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Updating the Polish pierogi recipe

By Judith Dunbar Hines
For Sun-Times Media

Recently I’ve been studying Polish-Chicago history and that gave me not only a huge amount of interesting facts, but a hunger for some old fashioned Polish food. It has been a long time since I’ve made pierogi, so I decided to whip up a batch.

Instead of a traditional filling, however, I was inspired by a mound of interesting squash at the farmer’s market to use pumpkin and sage, mirroring my favorite ravioli combination. With holiday entertaining in mind, this would be a great dish to accommodate vegetarian guests.

There are dozens of types of squash available and this will work with any of them. Bake the entire squash, whole, on a foil lined sheet for about an hour or until it pierces easily with a knife. Cut it open, scoop out the seeds, then pull the skin away. I store any leftover pulp in 2-cup portions in the freezer to use instead of canned pumpkin, although that will work just as well. And about 80 percent of the canned pumpkin on the grocery shelves is grown in western Illinois, so even that is a local product.

Whether you are one of the approximately one million Chicago area residents with a Polish background or not, I know you and your guests will enjoy these gifts of our immigrant past, just slightly updated to honor an all-American holiday.

Pumpkin Pierogi
Makes about 20

Dough
1 large egg
1/3 cup milk
pinch of salt
1 cup flour plus more for rolling

1 beaten egg for sealing

Filling
1 cup pumpkin or squash pulp
4 tablespoons butter, divided
½ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon ground sage
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, minced
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
¼ cup fine breadcrumbs

Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves
¼ cup heavy cream

Garnish
½ cup shelled pumpkin seeds
½ tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground sage

In a mixer, briefly mix eggs, salt and milk, then stir in flour to make a sticky dough. Turn out on a well-floured board; knead a few times until firm and smooth. Cover and let rest 15 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, combine pumpkin, half the butter, cream and spices. Cook over medium heat 3-4 minutes to evaporate moisture. Stir in remaining butter, the egg and crumbs. Cool.

Cut dough in two pieces, keeping one covered. Roll the other piece to 1/8 inch thickness, cut in 4” circles and brush with beaten egg. Spoon 1 tablespoon filling on top of each and fold over, sealing edges well. Place on lined cookie sheets and keep covered while making the remainder.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to the boil and drop in pierogi. When they float to the top, time 4 minutes, then drain.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a wide skillet with the sage leaves over low heat until they turn slightly brown — do not burn. Place drained pierogi into the skillet and sauté, turning once, until they are crispy on each side.

Remove pierogi to warm platter. Add cream to the pan and stir to pick up browned bits. Pour over pierogi and garnish with the toasted pumpkin seeds.

Local Attraction features the best of regional produce and products and hopes home cooks will do the same.