Pierogies are a prime example of classical Pittsburghian cuisine. Pierogies are little pasta pockets, generally containing mashed potatoes plus something else.
Flavors that have a place in the local canon are: potato and cheese; potato and onion; and potato and sauerkraut. A ‘modern classic’ is potato and jalapeno. These 4 flavors are represented in the “Great Pittsburgh Pierogi Race N’At” during every Pirates home game by the mascot characters Cheese Chester, Oliver Onion, Sauerkraut Saul, and Jalapeno Hannah. Basically, pierogies are a part of being a Pittsburgher.
Everybody’s grandmother makes them around here, whether at home or as a fundraiser for their church (going price at one local congregation: ~$8/dozen). I think it’s the long tradition behind these fried potato raviolis that made me hesitant to try my hand at making them before now. But, with a college reunion approaching for which attendees are supposed to bring a food that represents their current region of residence, I decided that the time had come to make my version of this local delicacy, and I’ve got to say, I was quite pleased with the results.
I made 2 versions–potato and cheddar, and my own twist on the theme: sweet potato with sauteed mushrooms, kale, and prosciutto. The pictures are from the potato and cheddar pierogies, but the technique is the same no matter what type of filling you use.
The process is not difficult, but it is time-consuming. Don’t try to make these if you’re in a hurry. You may want to make it a 2-day process, making the dough and the filling(s) on the first day, and then assembling the pierogies on the second day.
Step 1: Making the Dough
The dough for the pierogies is just an egg noodle. There are lots of recipes out there that will work. In deciding how I would make mine, I consulted about a half dozen sources. All of them had 2 methods for mixing: by hand or with a food processor. I decided to use my Kitchen-Aid mixer with the dough hook, and it worked great.
- 4 cups water
- 4 Tbl unsalted butter
- 4 large eggs
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- Herbs and Spices of your choice
- Water as needed
Mix the herbs, salt, and spices into the flour. Cut the butter into the flour until it is to the consistency of cornmeal (the butter is pretty much completely dispersed into the flour). Add the eggs one at a time while the mixer is running on low speed. Once the eggs have been completely mixed in, add very small amounts of water slowly until the dough just begins to come together, kind of like making a pie crust but with a lot less water. The exact amount of water you will need will depend on humidity, but it’s probably going to be no more than 1/4 cup. Knead the dough by hand a few times to bring it together, then wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least 2-3 hours (overnight would be ok too).
Seasoning recommendations: choose your herbs and spices to match whatever filling you’re doing. For the sweet potato pierogies, I used: rosemary, thyme, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. For the potato and cheddar, I used rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, and white pepper.
Step 2: Making the Filling
Preheat the oven to 375 and roast your sweet potatoes for about an hour or so, or until they are noticeably soft to the squeeze. (I used about a dozen small potatoes)
While they are roasting, saute your mushrooms. (I used 1 lb crimini and 1/2 lb shiitake). I seasoned the mushrooms with ginger, salt, pepper, and then finished them with a bit of fresh rosemary and thyme as they finished cooking.
Wash the kale (I used 1 bunch) and strip the leaves from the stems. Chop them into small pieces and steam in a hot saute pan. I used the salted water from my white potatoes to provide the steaming water (I worked on the 2 fillings simultaneously).
I used about 1/8 lb prosciutto, diced into very small pieces.
Let the roasted potatoes cool to the touch, then strip the skin from them and mash them with a potato masher. Season with salt and the spices/ herbs of your choice, then mix them with the remaining filling ingredients.
Let cool before trying to fill pierogies: you don’t want to spoon hot filling onto the dough.
Boil the potatoes (about 2.5 lb) in salted water.
When the potatoes have fully cooked, mash them with 2 oz. cream cheese, 2.5 oz. butter, 1/2 lb shredded cheddar cheese, and whole milk to make them manageable but stiff (quite a bit stiffer than if you would be serving them as a side dish). Also include salt, pepper, and herbs to taste.
Let cool before stuffing pierogies.
Step 3: Assembling the Pierogies
3a: rolling the dough
I find it’s easiest to flip the dough over a couple times and add more flour during the rolling process in order to make sure it doesn’t stick.
When the dough is thin enough, use a 2-inch or larger round cutter to cut dough circles.
Remove the scraps from around the edges and save them. They can be rolled out at the end for one final batch of pierogies. Also, they can be used for ’surgery’ during the stuffing process whenever you accidentally tear one.
3b: stuffing the circles
Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil while you go through this process: you will have to boil the pierogies for about 3 minutes after stuffing them, before freezing or pan-frying them.
Arrange the dough circles into an organized grid for best efficiency.
Use a teaspoon to measure out dollops of stuffing and place them in the center of the circles. The stiff mashed potato filling holds itself together and can be rolled into logs/ balls, but the sweet potato filling is less cohesive and will need to be scooped and dropped into place.
Once you have filling in the center of all of your circles, make some eggwash: beat one egg with a small amount of milk. Brush a small amount of eggwash around 1/2 of each circle.
Then, fold the circles in half around the filling. The dough is pliable, so you can hold the stuffing in place with one thumb and stretch the dough to cover it. Pinch the dough in place around the filling.
When the pierogies have all been folded, “fork” them. Use a fork to crimp the edges. This will seal them reliably.
Boil the pierogies for 3-4 minutes, or until they float, scoop them from the water and lay them on a tray to drain. Transfer them to a different, dry tray to freeze in a single layer.
Do not stack the pierogies in multiple layers to freeze or they will stick to each other.
If/when you do tear a couple pierogies while you are trying to fold them, brush the torn area with eggwash and glue a scrap of rolled dough on top of it. It will hold together an hardly be noticeable.
This recipe will make about 8 dozen pierogies, with extra filling leftover.
Step 4: Cooking the Pierogies
Traditionally, pierogies are served with caramelized onions. Caramelize the onions in the butter first, remove the browned onions and set to the side. Fry the pierogies, then return the onions to the pan as the pierogies finish cooking to heat them back up.
If you want a bit of a pan sauce to go with the pierogies, pour some chicken or vegetable stock in with the pierogies and onions and let it reduce until it is nice and thick (reduced by 1/2 - 2/3).
Serve to appreciative family and guests.