I don’t remember much about my paternal grandmother, but I do remember climbing up to her Bronx apartment, the apartment in which my father grew up, and seeing her small kitchen table (there were no counters to speak of) covered in flour, her up to her elbows in it, with rolling pin and dough.
With all due respect to ravioli, and all of the other stuffed pastas/doughs that exist around the world, I’m partial to the pierogi. I know they’re all pretty much the same thing—you make a dough, you fill it, and you boil, bake, fry, sauté, whatever it. But pierogi I come by honestly. (It’s one of the few dishes in my repertoire that no one can say is cultural appropriation.)
My grandmother’s generation generally produced two kinds of pierogi (blintzes were similar but different): potato and cheese. Other common fillings were sauerkraut, mushrooms, and kasha. Generally, these were non-meat dishes, and so meant to be eaten with sour cream.
Since the cheese variety were sweet—“farmer’s” or “pot” cheese, laced with cinnamon and sugar—those were my preference when I was really young. But as time went on, potato, mashed with sautéed onion (the onion no doubt cooked in butter, or chicken fat if there were no dairy ingredients), became my favorite. And that it remains; even writing about them I start to drool, which I suppose is Pavlovian.
As it happens, I went to Cuba for the week before Christmas (more on that next week), and as luck would have it, I was taken to Nazdarovie, a terrific kind of Soviet tribute restaurant (more on that also), and, to my absolute delight, before long there were loads of pierogi on the table, pierogi in exactly my grandmother’s style. And it wasn’t just me…they were attacked. Pasta with potatoes, man—go figure.
Anyway, there I was between Christmas and New Year’s, with time off galore, and all the potatoes one could want, and an afternoon with no football (sigh), and a desire to cook something. So I boiled some (purple) potatoes, slow-cooked some onions (yes, in butter; I wish I’d had chicken fat, but no, and lard and olive oil both seem inappropriate), and made pasta dough, using the recipe (below) from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Only I didn’t have enough eggs, and I wanted to try using fifty percent of my home-ground whole wheat flour.
That was probably a mistake, because the dough wound up being difficult to work and not stretchy enough (I don’t think the egg thing mattered that much; you can make dough with one egg, or none, or six, and it’ll be fine, just different), but the pierogi, as you can see, look beautiful. (I experimented with sizes, as you can also see.)
At dinnertime, I boiled them, then sautéed them in more butter until there was a little crispness on there, and served them really hot, with cold sour cream.
Next time I’ll make them for my grandson.
These dumplings are creamy and savory, cooked in butter and served with cooked onion and sour cream. The version pictured here uses half whole wheat flour that I ground myself at home (which is why they look somewhat rustic). So when you use all-purpose flour (or even some store-bought whole wheat flour) and the pierogi look a little different from these ones, that’s why.
Talk To Me, Goose!
Questions, comments, brilliant suggestions? Just want to share the recipe for your grandma's potato salad, or your mom's meatloaf, or your uncle Drew's three-day 100-percent rye loaf (yes, please)? Don't hesitate to reach out anytime.