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. 

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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.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes

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Another request from the readers...

What to make on Christmas Eve.

If you are an Italian American then Christmas Eve is celebrated by serving a boat load of fish.  Some call it The Feast of the Seven Fishes.  In Italy they just call it a grand meal. 

It appears that the root of this tradition is based mostly in the religious fervor of abstaining from eating red meat until Christmas day.  Folks stayed away from meat eating during various religious days throughout the year and the eve before Christmas was no exception. La Vigilia or Vigilia di Natale; the vigil held until midnight when baby Jesus was born. However, in true Italian style, just because one is abstaining from one type of food doesn’t mean you go hungry.  Oh, the contrary.  Instead they serve an abundance of something else.  Hence, bring in the fishes!

My mom and grandmothers prepping. It takes a village and a few generations to feed an Italian family!      Photo credit: Paul Majewski

My mom and grandmothers prepping. It takes a village and a few generations to feed an Italian family!     Photo credit: Paul Majewski

So serving seven fishes is a made up number really.  Some Italian American families go up to 13. These are clearly people will a ton of time on their hands. Preparing that many dishes, and ones that are not so easy to pull off is no simple feat.  But usually this group has a team of grandmothers, aunts, cousins, etc all pitching in.  It seems that whatever the number count, it is always an odd number since that brings good luck.  However, the number 7 is believed to hold a higher significance as it is based in religious reasons. Some theories:

  • The number 7 is the most repeated number in the bible, making appearances over 700 times.
  • God did all his work in 6 days and the 7th he rested.  I would say he could use a day off.
  • In the Roman Catholic Church there are seven Sacraments.

Blah blah blah.  The number isn’t as important as the tradition of serving fish.  I’m not so big on the why but continuing traditions that bring good memories.  If it’s a tradition that is based on something religious and that has meaning to you, great.  If not, but the tradition evokes love and laughter with family and friends, well that my friend is what it is all about.

Family meal. Eat up everyone!                                                                                                                                             Photo credit: Paul Majewski

Family meal. Eat up everyone!                                                                                                                                            Photo credit: Paul Majewski

If you are going to attempt the feat of The Feast of Seven Fishes, start early.  And I mean that.  You will need several days of prep if you are going to make any of the tradition recipes.  I have listed them at the bottom of this post with links to popular recipes.  This list is the most common fish used for the feast.

  • anchovies 
  • salted cod fish
  • clams
  • eels
  • lobster
  • merluzzo (cod)
  • mussels
  • octopus
  • sardines
  • scungilli
  • shrimp
  • smelts
  • squid
  • whiting

So let's say that you are interested in trying this tradition but just want to give a nod to the fishes, as opposed to swimming with the fishes, which is another reference entirely. Then swim along with me. I like abundance but I don't have a team of helpers. Below are a few dishes that are simpler in preparation and in numbers.  Pick and choose among my recipe list below. I’m suggesting you start off with 3. Still an odd number for good luck, if you believe in that sort of thing, and much easier to manage. These recipes are not traditional Italian but a lighter version than all the usual fried options and much less demanding. You should only need one day of prep prior and help on the day of.

I had every intention of writing about some of the dishes below prior to this post but alas I had other recipes I wanted to share with you all year long. So you will just have to give it a whirl with my quick instructions.  You can always call or email me with questions.  I mean that.  

The FIsh usually swim onto the plates in an order like this:  First course, something light and snack like.  Then followed by a salad of seafood. Then a dish that is a bit heartier, like a roasted, grilled or seared fish, followed by the pasta course then a hearty seafood stew.  I think I hit most of these courses with the exception of the stew.  But remember I was trying to ease up on the workload for you.

 

Smoked Trout served on potatoes with sour cream & chives

  • Cut small new potatoes in half, slicing off a tiny bit of the rounded edge so they sit properly.  Boil until tender. Let cool.  Top with flaked pieces of smoked trout, a dollop of sour cream and sprinkling of chives.
Little bites of yum, smoked trout with sour cream & chives on potato rounds

Little bites of yum, smoked trout with sour cream & chives on potato rounds

Crabmeat & Citrus 'Martini'

  • Combine fresh crabmeat, with yellow bell pepper, celery, grapefruit and orange sections and mint. Serve in a martini glass with endive leaves and spoon the juice from the citrus into each glass.  
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Boquerones 

  •   Fresh anchovies can be served in several ways.  Check out the highlighted title link for serving ideas.
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Salmon & Cucumber Rounds

  • Cut English cucumbers into 1/2” rounds. On plastic wrap, spread smoked salmon out to create a full layer.  Spread whipped cream cheese over the entire layer. Sprinkle with chives (capers and minced shallots optional).  Roll up the entire layer to create a log. Wrap and refrigerate for a couple of hours. Before serving cut into 1/2” rounds, place on top of the cucumber and finish with a small piece of fresh dill

Bellini with Crème Fraiche & Roe

  • These mini bellinis that can be store bought, top with crème fraiche & your favorite roe.
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Whole Baked or filet of fish: Salmon, Trout, Sole , Grouper or Grilled Shrimp

Roasted Salmon

Roasted Salmon

Stuffed Dover Sole

Stuffed Dover Sole

Oven Roasted Grouper Filets with roasted tomatoes, onions and garlic

Oven Roasted Grouper Filets with roasted tomatoes, onions and garlic

Grilled Shrimp served with grilled yellow peppers and onions, and creamy polenta.

Grilled Shrimp served with grilled yellow peppers and onions, and creamy polenta.

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Yes, JuanCarlos was out in the snow cooking a paella!

Yes, JuanCarlos was out in the snow cooking a paella!

All the above dishes not only would be my choices for Christmas Eve, but these were the dishes I served for a New Year's Party, only I swapped out the linguine & clams for seafood paella.  That dish is one that my 'also good in the kitchen' husband likes to tackle. The fun part about a paella (although not a traditional Italian dish,  is that guests love to watch it come together.)

 

 

If you feel that you have the strength of a mighty Italian, then go for the gold.  Below is a list of some of the most common dishes served during the Feast of the Seven Fishes.  I provided links to recipes from popular sites for your reference.  Please note that I have not tried these recipes. My goal was to do some of the leg work finding  links to make your search less stressful.

•   Baccalà (salt cod) as a salad or fried

•   Baked cod or Baked cod & potatoes

•   Baked Clams casino or a lighter, easier version Clams Casino

•   Cod fish balls in tomato sauce

•   Deep fried calamari

•   Deep fried cod

•   Deep fried fish/shrimp

•   Deep fried scallops

•   Fried smelts

•   Insalata di mare (seafood salad)

•   Linguine with anchovy, clam, lobster, tuna, or crab sauce

•   Marinated or fried eel

•   Octopus salad

•   Oyster shooters

•   Puttanesca traditional tomato sauce with anchovies

•   Scungilli salad (sea snail)

•   Shrimp cocktail traditional version   or Roasted Shrimp Cocktail version

•   Stuffed calamari in tomato sauce

•   Stuffed-baked lobsters

•   Whiting

Whatever you serve, whether it's 7 or 13 fishes, or no fish at all, just remember the most important ingredient of all... LOVE.

After all the fish, leave room for the dessert!                                                                                                                   Photo credit: Paul Majewski     

After all the fish, leave room for the dessert!                                                                                                                  Photo credit: Paul Majewski    

Buon Natale, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays. Eat well. Be well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ba Ba Ba Basil-ed Potato Salad

Summertime and potato salad go together like hamburgers and buns. How many picnics, BBQ's and big family gathering tables don this starchy delight during the season?  It's the 'go-to' hearty salad that everyone expects. Yet, serving mayo in the hot sun might not be the wisest choice. Hell, it might be down right dangerous.  

I'm all about giving guests food they love, but I'm also hooked on introducing new dishes or serving old favorites with a twist.

Best approach. Use what's in season to make your statement. You know what's in glorious abundance now? Basil. Oh, that smell.  That floral, herbal bouquet that makes you want to actually BE a green leaf.  (I had an distant uncle who loved basil so much he used to roll it up and shove it up his nose.  As a kid, this grossed me out big time, but somehow now I'm feeling that nasal basil vibe. Funny how time and perspective can change.)

Uses for basil = a Zillion.  That is an understatement. Try infinite.  Given how many ways you can use it I even thought I would write a post entitled 3 ways to basil up your meal.  But settled on the laser focus of revamping potato salad instead.  

I have been making a version of potato salad like this for a while, and even more so now since JC and I don't eat eggs, thus no mayo.   But here are a few motives for you.

  1. It tastes frigging AWESOME.

  2. Without the mayo, it's less calories and as a bonus won't spoil in the sun.

  3. It's super easy with just a few ingredients.

(Seriously, I don't know why I count the reasons down since I could continue on and on. But three should be enough to convince you.)

I would say that basil is the star in this show with potatoes and garlic nudging their way to leading role status.  I'm not going to yammer on too much longer since we need to just get right to making this jacked up flavor bomb for potatoes.   The smell is going to knock you over.

The star, Basil and the rest of the gang: Potatoes, garlic, sea salt, oil. I used course  Bevia Sea Salt from Despaña .

The star, Basil and the rest of the gang: Potatoes, garlic, sea salt, oil. I used course Bevia Sea Salt from Despaña.

Ingredients

8 c Potatoes (any style/ I like using new or fingerlings)
2 c Basil  
3-4 Garlic cloves. medium
1 t course Sea Salt
1/4 t Whole Peppercorns
1/2 c Olive Oil

Instructions

Cut the potatoes in bite sized pieces. Boil or roast them.  

While those are cooking away, prepare the dressing.  I like using a mortar and pestle for small batches but using a mini blender, processor is best for bigger batches as well as gives you a nice consistency.

For the mortar and pestle: Crush the garlic using coarse sea salt to break it down.  Add the peppercorns.  Add a handful of the fragrant basil leaves and crush them to make a paste.  Then pour in the oil and stir together.  

For the mini blender: Smash the garlic first then add all the ingredients minus the oil.  For this method, use crushed black pepper intead of whole peppercorns.  Pulse until minced. Then add the oil to blend.

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Chopped up and packed with basil essence.

Chopped up and packed with basil essence.

A very important note that I often times do not write.  Taste as you go. Although I give ingredient amounts, the basil and garlic you are using may be more or less intense than mine. And when using so few and such fresh ingredients it's all about the flavor. It might need a little more salt or garlic.  Taste, taste, taste.  Once you love it, then pour the mixture over the 'taters while they are still warm.  The warmth helps the flavor absorb into the them. Stand back and let the aroma waft over you.

I once made this dish last minute when friends stopped over.  They were so blown away by the intense bouquet of basil and garlic that they could not believe how simple it was and how few ingredients it had. Use this over anything really.  Here I go again with a list that could go on, but this is a start.

  • Grilled Chicken or Meat

  • Grilled or Roasted Fish

  • PASTA, duh

  • Rice

  • Roasted Cauliflower, Zucchini or any vegetable

Well, you get the picture.  No cook, no fuss Basil Blasted Sauce.  Use it on everything. Just a warning, because of the raw garlic, brushing your teeth afterwards is a good idea!

Geez, did I forget to add heirloom tomatoes to the list...  Happy Summer (without spoiled mayo!)

Loaded Potato - Healthy Style

I know you might find this hard to believe but I had a left over baked potato.  How is that possible, you say?  Well, my sister didn't join us for dinner one night and we had already eaten our fill of the fluffy spud. So the next day I decided to have a healthier version of a loaded baked potato.  

First, in case you missed how I cut the potatoes, you simply make slices not cutting all the way through.  Drizzle with the Magic 3 (oil, salt, pepper) and bake for 40-60 minutes. (Again, I can't take credit for this style of cutting. I saw it somewhere and liked it).   

Instead of using sour cream, I took out the Greek yogurt, every variety of the onion family I had (chives, scallions, red onion) and chopped them up.  Stirred them all together with a dash of salt and squeeze of lemon for brightness.

Chives, Red Onion & Scallions ready to be slathered in creamy Greekness.

Chives, Red Onion & Scallions ready to be slathered in creamy Greekness.

I also had some left over roasted broccoli and it reminded me of another topping that you often find in loaded potatoes.   But the roasted version is definitely a cleaner alternative to that traditional topping that is usually swimming in cheese sauce. I love texture, and these provided that crispy element, so I added it to my potato.

I suppose if you wanted more crispiness and the bacon factor but still wanted to keep it 'leaner', you could take some proscuitto or serrano ham, and crisp them up in the oven. This would make a less fatty version for sure.  I kept mine lean and mean with just broccoli and yogurt.  Add a small salad and you have a great lunch. A filling, healthier version of the traditional.  

 

 

 

 

Salad: Hot & Cold

Years ago when I lived in Miami, working crazy hours, and single, making dinners was sometimes the art of throwing together whatever I had. Thus, enhancing my "something from nothing" style.  
A favorite combination of mine was the Hot & Cold salad.  I would make a green salad with red onions or scallions, cherry tomatoes.  Then, I usually added two ingredients that made it more hearty and complete for dinner:  beans, either cannelini or chick peas, and warm potatoes.  The potatoes ranged from one large potato baked or boiled then cut into slices, or small new potatoes boiled and tossed with garlic and olive oil.  I used to love how the warmth of the potato felt against the coolness of the lettuce.   

 

A few Sundays back, with the cold winter's bite, I craved something warm but realized I should eat a salad.   I found some leftover roasted veggies (carrots, onions, asparagus) which also had potatoes and it reminded me of that old familiar combo. So, I slid the veggies into a pan to warm up, made a big salad consisting of just Boston lettuce and feta cheese, then topped it with the warm vegetable mixture. A squeeze of lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper, and I felt like I got the best of both worlds on that snowy day... Healthy salad with just the right amount of warmth.

 
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You can make this with any type of lettuce you desire or have in the fridge,  and use any variety of leftover veggies you have.  The idea is to create a hot & cold combo that you like.  I think the key is using potatoes because it makes it a hearty meal.  If you don't have leftovers, go ahead and sauté a few vegetables. Whatever combo you use, I think you'll enjoy Salad: Hot & Cold