Carmelized Onion and Cheddar Pierogies

I first met my friend Allison the summer before 8th grade.  It was a few weeks before school started but I had to be at the school one day for field hockey practice and to buy textbooks, and then I got stuck there waiting for my mom to do some PTA thing.

So there I was, bored and tired, and filmed in a sticky August-workout sweat, wanting nothing more than to go home to air-conditioning and ice-filled drinks.  Canwepleeeasegooohooomepleeeeease, I begged her.

But we could not, she had to stay there a little longer to fulfill her PTA duties which, as far as I could tell, consisted of chatting with whoever happened to be around. (In reality I think it had something to do with selling textbooks).

So I laid down on a couch in the corner (for some reason there was a couch in the room, and though I have no recollection of ever seeing a couch in any classroom ever again, Allison insists that, “When I first met you, you were laying on a couch all gross and sweaty,” and maybe this is hive-mind happening, but I do vaguely recall sitting on a couch that day, so let’s go with it.) and even though I was trying my best to block everything out, from the corner of my eye I saw my mother befriending someone, a mother who was there with her daughter, too, a girl about my age who was new to my school and who, I could tell from my mother’s tone of voice, she was going to want me to make friends with.

“Tori,” she called across the room, “come over here and meet your new classmate.”

Probably I rolled my eyes a little, and sighed a lot, and inwardly I let out a disappointed groan because when you are 13, the worst thing ever is being the new kid at a small school, and the second-worst thing is being forced to be friends with her.

Begrudgingly I introduced myself, mentally writing her off as ‘the new kid’ relegated to the outermost circle of middle-school social hell.

Fast-forward nearly two decades later and she is still one of my best friends.

Still, I resisted being friends with her at first.  Yes, we both had off-the-wall senses of humor.  Yes, we were both slightly awkward and didn’t quite fit in with the mainstream.  Yes, I helped her cheat in computer class when she was still using the ‘hunt-and-peck’ method of typing.  But.  She was from Boston.

Now, it is one thing to be the new kid in school.  But it is quite another to be a newly-transplanted northerner in a town that—well, to put it gently—does not take too kindly to Yankees moving in.

I made fun of her mercilessly for her northern-ness, her accent.

And there was one day early in our friendship when I was over at her house and it was getting close to dinnertime, or at least to late-afternoon-snack-time and we were rummaging about in her kitchen for something to eat.

“Oooh,” Allison said, “how about some peirogies?”

“Some what-ies?”

“You’ve never had a pierogie before?”

“Umm…is that some kind of weird northern food?”

“Pierogies!  They’re delicious!  You have to try them.”

“Uh, I think I just remembered my mom wanted me home for dinner.”

But after Allison explained to me that a pierogie was merely potatoes enveloped in a noodle shell—a mashed potato dumpling, if you will—that I was 100% on board.  Mashed potatoes, wrapped up in a carbohydrate?  Why had no one ever told me this before?  This is the stuff of my dreams, people.  This is my second-favorite food wrapped around my first favorite food and then sautéed in my third-favorite food, i.e. butter.

Now, there are several ways in which Mrs. T. suggests her namesake pierogies can be cooked.  None of those methods, by the way, is to put them into the toaster oven for 20 minutes.  Which, as you may have guessed, is precisely how Allison decided they ought to be cooked.  (For the record, her dad was in the kitchen with us at the time and at no point did he suggest that we either a) read the directions or b) not put them in the toaster oven.  I believe his exact words were, “Yeah, I think you can cook them in the toaster oven.”)

Dear World:  Do Not Cook Your Mrs. T’s Pierogies in a Toaster Oven.  You will be sad.

Because what came out was a dried-up leathery pouch, one which we nonetheless gnawed on in hopes of extracting some bit of mashed potato goodness from the center.

It was quite the letdown, but because I am such a mature and kind-hearted person, I did not tease her about it, ever, and in fact I forgot the whole incident and never spoke of it again until now, and also those 800 other times when I wanted a good laugh at her expense.

She did, at some point, properly cook me some Mrs. T’s pierogies and they were, in fact, delicious.

And then I didn’t have them again for 15 years.

Until I made them for My Guy (who, incidentally, Allison set me up with) who claims to be part Polish (or whose father, more likely, just grew up in the Polish part of town).

Immediately after taking this picture I put a dozen more pierogies on my plate.

I had wonton wrappers.  I had a quart of mashed potatoes.  I had onions and butter and cheddar cheese.

And they were the best pierogies I had ever tasted, and I highly recommend that you make them because they are a) cheap and b) delicious.

If you’re feeling up to making a huge batch of them, I think they would freeze well.

Just don’t cook them in the toaster oven.

When I did my initial internet search for pierogie recipes, it became immediately clear that you can put pretty much anything in a pierogie, as long as it mixes well with mashed potatoes.  Mushrooms, sauerkraut, green onions, bacon.  I’m thinking steamed broccoli might also work, or spinach, or even a meaty chili.  The sky’s the limit here, people.

Caramelized Onion and Cheddar Pierogies
1 onion, finely diced
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 cups prepared (leftover) mashed potatoes
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
½ package wonton wrappers (preferably round)
salt and pepper
2-3 Tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon paprika, optional

In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat olive oil and add onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and translucent, reducing heat if it starts to burn.

In a mixing bowl, stir together sautéed onions, mashed potatoes and shredded cheddar cheese.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and paprika if desired.

Spoon potato mixture (about 1 heaping teaspoon per wrapper) into the center of wonton wrapper.  Dip your finger in a bowl of water and wet the edge of the wrapper.  Fold wrapper over and press the edges together to seal.  Set aside on a tray until ready to cook, making sure they don’t touch.  To freeze for later: Freeze on a tray in a single layer until solid, at least 4-6 hours, then transfer to a freezer-safe plastic bag and keep frozen until ready to cook.

To cook:  Melt 2 Tablespoons butter in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add pierogies to the pan in a single layer and cook 2-3 minutes (longer if frozen) per side until beginning to brown.  Add more butter as needed until all pierogies are cooked. (Alternatively, you can also boil the pierogies before sautéing them but I wouldn’t recommend doing that with freshly-made ones, as the wonton wrappers are a bit delicate.

Serve immediately, preferably accompanied by brats and sauerkraut, with sour cream and/or horseradish for dipping.

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