delicious fried in a little butter the next day.–Beata Zatorska
LC A Plethora of Pierogi Note
Yes. What author Beata Zatorska just said is true. This recipe will land 120 pretty little pierogi in your lap…and on your countertop…and in your fridge…and on your tabletop…and over any other spare surface in your kitchen. If you haven’t enough family or friends to devour this quantity of pierogi, then there’s a blessing in store for you–a Polish one–when you open your fridge the next day and find countless little lovelies waiting for you. If you’re the sort who’s easily bored, you needn’t fill all the pierogi with the same filling, notes Beata Zatorska in Rose Petal Jam, the charming collection of recipes and stories from which this recipe and the above recollections are taken. Shredded or finely chopped leftover beef with sautéed onions are also quite nice, she says, as is cooked buckwheat with caramelized onions and farm cheese (see Variation below). What pierogi filling do you crave most?
Hands-On Time: 1 hour | Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes | Makes 120 pierogi
- For the pastry
- 4 1/2 ounces (9 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 2 pounds, 3 ounces all-purpose flour
- 17 ounces warm water
- For the filling
- 6 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled (russets work just fine, although you could instead use Yukon golds)
- 3 large white onions, chopped
- Olive oil or butter for frying, plus more for serving
- Salt and freshly ground black or white pepper to taste (be generous)
- 2 1/2 pounds farm cheese (see Variation below) or farmers’ cheese, crumbled
- Sour cream for serving
- Make the pastry
- 1. Soften the butter in the microwave or by leaving it out of the fridge for a while. Pile the flour onto a large wooden board. Slowly work the butter into the flour with your fingertips. Mix in the warm water, little by little, to make an elastic, soft dough. Place it in a bowl, cover with a clean towel, and let it rest while you make the filling.
- Make the filling
- 2. Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender, then drain and mash with a potato masher or the back of a fork. Let cool slightly.
- 3. Meanwhile, fry the onions in oil or butter until softened but not browned. Add the onions to the potatoes along with the cheese, holding back a little fried onion for garnishing. Season really quite generously with salt and pepper.
- Assemble the pierogi
- 4. Divide the dough into several portions. Roll out 1 portion pastry dough on a lightly floured wooden board so it’s not too thick or too thin, about 1/8 inch is good. Using an inverted tumbler or biscuit cutter, cut out circles about 3 1/2 inches in diameter and place them on a floured wooden board or work surface, covering them with a towel until you’re ready to fill them. Repeat with the remaining dough.
- 5. Place a heaping spoonful of filling in the center of each circle of dough. Fold the pastry in half and carefully close it, crimping the pastry with your fingers so you end up with little semicircles. (You can buy a simple hinged utensil to do this for you, if you prefer.)
- 6. Place the sealed pierogi in a big pot of boiling water along with half a teaspoon salt. The moment the pierogi float to the top (this should not take more than a minute), use a slotted spoon to remove them and allow them to drain. Serve them at once with the reserved fried onion and some oil or melted butter and sour cream.
DIY Farm Cheese Variation
- Farm cheese is basically a mild, white, dry-curd cottage cheese sold in blocks. It’s not so common stateside, although it can be found at some supermarkets. You can make something quite similar simply by wrapping cottage cheese—full fat, please—in cheesecloth, placing it in a strainer perched on a bowl, setting it in the fridge, and forgetting about it for 8 to 12 hours or so, until a puddle of liquid has collected. Lose the liquid, use the cheese.
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Pierogi Recipe © 2011 Beata Zatorska and Simon Target. Photo © 2011 Simon Target. All rights reserved.