From Nonna's Kitchen: A Quick Jaunt to Poland
When it was time to create a website for my Nonna project, I knew I needed a great photographer to help me make it look professional. I only made one call, to my dear friend Monika Satur-Szydlowski. Monika is not only an amazing person and friend; she is the best photographer I know. She came to my home, made me feel at ease and snapped away.
Once my website was launched, I called on Monika for one more favor. As a Polish immigrant and a talented home cook, I knew she would be able to provide me with a great recipe for Polish pierogies. She happily obliged. Monika came to my house armed with ingredients, strapped on an apron and got to work. The results? The most delicious, authentic pierogies I have ever tasted.
Monika came to the US after college to continue her education. She went to school, met her future husband and began to build an American life. She learned English and went on to have a successful photography business and a beautiful daughter, Natalia. While we cooked, I asked her about her childhood what Polish food is really about.
She grew up on a big farm run by her parents and grandparents. Everything they ate, came from their soil. In Poland, potatoes and onions are staple crops so as Monika explained, the fact that pierogies are eaten every week, makes sense. The food was pure, so fresh and defines the meaning of “farm to table.” She grew up cooking alongside her grandmother and mother so she knows how to make an authentic Polish meal. She told me that every meal started with a hearty soup, most commonly vegetarian, followed by a meat course (from their own animals), side of fresh vegetables from the garden and some sauerkraut.
What I admire most about Monika is that she is very proud of her Polish roots, teaching Polish school on Sundays, cooking traditional food for the holidays and having her parents come and stay; however, she is also a true American woman too. She makes riffs of her pierogies by adding spinach, parmigiano or a dash of cayenne pepper (shhh, don’t tell her mother). And, she also loves to slow cook for weeknight meals because of her hectic work schedule and makes fancy dips when she entertains.
These pierogies are so good that if I close my eyes, I can pretend I’m on Monika’s beautiful farm, eating her grandmother’s delicious food and knowing that all the ingredients were still growing deep in the soil, just hours before. Try a taste of Poland!
Monika’s Delish Polish Pierogies
6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
1 medium yellow onion, finely minced
8 oz farmers cheese, crumbled
1 ½ cup boiling water
1 lb Polish flour or very fine flour with no additives
1 egg, beaten
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 small yellow onion, minced
4 oz Polish bacon (pancetta is a great substitute), small dice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Filling can be made ahead or right before dough is made.
Boil the potatoes in salted water until fork tender. While potatoes are cooking make the topping. Saute bacon in a pan with a little olive oil until fat is rendered and crispy. Remove from pan and add both the onion for the topping and for the filling so they both get some pork essence from the drippings. Sauté the onion until cooked through and slightly carmelized, about 10 minutes. Use about 2/3 of the onion for the filling and set the other 1/3 aside in the bowl with the crispy bacon.
Drain and mash with the potatoes. Place in a large bowl with the onion and the farmers cheese. Mix the onions and cheese into the potatoes and mix until incorporated. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking.
Now your topping and filling are done. Make the dough.
In a large mixing bowl, add the flour and mix in the boiling water. Mix until a shaggy dough forms. This can be done by hand or in a Kitchen Aid. Add egg and olive oil. Knead the mixture until it is smooth and bounces back when you press it. Place it in a bowl and cover with a tea towel. Allow dough to rest for ten minutes.
Cut dough in half and using a rolling pin, roll out one half onto a floured surface. Using a round dough cutter or glass, cut out circles. Place the circle into the palm of your hand and add 1 teaspoon of filling to the middle. Fold the dough in half and begin to pinch the dough closed so that no filling can escape.
Once sealed, make a sideways pinch to create a decorative border to the half moon. That’s how Monika’s mother does it!
While you are filling the pierogies, bowl a large pot of heavily salted and oiled water. Once water is boiling, add 18 to 20 pierogies to the pot. They will sink. Once they float, allow them to cook for an additional two to three minutes.
Remove from the water with a slotted spoon to a clean plate.
To serve, warm the topping of bacon and onions in a large skillet with a little oil. Add pierogies to the pan and sauté for a few minutes just so the surface of the dough takes on the flavor of the topping.