August 17, 2010

Daring Cooks Challenge: Summertime Pierogi

I often wonder about where the love of cooking comes from. Certainly it’s as much about nurture as it is a learned art. Take my friend Vera, for instance. Dinner at her house is never a production, but relaxed and easy. Everything is always delicious and there’s always lots of food, a nod to her Ukrainian heritage and her generous hospitality. We go over hungry and never leave disappointed. Not surprisingly, her mother was also a wonderful cook. And although not every person who’s lucky enough to grow up with an artist in the kitchen translates that ability themselves, with Vera it’s bred in the bone.

Although it was long ago, I can taste her mother’s cooking still – always something ready to serve and abundantly. It’s probably the first time I tasted pierogis – that Eastern European version of the ravioli I was more accustomed to eating. And they were amazing. So I was really excited to read about this month’s Daring Cooks’ Challenge: Pierogis.  The August 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by LizG of Bits n’ Bites and Anula of Anula’s Kitchen. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make pierogi from scratch and an optional challenge to provide one filling that best represents their locale.

Not only was making the pierogis going to be an adventure, but I was also looking forward to creating a stuffing that was uniquely local. I knew I wanted potatoes to be a key ingredient, and Vicki’s Veggies had beautiful new agria potatoes, plus there were shallots that were just the right size.  A bit of kale from Everdale Farm would add healthy colour, Pingue Niagara smoked pancetta would soften the kale’s bitter edge, and I would finish the mixture with Blossom, a creamy sheep’s milk cheese with flecks of lemon zest from Monforte Dairy.

Agria potatoes - top left corner, just below the sign

Everdale's kale is pretty enough to put in a vase and enjoy before eating

Can you see the flecks of lemon zest?

With the ingredients fresh from the market, the pierogi-making adventure began.

Russian style pierogi
makes 4 generous servings, around 30 dumplings

This traditional Polish recipe is Anula's family recipe. The filling is my own.

For dough:
2 to 2½ c all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 tsp salt
About ½ c lukewarm water, more if needed

For filling:
1 lb fleshy potatoes
1 medium bunch kale, washed, tough stems trimmed, chopped roughly
1tbsp olive oil
1 small shallot, minced
1-2 oz smoked pancetta (or a good quality prosciutto), finely diced
1/3 c creamy goat or sheep’s milk cheese
Salt to taste*

*You’ll want to add salt as a last step, since the cheese and pancetta will add saltiness to the filling.

Make the dough:
1. Place 2 cups flour in a large bowl or on a work surface and make a well in the center. Break the egg into it, add the salt and the water. Bring the dough together, kneading well and adding more flour or water as necessary. Cover the dough with a bowl or towel. Let it rest 20 minutes.*

*My mother always let her pasta dough rest for at least an hour before rolling it out and with that in mind, I wrapped the dough in plastic, and let it rest in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, make the filling:
1. Peel the potatoes, quarter them, and boil until soft enough to mash. Don’t salt the water! (see note above)

2. While the potatoes are boiling, prepare the kale. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, and add the shallot and pancetta, stirring for a minute. Add the kale and continue to cook until the kale is wilted and cooked, but not completely wilted. Take off the heat and let cool.

3. Mash the potatoes until they are smooth and creamy. Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and add the cheese, mashing to incorporate thoroughly.

4. Chop the kale mixture as finely as possible. Add the kale to the potato mixture and stir to combine. Test for salt and add more if needed.

Make the pierogis:
1. On a floured work surface, roll the dough out thinly (⅛”) cut with a 4-inch round or glass. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of the filling into the middle of each circle. Fold dough in half and pinch edges together. Gather scraps, re-roll and fill. Repeat with remaining dough.

This is going to be a case of delayed gratification. I wanted to share this first attempt with Vera, and with travel, cottages, kids and life, getting together will likely be a bit of schedule shuffle. The pierogis wait, frozen and ready to pop into boiling water at a moment’s notice. Vera, when are you coming over?