Restaurants famously provide you with plenty of opportunities to fill up on inexpensive foods, from the mounds of French fries in fast-food outlets to the generous bread basket in more upscale operations. Frugal homemakers are equally familiar with the tactic, using small quantities of well-seasoned foods to add flavor to large quantities of bland but filling starch. One classic example is pierogi, sturdy Eastern European dumplings that freeze beautifully and cook quickly. This combination makes them a convenient option for hasty weeknight meals.
A Quick Introduction
Pierogi are part of large family of dishes that transcend culinary, cultural and geographic boundaries. Mexican empanadas, Italian ravioli, Indian samosas and Chinese pork dumplings all share the same basic format of a stomach-satisfying dough wrapped around a savory filling. Making pierogi is a relatively straightforward skill, but preparing and filling the little half-moon dumplings is a time-consuming project. Whenever possible, it makes sense to assemble a pair or two of helping hands and make up a large-enough batch to freeze for later use.
Freezing Your Pierogi
Pierogi freeze beautifully, as a glimpse into the frozen section of any Midwest supermarket will quickly affirm. Homemade pierogi are just as obliging, and much more flavorful. Their only drawback is a tendency to stick together, making them difficult to separate for cooking. To avoid this, freeze your pierogi in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Once they're frozen, you can pack them into heavy-duty freezer bags in meal-sized portions. The hard-frozen dumplings won't stick together unless they're accidentally thawed and refrozen, and if that happens, they're no longer food-safe and should be discarded anyway.
Cooking Your Frozen Pierogi
You can thaw your pierogi ahead of time if you wish, but there's little benefit in doing so. Cooking them from frozen minimizes the risk of them bursting open in the pot, one of the most common faults of homemade pierogi, and reduces the time and effort needed to put dinner on the table. Simply drop your frozen pierogi in a large pot of boiling water, 10 or 12 at a time, and cook them until they're all floating. For large quantities, toss each batch in butter to keep them from sticking, and keep them warm until they're all ready. Some cooks like to saute the boiled pierogi with onions and sausage, but that step is optional.
Getting to the Middle of Things
Part of the fun of making your own pierogi is that you're not limited to the handful of fillings available at your local store. Potatoes, onions and cheese are all good filling ingredients, but you can go well beyond those basics. Dry-curd cottage cheese or other fresh cheese, mixed with herbs such as dill or spinach, is one excellent option. So are sauerkraut or shredded cabbage, either alone or in combination. Meat and sausage fillings are common in Europe, and so are sweet pierogi filled with seasonal fruit such as cherries and plums, or even fillings of chopped and sweetened nuts.
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