3rd day of Christmas

On the third day of Christmas, the kitchen was a mess…

with pierogies.

And what serendipity, exactly 12 pierogies! I was a bit confused about when the “12 Days of Christmas” actually started. And do you count backwards or forwards? Isn’t today the 10th day before Christmas?

Whatever it means, the “12 Days of Christmas” technically started two days ago, and so did my cooking. Whenever there are any festivities around, my response is to cook, and to cook big, to take on gargantuan cooking tasks never before taken. This is the first proper Christmas we have done in our house in Austin, and even if there is just the two of us most days, I still have an instinct to make the kitchen a total mess.

So today is pierogies. Don’t ask me why. I grew up with pierogies. (And technically, the plural of pierogi is pierogi, if you spell it the Slavic way, but the packaging ignores this.) I never knew really what they were, and as a kid thought of them like a more exotic ravioli. They were a special treat whenever my mom made them, usually slightly fried and crisped on the outside. I can’t remember what kind of sauce she put on them, if any.

In the early 90s when I was a vegetarian, I rediscovered pierogies and would often fry them in a little butter and smother them with sauteed onions. I did this instinctually, but I guess I had learned this somewhere along the way. Pierogies are a Slavic dish, and I have long associated them with Polish food for some reason. It makes sense I had these and other Polish-inspired foods in my general palate, which is very “Michigan”, especially Detroit. When I was growing up there was (and still is) a rather large Polish-American population in Detroit. Hamtramck is an old very Polish neighborhood. Here in Austin we don’t have quite the Eastern European overtones as Michigan, but you can find pierogies–usually near the Kosher food section of the freezer aisle–next to knishes and blintzes and stuff.

I also took this as an opportunity to pull out my glam but very heavy copper pan, which only seems to come out for special cooking occasions. I don’t know why I don’t use it more often. We got this for a deal at a wonderful gourmet cooking shop that closed its doors last year and sold off all its inventory. Normally a thick-walled copper pan would be way out of my budget. The nice thing about a pan like this is that its sides are so tall, normally used for making a large soup or brothy dish, but in this case kept the oil from splattering all over the place as I fried the pierogies.

I like them kind of simple with the browned butter and sauteed onions, but it may be too bland for some.

Brown butter, by the way, is a really great sauce for pasta, too. Long ago I started making a spaghetti with browned butter and a hard salty cheese like parmesan or even a hard Greek cheese. If you brown a lot of butter at once, it hits a foamy stage before it starts burning. I once had a really amazing shellfish course in Paris that had a very simple dressing of this foam on top, a nutty spiced butter-foam nearly 3 inches high. The even more amazing part is that the whole dish was temperature exact: the seafood was cool but not cold. The foam on top was slightly warm to room temperature, and it was all about this combination of warm/cool. I have no idea how the chef did this, and also how the foam kept its texture without either globbing up or liquifying back into butter. Darn those French for making something so simple so beautiful and daunting!

Once butter makes its way past the foam stage it starts browning. You don’t want to burn it too much, but it does taste great when it’s really brown. As long as you’re not worried about cholesterol and all that, the whole point of a brown butter sauce is in its generous pooling over the pasta or pierogies.

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