Pierogi - The Polish Ravioli

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Truth be told, I'm only 3/4 Italian. The remaining 1/4 comes from my Polish grandfather on my mother's side.  His mom only spoke Polish and made all sorts of traditional dishes.  Gołąbki, Kabusta, Kielbasa, and the all time favorite, Pierogi.  Seriously, who wouldn't love a big ravioli style dumpling stuffed with potato, onion and cheese?  Who, I ask?  If you say no, keep it to yourself.  You're in the minority.

My beautiful Italian grandmother married a handsome, blond hair, blue eyed Polish man who was the most gentle, lovable soul. He was adored by all, but especially by her.  I'm just spit balling here, but I image those blue eyes and big smile charmed her into learning how to make all those familiar and delicious dishes.  As they say, a way to a man's heart is through his stomach. And so this polish dish was then passed on and loved by a big Italian family.

After decades of marriage, she was still sitting on his lap, full of smiles as they shared food, laughter and love with family. Those smiles tell the story.  Photo credit: Paul Majewski

After decades of marriage, she was still sitting on his lap, full of smiles as they shared food, laughter and love with family. Those smiles tell the story. Photo credit: Paul Majewski

LOVE, LOVE, yes, stirred with LOVE.

LOVE, LOVE, yes, stirred with LOVE.

My twin sisters, Alyssa and Jill. Mom always dressed them in the same outfits. I love that being out in the 'country' turned them into barefoot, wilderness adventurers.

My twin sisters, Alyssa and Jill. Mom always dressed them in the same outfits. I love that being out in the 'country' turned them into barefoot, wilderness adventurers.

Making Pierogis was like a team sport
when we were growing up.  I can
remember going to my great aunt's
house way out on Long Island. Which seemed like a long drive from Brooklyn,
but when you are a kid everything seems bigger or longer.  Although, it was pretty far out on the Island. Living in the city, we didn't have big yard. It was a path of concrete with rose bushes and fig trees on either side.  It certainly was not big enough for a swing set. So when we were out in the country we took full advantage of the outdoors and the playthings. All the kids would run around the yard while the adults made the meals.

 

 

 

Every now and again we would sneak into the kitchen to watch the elder stateswomen rolling, stuffing, boiling up hundreds of Pierogis as we anxiously awaited the potato filled platter to hit the table.  We even had a contest to see who could eat the most.  It was reminiscent of Cool Hand Luke pounding down hard boiled eggs!  Only eating Pierogis was, and still is, way more enjoyable.  

My great Aunt Ann  Photo credit: Paul Majewski

My great Aunt Ann Photo credit: Paul Majewski

My Grandmother  Photo credit: Paul Majewski

My Grandmother Photo credit: Paul Majewski

After my grandmother passed away, making these belly filling dumplings took a hiatus in our house.  That is until my sister, Alyssa asked my mom if they could make them together.  For whatever reason, I have not been around during these sessions.  So, I was thrilled that this year I was in town when they decided to make them again.  

When my sister and I arrived at our parents' house we found our mom already deep into the preparation.  She had peeled, boiled, mashed and already made the potato mixture.  And was wrist deep into dough mixture. Oh well, so much for all the usual prep photos of each stage.  Sorry, blame it on my mom, who seemingly couldn't wait for our grand entrance. We took off our coats, plopped our shit down and dove right in.  (Yes, I washed my hands first, in case you were wondering.)

Happily mixing the dough. Don't you just love that smile. Reminds me of the above photo of her mother sitting on her dad's lap.

Happily mixing the dough. Don't you just love that smile. Reminds me of the above photo of her mother sitting on her dad's lap.

It is a fairly simple recipe but rolling out, stuffing and pinching the Pierogi to perfection does take practice.  The good thing about these carb bombs is they taste just as delicious no matter what they look like.  Another valuable point to note, they wouldn't be so labor intensive if you only made a 1/4 of the recipe. The amounts given below make 60 pierogis.  Unless you are feeding a Polish army, you won't need that many.  Although, if you are going through the effort, I say, go ahead and make the whole amount, freeze them, and enjoy them at a later date.  Which is what we did.

 

Ingredients

Filling
5 lbs potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 lb cream cheese
1 onion, fine chop
1-2 T butter
Salt

Dough
6 cups flour
1 large egg
2 cups warm water
1 T butter
Salt

6-8 T melted butter for the finishing sauce

My mom spelled pierogi incorrectly but I love seeing her handwritten recipes.

My mom spelled pierogi incorrectly but I love seeing her handwritten recipes.

Instructions

Peel and cube the potatoes, then boil them in salted water until soft.  While the potatoes are cooking, sauté the onions in butter just until soft and translucent.  When the potatoes are done, drain, mash and let cool.  Then add the cream cheese and salt to taste.  Make the dough by combining the flour, egg, water, salt and butter together.  

It starts out like any dough, rough and not pulled together yet.

It starts out like any dough, rough and not pulled together yet.

Knead the dough until it is smooth.  You may need to add sprinkles of flour if it's too sticky, but add sparingly.

Keep kneading until smooth. Mom needed a rest.

Keep kneading until smooth. Mom needed a rest.

It's important to get it smooth.  Mom needed a break so I took over the kneading to get it to the finish line. By now, I have a ton of experience in dough kneading. That was not always the case.  It took years before my grandmother would allow me to touch any dough, but then I graduated to bringing it to the finish line. On the job training that I hope to pass off to my nieces and nephew.

I took over to get it to a smooth consistency.

I took over to get it to a smooth consistency.

With the dough soft and smooth as a baby's bottom, cut a small piece, roll into a thick rope, then cut 1.5" pieces. Roll each one out creating a small round about the size of your palm, approximately 3.5" diameter.  Then take a full tablespoon of the potato filling and place in the middle. 

A nice round dough waiting to be filled.

A nice round dough waiting to be filled.

Place a heaping tablespoon in the center of the round. Take note of the small cut piece. That is the size before being rolled out.

Place a heaping tablespoon in the center of the round. Take note of the small cut piece. That is the size before being rolled out.

It may seem like a lot of filling but they should be completely filled with the potato mixture. If it seems too much, simply stretch the dough to close.

It may seem like a lot of filling but they should be completely filled with the potato mixture. If it seems too much, simply stretch the dough to close.

Fold in half and crimp the edges, pressing flour into them.  Place them on a dry towel until all are made and you are ready to boil them. 

Team effort is the only way to make 60 pierogi unless you have time.

Team effort is the only way to make 60 pierogi unless you have time.

Alyssa and Mom happily making, and anticipating the finished product. Is there anything more heartwarming than keeping traditions alive with your mom? I don't think so.

Alyssa and Mom happily making, and anticipating the finished product. Is there anything more heartwarming than keeping traditions alive with your mom? I don't think so.

Perfect little potato dumplings. Well, not so little.

Perfect little potato dumplings. Well, not so little.

About to take the plunge...

About to take the plunge...

Bring a big pot of salted water to boil then add 14-16 pierogis at a time.  (It will depend on the size of our pot.  You don't want to overcrowd.) Once they float to the top give them a 1-2 minutes more and pull them out. 

boiling.jpg

To serve, melt butter, then pour and slather over top of the pile of Pierogis.  You can also go the next step and fry them in butter.  This was the way we traditionally eat them the next day.  Either way, they are one of those comfort foods that qualify as a non guilty pleasure.  No guilt because you won't be making and eating these once a week or even once a month.  So go ahead, take time to make them, eat them and treasure them as the specialty food they are without any apology.

Boiled and smothered with melted butter.

Boiled and smothered with melted butter.

Alyssa and me.

Alyssa and me.

So here's to the 1/4 percent Polish I am, and to all the women in my life who passed down the tradition, and to the ones keeping the tradition alive and well.  And especially to Alyssa, who revived it, setting up the next generation of potato dumpling makers.  There is nothing I love more than tradition, and doing it together with the family I love.

And nothing more delicious that frying these up. Crispy outsides, and soft, yummy insides.

And nothing more delicious that frying these up. Crispy outsides, and soft, yummy insides.

Post Script:  My aunt Ann's daughter and my cousin, Mary Ann sent me a two good suggestions. 

  • Dough Kneading: She said for those who haven't mastered kneading dough or just want to make it a bit easier, you can use a bread machine or a mixer with a dough hook to knead the dough.

  • Freezing: For best results, her tip is to let them cool in iced water after they've been boiled, drain well and freeze to have whenever you need a fast potato fix.

Fabulous Flatbreads

Who doesn't love pizza? Who, I ask? What's better than that thin, crispy, yet somehow doughy flat wonder. My husband loves when I make pizza, but he also loves when I use pizza dough to make flatbreads. So in this post I am sharing how I take that perfect pizza dough and let it shine all on its own.  Yeah, you heard me right.  No fancy toppings needed here.  Just fire up the oven, hotter than hell and crisp that yeasty baby up.  This is one of the simplest ways to make a WOW at any party or in the hearts and stomachs of loved ones. I have a long list of stomachs who crave and howl for these.   And you will, too.

In the past, on occasion I have made my own dough.  And if you have the time, by all means knock yourself out and make it from scratch.   I will admit there is a certain marvel of watching flour, yeast and water bring on their magic.  But this is one of those moments when I shout out, "why reinvent the wheel?"  I say, let someone else do all the making and waiting, while I do the all the buying of their pizza dough. Find a good source for dough, then bring it home and still achieve something homemade. Now that is magic equal to yeast rising.

Resting, Growing, Waiting to be grilled to perfection.  Fresh oregano, chopped and ready to go.

Resting, Growing, Waiting to be grilled to perfection.  Fresh oregano, chopped and ready to go.

I drizzle some oil on top of the dough, cover it with dish towels and let the dough rise a bit. (I try to leave it near the hot stove to help it along.) Once risen, move onto shaping.  Instead of rolling it out, I prefer to stretch it and let it make its own odd shapes.  I just feel this method makes it more rustic.  You can certainly rock the rolling pin if you are in need of perfectly formed breads.

I keep the next step simple.  It's all about the dough but I do like to enhance it slightly by sprinkling salt, pepper and depending on my mood, fresh or dried herbs or crushed garlic and followed by a drizzle of olive oil.   I use a pizza paddle sprinkled with cornmeal to deliver my Picasso shaped dough onto the stone.

I literally almost never make a perfect round circle. 

I literally almost never make a perfect round circle. 

All the while the pizza stone has been readying itself in a piping hot 500 degree oven.  Once the doughs are ready for cooking I turn the oven to broil.   These bad boys cook in a heartbeat so don't you darn step away or it will go up in flames.  JuanCarlos likes his flatbreads super toasty... shall we say almost burnt, so I always make a few that way.  (And yes, maybe a few more than I would like, as I don't always heed my own warning about walking away from the oven.)

You can make these ahead of time, stack them up and cover with foil.  Then pop them back in a 250-300 degree oven for a few minutes to warm just before serving.  These flew out of the bread basket this past weekend.  (Truth be told, I didn't cut up all the ones I made to serve to our guests. I kept a few for JC to eat this week because he loves them so much. And I love him.  That's how to 2stir life with love.)

Stack 'em up because they are sure to disappear.  You might want more than one stack because after they are gone you will have wished you had.

The perfect bite.  Alone and unadulterated or used to scoop something up.

The perfect bite.  Alone and unadulterated or used to scoop something up.

If you don't have a pizza stone, you can also achieve the similiar results using a cast iron pan.  I have even thrown these on the BBQ, but you need to make sure the grates are oiled or the dough will stick.  Give it a try.

 

Pizza Rustica - An Italian Easter Tradition

"Tradition!  Tradition! "  As Zero Mostel so famously belted out in Fiddler on the Roof, it is what grounds us to our own history.  I love family traditions. They fill me with memories and smiles, good times and laughter of being together as a family.   And for me, a big part of that was being in the kitchen with any one of the 3 incredible women who inspired my love of cooking and baking.  My Italian grandmothers and mother: Powerhouses in the Kitchen. As a little girl I would watch them and help whenever and wherever I could.  I studied, learned and committed most of what they did to memory. Thankfully, some recipes, like this one, Pizza Rustica were written down, so I can keep the tradition going.  Today's recipe is brought to you by these two amazing woman, my grandmothers.  

Trofimena Carmela Annunziata aka - Mildred Majewski, mom's mom Photo Credit: Paul Majewski

Trofimena Carmela Annunziata
aka - Mildred Majewski, mom's mom
Photo Credit: Paul Majewski

Carmela Marie Giovanna aka - Mildred Perri, dad's mom

Carmela Marie Giovanna
aka - Mildred Perri, dad's mom

The 3 Powerhouses of the Kitchen - Literally making Pizza Rustica.  That's my gorgeous Mom. I can't believe I found this photo!!!  A treasure.

The 3 Powerhouses of the Kitchen - Literally making Pizza Rustica.  That's my gorgeous Mom. I can't believe I found this photo!!!  A treasure.

For the past few years, I have been making Pizza Rustica for Easter.  What is that, you ask? Well, pizza, in Italian, simply means pie.  Rustica means rustic. Duh! So this is a rustic pie packed with cheeses and meats served typically at Easter to break Lent.  For those who might not know, Lent is that period of time prior to Easter when Catholics are supposed to abstain from eating meat (which I do daily anyway, so no sacrifice for me, hehe). Thus, this 'more torte than' pie celebrates the return to eating meat. It was a definite tradition in our home growing up and one I'm trying to keep afloat. 

It is rich. It is dense. It is a delicious and decadent pie. One that my parents, in particular my dad, absolutely love.  Nothing brings me more joy than making traditional recipes for them and seeing their happiness.  I relive the moments of my childhood. This recipe is not difficult to make, just a little time consuming.  You may see versions where the filling combines all the ingredients together. That is the easy way out.  But my grandmas patiently and lovingly created layers. So that’s what I do.  Plus, I think it looks beautiful that way.  (Funny thing is my mom and I were in heated debate about this methodology.  She swears her mom used the layering method, of which I have no doubt.  But claims my dad's mom mixed it all together.  I remember them both layering it, so that's that. Take the time to layer it and do it the pretty way.) 

I like to think of this as a three part recipe.  1- Make the dough.  2- Make the filling. 3- Then layer the meats and cheeses.    Here we go.

Ingredients

Dough
2 lb. Flour (approx. 6 cups)
2 tsp. Baking powder
1 c. milk
1 c. oil
5 eggs
dash of salt & pepper

Combine all the above ingredients in a big bowl. I add the eggs last. Once all the dough comes together, knead on a board until dough is smooth.  Divide dough into two sections (2/3 and 1/3).  Roll out the 2/3 portion and place the dough into a 9" x 3.25" liter spring pan. (Because the pie is so dense and heavy, I suggest using a spring pan so you can remove it.  If you don't have one or don't mind serving it from the baking pan, then just us the largest pan you have. My grandmothers like making this in a deep pan, but you can make it in a long rectangle. You will just have less layers.)

Combining into a ball.

Combining into a ball.

Kneading until smooth

Kneading until smooth

Roll it out to size.  If the dough breaks, just patch it.

Roll it out to size.  If the dough breaks, just patch it.

Now onto the filling.

Filling
½ - ¾  lb. Prosciutto, sliced thin
½  lb. Genoa salami (sliced thin)
½  lb. Soppressata (sliced thin)
1 whole Basket cheese (farm fresh cow's milk cheese made & left in the basket)
3 lbs. Ricotta cheese (whole milk)
6 eggs
fresh parsley, chopped (optional, another debate. sometimes it was added, sometimes not)
Salt

Cheesy deliciousness

Cheesy deliciousness

In a separate bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, basket cheese and parsley with the eggs and season with salt.  

You have to crack some eggs in this recipe

You have to crack some eggs in this recipe

Get all the meats items ready for assembly.  Begin the layering by first adding a layer of the cheese mixture, spreading evenly to cover the bottom. You want about 1/2" of the cheese mixture. Then add a layer of the prosciutto, followed by another layer of the cheese mixture. Next layer the salami, repeat the cheese layer. Then a layer of soppressata, and repeat the process until you fill up the pan.

First layer of goodness going down.

First layer of goodness going down.

Layering up and up, overlap the meat so there is a good amount.

Layering up and up, overlap the meat so there is a good amount.

I use an offset spatula to spread the mixture around.  It makes it a lot easier.

I use an offset spatula to spread the mixture around.  It makes it a lot easier.

Roll out the remainder of the dough a little larger than the top of the pan.  Place over the top of the pan. Trim the excess but leave enough to seal. Then using two fingers, pinch to crimp and seal the top.

Since the dough is quite pliable, it's much easier if you roll it onto the rolling pin and they roll it onto the top.

Since the dough is quite pliable, it's much easier if you roll it onto the rolling pin and they roll it onto the top.

Trim the excess

Trim the excess

Using two index fingers, pinch the dough together to create a seal AND a pretty border.

Using two index fingers, pinch the dough together to create a seal AND a pretty border.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until golden brown.  Let rest and cool before lifting it up through the springform pan.

This monster of a "pie" feeds an army, so we usually serve it as an appetizer with very few, or light apps to accompany it.  Like olives, or fennel with olive oil and course salt.

Our line up of apps one year.  Roasted red peppers, burrata with fresh tomatoes/basil, fennel with coarse salt/pepper/oil and the of course, the towering Pizza Rustica.

Our line up of apps one year.  Roasted red peppers, burrata with fresh tomatoes/basil, fennel with coarse salt/pepper/oil and the of course, the towering Pizza Rustica.

Layers of rich deliciousness.

Layers of rich deliciousness.

Serve up a slice. Yes, an Italian Easter Family Tradition... but delicious anytime.

Recipe Print Friendly Version

Food photos in this post credited to: www.asithappens.me

Escarole Rolls - A Tiny Bite

For years my mom used to make stuffed breads as part of her antipasto offerings.  Some had spinach, others ham & cheese all rolled up in 'soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside' bread.  That big roll was then cut up into large slices. These have always been a favorite of anyone who has tasted them.  When I was still able to eat bread, I loved these stuffed breads and made them this way often.  When I lived in Miami, I used to make them while friends looked on so they could see how to learn just how easy it is. Yes, they are that popular.  But all too often I have found that people love them so much they eat more than one big slice and get filled quickly, not leaving enough belly room for the other nibbles being offered.  So I got to thinking...

I'm sure you are wondering why screw with a good thing, but size does matter so this seemed like the opportune time to reinvent the wheel.  Since I was in need of exactly this type of nibble idea for a little Post Thanksgiving cocktail/tapas event.. bingo, these could work!  Given that this party was not a sit down dinner but instead a buffet of many bites for people to pick and choose, this was the perfect setting to try my tiny rendition of my mom's rolls.    

I will admit that this version is a tad more time consuming than the one large roll, but in my opinion, worth the extra time. (When I say tad, it's because the other version takes but 3 minutes, so this is slightly longer than that!)  Also, what I loved about these little nuggets is that you can make them ahead of time and just warm them in the oven.

Seriously, it's just these few ingredients that make bite sized magic

Seriously, it's just these few ingredients that make bite sized magic

Ingredients 

1 head of escarole, chopped in small pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c shallots, minced
1/4 c onions, minced
Magic 3 (oil, salt, pepper)
Dough (honestly, with parties like this I buy a good pizza dough and let it rise)

Instructions

First things first, get your dough plumping up and doubling in size by placing it in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

See the nice bubbly, yeasty wonder doing it doubling magic trick.

See the nice bubbly, yeasty wonder doing it doubling magic trick.

Sauté the shallots, onions, garlic in oil adding salt & pepper to taste. If you like a little heat, then add red pepper flakes.  That would be lovely.  I would have added some but was thinking of my dad who isn't a fan of spicy food. Once nicely translucent add the chopped escarole and cook until wilted.  Set aside and let cool.

Chop in small enough pieces so that it is easy to roll up.

Chop in small enough pieces so that it is easy to roll up.

At the point that the dough has risen, punch it down and roll it out to its fullest size.  You really want it as thin as possible since each strip will be rolled up.  Then cut 1.5" strips.  Place the cooled escarole along each strip. Then cut the strips into thirds so each are about 4-5" long.  Longer than that and your rolls won't be bite sized anymore. Roll up each piece and pinch on the end.  Place them in oiled mini cupcake tins.

Roll out the yeasty wonder to the largest piece you can before it begins to stretch back.

Roll out the yeasty wonder to the largest piece you can before it begins to stretch back.

Using the good ole pizza wheel, cut 1.5" strips.

Using the good ole pizza wheel, cut 1.5" strips.

Roll 'em up!

Roll 'em up!

Place your rolled up delights into lightly oiled mini cupcake tins.

Place your rolled up delights into lightly oiled mini cupcake tins.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes until the dough is nicely toasted.  Definitely serve these warm.  But remember, these little bundles can be made ahead and warmed up right before serving.  

That's my beautiful sister, Alyssa, eyeing what to choose. See the rolls in the lower right hand corner of the table...

That's my beautiful sister, Alyssa, eyeing what to choose. See the rolls in the lower right hand corner of the table...

I'm pretty tickled with this bite sized version of my mom's stuffed bread.  The wheel reinvented turned out to be the perfect way to add that doughy comfort food to our buffet table; and without filling up our guests too much.  That is unless they eat a dozen! Which they just might. 

P.S.  This is just ONE stuffing idea.  I almost added cheese to these but opted not to since I had other cheese offerings.  But please start making your list of other stuffing options.  Here's a jumping off point :

  • Spinach with red pepper flakes & parmesan cheese
  • Strips of salami and grated provolone
  • Sautéd zucchini
  • Ground sautéd sausage and peppers

That's a start at least.  Continue please!