On a busy night last week, I found myself scrambling a bit when faced with the task of making dinner. I figured that I would get off easy by reaching for pierogies – they are not only filling, but also a family-favorite – plus, I repeat, they are easy.
Of course I wasn’t going to serve naked pierogies – that just wouldn’t cut it in this house. With the onions and the Savoy cabbage I always have on hand at this time of year, I devised a plan. I employed a couple of tried-and-true tricks that I keep up my sleeve for moments like this.
I am all about building up layers of flavor – throwing in ‘the kitchen sink’, so to speak. I started with some really good, thick-cut smoked bacon as my foundation. Now, before you go getting all excited, please realize that a little bacon does indeed go a long way here. With only a handful of lardons, you are not only left with little nuggets of bacon-y goodness, but you now also have the rendered fat which is highly flavorful.
With just a scant tablespoon of fat, begin building the next layer of flavor by caramelizing some onion. Slow-cooking coaxes out the golden, silky, sweet flavor that hides within every onion.
Of course, don't underestimate the impact of spices in a dish. I really love the way caraway seed complements winter dishes, especially if cabbage and onion are involved; and smoked paprika has become a flavor that I am not ashamed
to admit that I have grown dependent upon. Smoked sea salt is a bonus, but
kosher salt stands in nicely, and please don’t forget the importance of freshly ground black pepper. Don’t be stingy here, but definitely taste as you go so as not to overwhelm your dish.
It was only while the pot of salted water came to a boil, that I realized that I was indeed out of pierogies. What to do, what to do?!? I easily substituted some toothsome whole wheat pasta, and decided to gild the lily a bit with some toasted breadcrumbs mixed with grated Parm and lemon zest, to make up for the now missing stuffing that makes pierogies what they are. This last addition upped the flavor quotient and added a touch of delicate crunch as well. And you know what? After throwing in the kitchen sink, no one missed the pierogies at all.
This dish is easily adaptable:
If you'd like to keep this vegetarian, sub in some good olive oil for the bacon.
If you'd like to to keep this vegan, sub the olive oil for the bacon and sub in some finely chopped nuts or nutritional yeast for the cheese. (vegan friends - this is open for your input!)
To keep this gluten-free, use non-wheat pasta and bread crumbs.
Don’t like cabbage? Try kale, chard, spinach or other winter green instead.
Almost Pierogies, aka the Kitchen Sink
Makes 4-6 servings
4 pieces of thick-cut, nitrate/nitrite free bacon cut into lardons (1/2 inch crosswise cuts)
1 large onion, cut in half, then thinly sliced
6-12 leaves of Savoy cabbage, roughly chopped
1 – 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
¾ teaspoon pimenton (smoked paprika)
Sea/kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 box of whole-wheat pasta, I used campanelle, bowties would work too
½ cup panko
Grated zest of half an organic lemon
¼ cup of freshly grated Parm cheese
In a cast iron pan, begin cooking your bacon lardons over medium heat, until crisped and all fat has rendered. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel lined dish and let drain. Reserve 1 Tablespoon of rendered fat and save the rest for another use. Add the onion to the pan and allow to come to a gentle sauté, give a good stir, turn down heat to low and cover, allow to cook slowly until golden and silky, about 15 minutes or so. Take off heat and set aside, covered, to keep warm.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt the water once boiling and blanch the cabbage for a moment or two, then remove with a strainer and allow to drain well. Add the well-drained cabbage and bacon to the onions and mix well. Add caraway seed, pimenton, salt and pepper to taste. Keep covered to keep warm.
Let the water come back to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente - a minute or two less than package directs.
While the pasta cooks, heat a tiny drop of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat, then toast the panko until nicely golden. Stay close and stir the panko while it toasts, so that you don’t burn it. Remove from heat and add grated Parm and lemon zest.
When pasta is cooked, drain it well, reserving a bit of the cooking water. Add pasta to the onion, cabbage and bacon mixture. Give everything a good toss and heat for a moment or two over medium-high heat to make sure everything is combined well and heated through, adding in a bit of reserved water if needed to keep things slightly moist.
Transfer to a large serving dish and top with the panko mixture and serve immediately.