Less than six degree’s separation from my absorption with diminutive baked goods is an almost equally powerful obsession with all forms of stuffed dough, from wontons, gyoza and pot stickers to tortellini, ravioli and turnovers. I am a woman obsessed with eating every type of dumpling this big world has to offer; something about the possibility of biting into something both mysterious and fantastic gets me every time, and forgives the fact that no matter how easy a filling is to whip up, one will inevitably be stuffing, crimping, folding, pressing, deflating and sealing up the little guys up for an hour.
Last night we welcomed dumpling season with a lazy girl’s wild mushroom pirogies, lazy because although pirogi/vareniki dough is quite simple to make, it’s got nothing on the simplicity of tearing open a packet of wonton wrappers. I couldn’t resist cutting them into their proper round shape, however, and with a scalloped-edged cutter to boot so they ended up looking as festive as our wine-drenched spirits felt. Their deep, earthy flavor has little in common with the more-popular potato, meat or cabbage varieties, but this doesn’t mean that you should skimp on the butter-fried onions, vinegar if you are Alex and sour cream if you are me. (Though I have been known to top mine with all of the above, drawing disapproving clucking from the Russians.)
In fact, they have more in common with a dish of porcini tortellini my friend Dan and I ate in Venice almost seven (7!) years ago, something I have tried endlessly to recreate but never gotten it just so. (Probably because I am also not freezing in a too-thin coat with just $40 to spend on a hotel room. Perhaps a little method cooking would do the trick.) A pinch of ricotta and a fold this way instead of that, I bet you could plunk these in a thin tomato broth and pretend that you are eating along centuries old canals on the second day of this century without a care in the world. In my kitchen at least, it’s all related.
Wild Mushroom Pirogies
Adapted from Gourmet, February 2001
Makes 6 (main course) servings.
1 cup boiling water
2/3 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 medium onion, quartered
2 garlic cloves, crushed
6 oz cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
For onion topping
1 lb onions, chopped
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
Accompaniment: sour cream
Special equipment: a 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter
Make filling: Pour boiling water over porcini in a small bowl and soak until softened,10 to 20 minutes. Lift porcini out of water, squeezing excess liquid back into bowl, and rinse well to remove any grit. Pour soaking liquid through a paper-towel-lined sieve into a bowl and reserve.
Finely chop onion and garlic in a food processor, then add cremini and porcini and pulse until very finely chopped.
Heat butter in a skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides, then cook mushroom mixture, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are dry and 1 shade darker, about 8 minutes. Add reserved soaking liquid and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture is thick, dry, and beginning to brown, about 15 minutes (there will be about 1 cup filling). Stir in parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Cool completely.
Roll out dough and fill pierogies: Halve dough and roll out 1 piece on a lightly floured surface into a 15-inch round, keeping remaining dough wrapped. Cut out rounds (about 24) with floured cutter. Put 1 teaspoon filling in center of each round. Working with 1 round at a time, moisten edges with water and fold in half to form a half-moon, pinching edges together to seal. Transfer pierogies as assembled to a flour-dusted kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining rounds, then make more pierogies with remaining dough and filling.
Cook onions and pierogies: Cook onions in butter in a large heavy skillet over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.
Cook pirogies in a large pot of lightly salted boiling water until tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to skillet with onions. Toss gently to coat and serve immediately.
Do ahead: Filling can be made 2 days ahead and chilled, covered. Filled pierogies can be frozen 1 month. Freeze on a tray until firm, about 2 hours, then freeze in sealable plastic bags. Thaw before cooking.
Pirogi and Vareniki Dough
Makes enough for about 48 pierogies or 32 varenikis.
1 cup all-purpose flour plus additional for kneading and rolling
3/4 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
Stir together flours in a bowl. Make a well in flour and add eggs, salt, and water, then stir together with a fork without touching flour. Continue stirring, gradually incorporating flour into well until a soft dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead, adding only as much additional flour as needed to keep dough from sticking, until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. (Dough will be soft.) Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature at least 30 minutes.
Do ahead: Dough may be made 2 hours ahead, wrapped well in plastic wrap and chilled. Bring to room temperature before using.