Pierogies and Perspective

photo: kids cooking in the kitchenI thought it a good idea to have my six year-old son Ben and a friend join him at the shop to make some potato and onion pierogies to celebrate a day off for Casmir Pulaski Day.  We headed to the shop to start making the filling and everything started off fine…

Anyone who knows Ben will find the story I am about to tell completely unlike him, but I will let you know, it is all true.  I have a witness.

We were in the midst of making the dough and I was having the kids measure and pour as I usually do.  As the kids engaged  we, the parents, were smiling at how sweet our cherubs were, and there was a nice breeze coming from the open storefront door.  Then the flour happened.  I took the kids over to the pasta machine to roll out the long sheets of dough.  I brought a bag of flour with me to add a bit here and there when the dough got too wet to roll out properly.  At that point, this being old hat for Ben, he began to toss flour into the air to “make it snow.”  Trying to redirect his antics to the task at hand without resorting to the scolding voice I have been using so often these days, I reminded him that there was ALOT of dough that needed to be rolled out. Not this time… Dough was not rolled but tossed in the air, pasta attachments pulled off and swung around like a pugilist device.  It was time to take him into the adjoining room to remind him that, while I would like him to have fun, this was still Mama’s place of work and with big messes came lots of clean up.  I believe my final words of advice were “slow it down.”

Pasta finally got finished thanks to the help of another food-loving mama and a great big brother, and the next step began.  I had the kids crack eggs and mix.  More giggling ensued as they stirred and made funny comparisons to the tasks they were completing.  I showed them how to paint the egg mixture onto the dough sheet and then put a scoop of the filling in the center of the sheet of pasta.  I put the second dough sheet on top, and tamped it down to seal.  It didn’t work as well as I had hoped, so I tried a different approach and used a ring cutter and a dumpling press.  This one worked much better, and I showed the kids the technique. I let them take over and they opted for wholly different approach.  Ben began smashing the dough with the ring mold cutter with no regard for spacing or technique, and his friend began stirring the eggs with her hand and glopping it on the dough calling it “egg boogers.”  I was frustrated and defeated at this point.

In conversation while they were making pierogies, Ben looked down at his ring mold dough design and said, “Hey, we are learning about these in school, I just made a Venn diagram!”  My friend and I let out a laugh, as that would have been the last thing we were expecting to come out of the mouths of babes. I think in that moment, the air lightened a bit and later that evening, after the flour and egg residue was cleaned up, I had an epiphany…

As a teacher and a parent, I have expectations.  When I plan a class or an activity, I think often times, that the outcome will be tangible. During Pierogi Day, my belief was that the teaching points would come from the measuring, etc, and it had to be slow and calculated, paying close attention to technique.  While I would have appreciated this situation – I realized that Ben and his friend had a fun day, and they were able to identify something that was being taught in school into their goofy antics-a different something than what I was trying to convey, and that is the beauty of learning.  Ben and his friend had fun, and I am hoping through that fun, they will want to come back to the shop and enjoy another lesson, perhaps a tad bit less messy, but I’ll allow a little mess if they are smiling like they were. By the way, pierogies were made, enough for two families to take some home, and they were delicious! The recipe follows this post.  Thanks to Ben and his friend for making me a better teacher and parent on Pierogi Day at Copper Pot Cooking Studio.

Potato and Caramelized Onion Pierogies

1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1/4 cup cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 eggs
1/4 cup water
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus some extra for the board and to adjust dough as needed

1 or 2 eggs to make an egg wash to seal the pierogi

Bring a pot of water to boil for the potatoes. Saute the onion in a small pan in 2 tablespoons of butter until caramelized, about 15 minutes, and set aside. Boil the potatoes until tender.

While the potatoes are boiling, begin the dough. Whisk together the eggs and  1/4 cup water and pour into a bowl. Mound the flour in the center of a clean room-temperature work surface like a large wooden cutting board. Create a crater inthe center of the mound. Pour enough of the egg mixture into the center to fill the crater. With a fork, gently begin to scramble the mixture within the confines of the crater, whilst integrating the flour from the sides of the crater as you carefully beat the egg mixture.

Once this first amount of the egg mixture is mostly mixed in, build up the sides of the mound again with flour, maintaining the crater shape. Repeat the process with a second pour of egg mixture into the crater, and again until you have combined all the egg mixture. Start kneading the dough with your palms adding more water or flour if needed to make a smooth ball.

Return to the potatoes, drain, and mash them with the sauteed onion,  cream, and salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

Work with 1/3 of the pasta dough at a time – keeping the rest wrapped in plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out. Use a pasta machine to gradually roll each section of the pasta down, successively reducing the setting on the machine until it is at a thickness of 1/16th of an inch.

Brush pasta sheet with egg wash. Cut 3-inch circles of pasta, spoon some of the mashed potatoes into the center and fold the filled circles into half moons, sealing the edges with your fingers or carefully with the times of a fork.

Bring a large shallow saute pan of water to a boil, and gently boil the pierogi in batches for 2 or 3 minutes