The pierogi is a versatile dumpling that is most closely associated with Polish culture. Like many foods that emigrated to the United States from eastern Europe, pierogi dough and fillings were often a way of using up leftovers. Pierogi dough can begin with leftover mashed potatoes or be made more like pastry dough with a flour and fat combination. Fillings range in composition from meat (much like the Finnish pasties) or mushroom to cottage cheese to a fruit filling that is very much like that found in a Danish pastry. The pierogi is truly the dumpling for all seasons.
Pierogis are made into a distinctive half moon shape, with the edges crimped to contain the fillings. Pierogis are first cooked in boiling water, and then placed in a skillet covered with melted butter and browned on both sides. The end result is a savory or sweet flavor delight that would make any self respecting babushka proud.
During the last weekend of July, the town of Whiting, Indiana hosts Pierogi Fest. Here, visitors can taste the multiplicity of pierogis made by people who, if not recent immigrants, are first or second generation Polish Americans. The festival is well worth a trip to Chicagoland, especially if eating, dancing the polka and hoisting a few brewskis are considered to be some of life's greatest pleasures.
For those unable to attend Pierogi Fest, here is a basic recipe for cheese pierogis.
Pierogis (or pieroshki)
3 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sugar
8 oz. cold butter
1 c. sour cream
Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in large mixing bowl. Cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is the consistency of oatmeal.
Beat eggs together with the sour cream until smooth. Add all at once to the flour mixture and blend either by hand or with a wooden spoon until it forms a mass.
Remove dough to floured board. Knead a few minutes to make a smooth dough. Form into a ball, wrap tightly with cling wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
2 c. ricotta, small curd cottage or farmer's cheese
1/4 c. melted butter (no substitutes)
In medium bowl, beat eggs slightly. Stir in farmer's cheese and melted butter. If using cottage cheese, be sure to drain prior to using; otherwise the filling turns out too runny.
Unwrap chilled dough and divide in half. Return 1/2 of dough to refrigerator to keep cold. Place second half on a well floured surface. Roll to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut dough into 3" rounds using a biscuit cutter or dumpling maker. Place 1 tbsp. of filling in the center of each round and fold into a crescent shape, crimping the edges to seal. Continue rolling, cutting and filling until all filling is used.
In a large saucepan, heat 2 quarts slightly salted water to boiling. Reduce heat so that water is at a simmer. Place several pierogis in the simmering liquid; do no crowd. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Melt enough butter in a skillet to cover the bottom. After removing pierogis from water, place on paper towels to dry and then place in melted butter. Heat a few minutes, turning so that entire dumpling is coated with melted butter.