I’m a quarter Italian, just under half Irish/U.K., and just a little over a quarter Eastern European mixed breeding. That’s a lot of heritage for this young lad to shoulder. But just think of all the wonderful foods I get to eat as a result. Take, for example, pierogies.Mama says my Great-Baba made the best pierogies. When she was growing up, Mama would visit her for two weeks every summer, and they were the first meal she’d eat when she arrived. She and her parents and brother and sister would swarm like locusts around the kitchen table, devouring little dough pillows of mashed potatoes with cheddar, caramelized onions, sauerkraut, stewed prunes, or thick and chunky applesauce. They even had a funny name for them, something that sounded a lot like pudaheya. There was—and still is—much discussion as to the best way to prepare pierogies: boiled, then pan-fried leftovers the next day. And always, always served with buttermilk, sour cream, fried onions, and home-canned wild mushrooms that Great-Baba and her sisters foraged in the woods.
But this post isn’t about pierogies. Not really. You see, Mama knows how to make them, and she plans on showing me sometime this fall (stay tuned—maybe my Auntie Karen will chime in!), but since I’m such a handful, she hasn’t really had the opportunity to make them. So sometimes she takes advantage of those that are already made. And come in a box. In the freezer section.
So what to do? How do you dress up what’s essentially pub fare? First, you caramelize some onions. We happened to have some lovely purple beauties from my friend Walter’s farm. They’re very easy to do—slow cook thinly sliced onions in butter and olive oil (or either/or) with a pinch of salt until they’re melted and browned. But if you really want to class ’em up, you whip out the balsamic reduction.
In the time it takes to fry the pierogies (Mama skips the boiling stage these days), you can make a tangy, viscous, shimmering bit of deliciousness that you can put on just about anything. Mama likes to have it on-hand, but as we were out, she wanted to make a very fast batch. She poured about half a cup of balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and cranked the heat until it started bubbling. Then she lowered it to medium, threw in a large pinch of brown sugar (honey would work too), and let it simmer until it reduced…and reduced…and reduced. When it’s ready, it shouldn’t be as thick as chocolate syrup, but it should be rich, like good maple syrup. And it should coat your spoon like a silk shirt.
When combined, the sweet and buttery onions meld with the slightly sweet and oh-so-tart balsamic reduction over the crisp pieorgies—whatever their provenance. Mama didn’t think I would like the reduction (since I’ve never been very keen on the vinegar), so she served me a naked pierogi with a few onions. Absurd! But Papa… now there’s a man who knows what it’s like to be fed well. He gave me big bites of his black gold–speckled potato puffs. And now I can look forward to when we can serve it over our own homemade pierogies, and do Great-Baba proud.