Veronika Varenyky

or The Best Damn Potato Pierogi

Lviv Veronika Varenyky

Now look, I'm not trying to insult anybody's Bubbi, but last week I wrote that I thought the best potato varenyky (pierogi) in the world came from Veronika in Lviv, Ukraine and it's a statement I stand by. I thought I had had decadent varenyky. I'm the woman at the Ukranian East Village Restaurant (no, I don't mean Veselka) ordering the varenyky fried with butter, caramelized onions and sour cream. I don't mess around. At Veronika the varenyky are always boiled but it doesn't make them seem less over the top. Instead of caramelized onions on the outside, the potato filling tastes like it is mixed with sour cream and caramelized onions and the varenyky themselves are then drenched in clarified butter. Don't worry, if that all still sounds too tame to you, you still get more sour cream for dipping the final product. Even though we were eating it July, this is the kind of food you crave in the depths of winter so it makes sense that it took me until December to work on what I think its a pretty close copy of those little pillows of potato-y heaven.

I'm not going to lie to you, making varenyky is a not difficult but pretty time consuming process. Like, a "set aside a whole Sunday afternoon" sort of process. The good news is this recipe yields about 60 and they freeze very well, so unless you're an Olympian or competitive eater, all that hard work should last you a few meals.

Ingredients

For the Dough:

  • 1 Egg
  • 2 tablespoons Sour Cream
  • 1/4 cup Whole Milk
  • 3 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt

For the Filling:

  • 1 and 1/2 Yellow Onion (medium dice)
  • 3 ounces (3/4 stick) Butter
  • 9 medium Russet Potatoes
  • 3/4 cups Sour Cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Salt

For the topping:

  • 4 ounces (1 stick) of Butter
  • Alllllll the Sour Cream

First things first, let's make the potato filling so that it cools all the way by the time you need it.

  1. Start a large pot of water boiling. Peel your potatoes and cut 'em into big chunks like you would for making mashed potatoes (side note: you can also just eat this filling as amazingly decadent mashed potatoes if you add a splash of milk). Once the water is boiling, cook the potatoes until they're tender and can be easily pierced with a fork, drain.
  2. While you're waiting for the water to boil or while your potatoes are boiling, start your caramelized onions in a small to medium sautee pan. There are two secrets to caramelized onions: don't skimp on the fat and slow and low (also known as FTP or forgotten to perfection). For a truly even and delicious caramelization, you either have to have a lot more patience than I have or will yourself to actually ignore the onion. Put the onions and the butter in the sautee pan over low heat. Throw in a pinch of salt. Walk away. Don't be like me and stand there constantly nudging and stirring and creeeeeeping up the heat just a little. It's not the way. Do check your onions occasionally to make sure they're still simmering in a pool of butter. If there's no more butter in the pan, add more. I know what the recipe says, it's ok, add more. The onions are done when your whole house smells like heaven and they're a lovely golden brown. Pour the onions and the butter into a bowl so they stop cooking.
  3. Next you're going to want either a stand mixer or hand mixer. If you're using a stand mixer, you're probably going to have to do this in two batches. Put half the potatoes, half the onions and the butter they're swimming in, half the sour cream and half the salt into the mixer bowl. Paddle until smooth and creamy. You can add a little more sour cream if it's not smoothing out but this mixture should be dryer and firmer than you might want mashed potatoes. Taste. Add more salt if it needs it. Scrape out the bowl and repeat with the remaining half of the ingredients. Mix everything together in a big bowl and give it one more taste. Cover and chill in the fridge.

Next let's show this dough who's boss. In an ideal world, we'd do this in the stand mixer but don't do that, this dough needs tough love and you'll burn out your stand mixer's engine.

  1. Put your flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and make a well. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, mix together your milk, egg and sour cream. Pour the liquids into the well and use a wooden spoon to stir into the flour. When it gets too hard to mix with a wooden spoon, switch to your hands and bring it all together. Dump out onto a counter and knead until smooth. It's going to take some elbow grease. This dough is much much more like a very stiff pasta dough than a bread dough.
  2. Cover in plastic wrap and let rest one hour. If you don't let it rest a full hour, it's going to be impossible to roll out. Trust me.
  3. Uncover the dough and portion into thirds (do not ball or work the dough). Take one third to roll out and cover the remaining two thirds with plastic. Roll the dough as thin as you can, ideally about 1/8th of an inch thick*. Use a round cutter 3 inches in diameter to cut out as many circles as you can. Set the circles aside in a single layer and loosely cover with plastic wrap.
  4. Take all your scraps from the first third of dough and incorporate into the next third as you roll them out. Again cut out as many circles as you can. Place on top of plastic wrap in a single layer and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining scraps and one third of dough. I managed to get 60 circles all told.

*My husband's family actually uses a pasta roller for this part. If you've got one, there's no shame in making this recipe a little less work.

Now it's time for assembly and cooking.

  1. Get your chilled potato mixture out of the fridge. Get yourself a small bowl or ramekin of water. Line up five dough circles. In the top half of each dough circle put about a heaping spoonful of filling. I just used a regular spoon, not a measuring spoon or anything fancy. The next part is partially up to preference. I found my dough mostly stuck together fine without wetting it, but if your dough is starting to dry out or your just concerned you're not getting a good enough seal - wet one finger and trace around the edge of one half of the circle. Pick up the dough in your hands and fold the bottom to the top. Firmly seal all around the edges. Repeat until your out of filling or dough or both. Once you start getting fast, try lining up ten at a time. If you're a speed demon, maybe even twenty.
  2. Decide how many varenyky you plan on eating. Freeze the rest of them in airtight containers with double layers of parchment between each layer to prevent them from sticking together.
  3. Bring a medium sized pot of water to boil.
  4. While you're waiting for the water to boil, place one stick of butter in a small sauce pan, melt over low heat skimming off the foam. Cook just until it starts to smell nutty. Set aside.
  5. Once your water has come to a boil, gently drop the varenyky into the pot. After they've floated to the surface like raviolis, let them cook 2 minutes more. Spoon a small pool of your buerre noisette onto a plate. Use a slotted spoon to removed the varenyky and put into the pool of butter. Drizzle with more butter and enjoy with copious amounts of sour cream. You earned it.