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All We Can Eat
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 10/26/2012

Impromptu pierogi: Why not?


Good kale, good cheese and good potatoes morph into pierogi filling. (Edward Schneider for The Washington Post)
I had a cup and a half of cooked Tuscan kale in the refrigerator, begging to be eaten. I’d shove it to the back of the shelf, then next time I opened the fridge there it would be, right up front, staring me in the face. (Was this a ghostly hand, or was it my wife, Jackie, offering a much-needed reminder?) It was good kale — good to start with, and still good after I had cooked it with onion, garlic, chilies, herbs and olive oil; cut fairly fine, it retained a nice, chewy texture and plenty of cabbagy, earthy flavor. A great thing to have in the fridge, if you remember to use it.

 Finally, I bit the bullet and moved the container to the kitchen counter. What would the kale become? This post isn’t so much about the final dish but about the many dishes it could have turned into on its way to the platter, even after it had been combined with other ingredients to form a new mixture.

Once I had squeezed the kale dry (this didn’t take much work, as Tuscan kale is one of the less-watery greens) and chopped it a little finer still, the main addition was mashed potatoes: for my cup and a half of kale, two medium-large russets, steamed and put through a ricer. I also added a handful of grated cheese — a mixture of Gruyere and pecorino Romano — and a small branch’s worth of finely chopped rosemary, plus salt and pepper. Aromatics and oil were already in the kale.

 Initially, I thought I was going to add flour and an egg and make some sort of poached green gnocchi-like dumplings to be served with browned butter and sage leaves.

 Then I thought I was going to add an egg but no flour, make some pasta and roll it up into cannelloni (there was nice tomato sauce in the house, too).

 I thought I might use crepes instead of pasta to roll around the kale mixture; still cannelloni, but not the kind I usually make.

 Or maybe I’d coat pucks of the mixture with bread crumbs and crisp them up into patties. The tomato sauce would come in handy here as well. Or make one big patty in a seven-inch nonstick skillet, like a hash or bubble and squeak, and serve it with eggs sunny-side up.

 Perhaps I’d throw the whole thing away and pretend it had never existed. (That wasn’t going to happen: This kale would have visited me in my dreams.)

 At that point, Jackie came in, tasted the mixture and said, “Make pierogi, and some sauteed onions to go with them.” Of course, although any of the other options would have been fine, she was right: Even with the cheese, even with all that rosemary, this mixture tasted mainly of intense greens and potatoes, the perfect almost-Polish filling. So that’s what I made, right away.

 The dough is akin to that of an Italian egg pasta but a bit softer, with water (or milk) replacing some of the egg and with the addition of a little salt. Some people add oil or other fat, but not me. For this quantity of filling, I used two eggs and a half cup water, plus the flour it took to make that into a dough pliable enough that it would be easy to seal but not so moist that it was sticky and hard to work with, starting with about eight ounces and adding more as I kneaded.

  I used a hand-cranked pasta machine to roll out pieces of dough to the second-thinnest setting, cut out 2 1/2-inch circles with a cookie cutter (rerolling all the trimmings) and topped each with around a tablespoon of filling, folding the dough over to form a semi-circle and pinching it tightly shut with my fingers. By force of habit, I do a pinch-and-fold maneuver that creates a ropelike edge (see the photo above), but any wrap that seals the dough will do the trick. Because the dough was on the thin side compared with typical pierogi, I moved the dumplings to a parchment-paper-lined tray in the freezer whenever I’d wrapped ten or a dozen of them; this prevented any danger of moisture in the filling compromising the integrity of the wrapper. When they were all done and frozen, I put them into a plastic bag for storage.  

A while before dinner, I peeled a small red onion (because all my yellow onions were too big) and sliced it thin, then sauteed it in butter over medium heat until soft but not browned. I set this aside in a (10-inch) skillet.

  The now-frozen pierogi took about six minutes to boil in ample salted water. When they were done (I tested one by cutting off a corner of dough and tasting. Remember, the filling is already cooked and needs only to be heated through.) I drained them, added them to the skillet with the onion and butter, sprinkled them with salt and gave them a toss.

  Like the filling itself, the pierogi tasted entirely Eastern European. Yet I know that if I had made gnocchi or cannelloni they would have tasted entirely Italian. If I had made bubble and squeak, it would have tasted northern European. Versatile stuff, kale and potatoes. Schneider’s Cooking Off the Column blogposts appear Fridays in All We Can Eat. Follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/TimetoCook.

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By Edward Schneider  |  07:00 AM ET, 10/26/2012

Categories:  All We Can Eat, Recipes

 
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