Potato Pierogies (Ruskie)

My friends know very well I love cooking and baking, and that I particularly enjoy trying out different cuisines. What with having lived in Russia, I am particularly fond of Eastern European and Russian food. You don’t necessarily find a great deal of Polish or Russian restaurants in the North of the UK. When you do, moreover, they tend to be hit and miss (or tourist traps). Therefore, I would much rather cook my own food than venture outside to try and find someone who could do it to a decent standard. Some good friends of mine recently gave me a book on Polish food called, quite tellingly, Authentic Polish Cooking (by Marianna Dworak). Broadly speaking, I think the book starts on a very good basis, but unfortunately misses a few details here and there.

There are some great recipes, but the details provided tend to be too vague at times (e.g. ‘use a cake tin’ – what size?). Also, I am not a massive fan of very meaty dishes, which probably goes against everything I have said earlier. Pierogies (or dumplings), however, are a classic I never tire to make. First of all, the dough (and filling) is very easy to make. And secondly, you can tailor the filling to your own liking. Here I have gone for a fairly traditional take, although I have heavily amended the recipe for the dough.

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Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 450g plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 250ml warm water

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 900g potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 250g soft goat’s cheese
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1-2 tsp nutmeg
  • salt and black pepper

Ingredients (for the sauce)

  • 150g pancetta cubes (or diced bacon)
  • black pepper (to taste)

Method

  1. Start by making the filling. Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. Add to a large pan of salted boiling water, then cook until soft (but not falling apart). Drain in a colander and set aside to cool slightly.
  2. In the meantime, peel and finely chop the onion. Melt the butter in a frying pan over low-medium heat, then add the onion and cook for at least 15 minutes, until nicely browned and caramelised.
  3. In a bowl, mash the potatoes to obtain a slightly coarse texture. Add the gently fried onions and crumble in the cheese, then add the nutmeg, season well and mix to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Set aside.
  4. To make the dough, combine the flour with the salt in a bowl, then make a well in the middle. Gently pour in the warm water and either use a wooden spoon or your hands to combine the dough, drawing all of the flour in as you mix. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.
  5. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin into a thin sheet (slightly thinner than a pound coin). Use a cookie cutter (or a glass) about 6cm in diameter to stamp out as many circles as you can. Put about 1 tablespoon of filling in one half of the circle, then fold over the other half to make a crescent shape. If the dough is not sticking well, moisten the edges with water before you seal them.
  6. As you roll and fold, place the prepared pierogies on a floured cloth or a tray lined with baking parchment. Bring a big saucepan of salted water to the boil.
  7. Reduce to medium heat, then drop in the pierogies making sure not to overcrowd the saucepan. Stir once or twice so as to ensure they do not stick to the bottom. When they come up to the surface, wait one more minute, then fish them out with a slotted spoon.
  8. To make the sauce, fry the pancetta cubes in a frying pan with no oil/butter (the pancetta is fat enough) until nice and crispy. Remove the cubes with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Add the boiled pierogies to the pan and pan fry over a medium heat on both sides until slightly golden. Serve with the pancetta cubes and some black pepper. Enjoy!

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Uszka

Uszka, literally ‘little ears’, are one of the three types of Polish filled dumpling alongside pierogi and nalesniki. The name obviously comes from their shape, which resembles small ears, they are usually served in broth and contain savoury fillings. This recipe, in particular, has a mushroom filling, but you could just boil them in salted water and then toss them in some butter and herbs. The recipe below also makes 20, which you can serve as a main course or, probably better, as a warming and soothing starter. Before the purists of Polish cuisine start telling me I did this and that wrong, please let me just say this is my adaptation of the recipe and by no means it is the way you are supposed to make them. Also, a small word of advice: the recipe for the filling makes more than you’ll need, but I find working with tiny quantities always leaves me hoping I have not miscalculated it, so I prefer to have some extra.

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Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 75g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 egg yolk
  • approximately 2 1/2 tbsp cold water

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
  • 150g closed cup mushrooms
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • salt & pepper

Ingredients (for the broth)

  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground garlic
  • pepper to taste
  • 4 spring onions, sliced diagonally

Method

  1. The dough is very easy to make. Put the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the chopped parsley, egg yolk and mix, then slowly start adding just enough water to combine the mixture together. Lightly knead the dough on a work surface until smooth, then set aside and cover with clingfilm or the upturned bowl.
  2. To make the filling, I suggest using a food processor. The onion and mushrooms need to be very finely chopped, so I find using technology is a great help. Of course, you can do this by hand. If you are using a food processor, tip the onion and mushrooms into the machine and finely chop. Melt the butter in a frying pan, then add the mushroom and onions and cook them gently over a low heat for about 10 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow to cool completely.
  3. Once the mixture is cold, lightly whisk the egg white and add 1 tbsp to the mushroom mixture, then follow with the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Combine to make it a slightly wet mixture.
  4. Dust your working surface with flour, then roll out the ball of dough very thinly. Use a 5cm round cookie cutter to cut as many circles as you can, then re-roll the trimmings and repeat. I did it for a total of 3 times.
  5. Lightly coat the rim of the each round with some egg white, then dollop approximately 1/2 tsp filling inside and fold it on itself, pressing gently to seal. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
  6. To make the broth, bring the stock to the boil in a large saucepan, then add all of the ingredients but the spring onions. Cook the dumplings in batches of 6-7 for about 4-5 minutes, then remove to a plate where you have ladled some of the stock. Add the spring onions to the last batch of dumplings and flash cook them, then divide between plates and enjoy while warm.

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