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Is Pittsburgh's favorite food — pierogies— the next hot trend?

| Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Victoria Tambellini, 16, 0f Hampton, makes pumpkin piergoies at the Cop Out Pierogies shop in Etna Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Victoria Tambellini, 16, 0f Hampton, makes pumpkin piergoies at the Cop Out Pierogies shop in Etna Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.
A freshly made tray of pumpkin piergoies at the Cop Out Pierogies shop in Etna Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
A freshly made tray of pumpkin piergoies at the Cop Out Pierogies shop in Etna Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.
Victoria Tambellini, 16, of Hampton, makes pumpkin pierogies at the Cop Out Piergoies shop in Etna Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Victoria Tambellini, 16, of Hampton, makes pumpkin pierogies at the Cop Out Piergoies shop in Etna Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.
Former police officer Carl Funtal, who now owns a pierogie shop, with one of his sayings, at his shop in Etna Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Former police officer Carl Funtal, who now owns a pierogie shop, with one of his sayings, at his shop in Etna Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.
Carl Funtal makes apple maple walnut pierogies at his Cop Out Pierogies shop in Etna Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Carl Funtal makes apple maple walnut pierogies at his Cop Out Pierogies shop in Etna Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.
Owners Carl and Beth Funtal with their wedding cake made of dessert pierogies with white chocolate and banana split cheesecake at their shop in Etna Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Owners Carl and Beth Funtal with their wedding cake made of dessert pierogies with white chocolate and banana split cheesecake at their shop in Etna Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.
Santa Fe-rogies with Pico de Gallo from 'Pierogi Love' by Casey Barber
Casey Barber
Santa Fe-rogies with Pico de Gallo from 'Pierogi Love' by Casey Barber
Nutella Pierogies with Bananas Foster Sauce from 'Pierogi Love' by Casey Barber
Nutella Pierogies with Bananas Foster Sauce from 'Pierogi Love' by Casey Barber
Pickled Strawberry Jam Pierogies with White Chocolate Sauce from 'Pierogi Love' by Casey Barber
Pickled Strawberry Jam Pierogies with White Chocolate Sauce from 'Pierogi Love' by Casey Barber
Rice Pudding Pierogies with Cranberry Compote from 'Pierogi Love' by Casey Barbour
Casey Barber
Rice Pudding Pierogies with Cranberry Compote from 'Pierogi Love' by Casey Barbour
Reuben Pierogies with Thousand Island Dressing from 'Pierogi Love' by Casey Barber
Casey Barber
Reuben Pierogies with Thousand Island Dressing from 'Pierogi Love' by Casey Barber
Casey Barber, author of the cookbook 'Pierogi Love'
Casey Barber, author of the cookbook 'Pierogi Love'
'Pierogi Love' by Casey Barber
'Pierogi Love' by Casey Barber

Author and photographer Casey Barber doesn't have any Eastern European heritage in her genes, but with her Pittsburgh-bred, pierogie-centered eating habits, she may as well be an honorary Pole.

Barber, who was born in Johnstown and grew up in Greensburg, recalls eating pierogies, haluski and other Eastern European-flavored food all the time, including at church potlucks and community picnics. She took the basic recipes for pierogie dough and expanded it to create more than 60 recipes for fillings and coatings in her new book “Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food” (Gibbs Smith; $19.99).

While the first, and maybe only, pierogie that comes to mind for many people is the standard dough pocket stuffed with mashed potatoes and cheese, the versatile possibilities with the little dough pockets seem limitless, Barber says.

“That's exactly how I wanted to present the book — that is, a pierogie could be anything in the world,” says Barber, who now lives in Clifton, N.J.

You can stuff the dough circles with the usual potatoes and cheddar cheese, pinch them shut, and boil them. Or, you can get more exotic and stuff the pockets with ingredients like sauerkraut, pepperoni, beef, pork, crab, spinach, goat cheese or sweet potatoes. And that is just for the meal-like pierogies. A whole new opportunity comes with sweet pierogies, which are stuffed with things like cherries, apricots, peanut butter and chocolate, or lemon curd. These are sometimes deep-fried and dusted with confectioners' sugar.

“The world of pierogies is so much vaster than the potato,” Barber says. “Already, there are traditions where they are stretching it a little further than your knee-jerk idea of the pierogie.”

Although there are no known official statistics, many pierogie fans like Barber call Pittsburgh America's Pierogie Capital. Evidence of this will be visible at the third annual Pittsburgh Pierogi Fest on Sept. 19 at Stage AE on the North Shore. The event includes more than 30 pierogie vendors, live music from several acts, pierogie-painting, and a Pop-Up Pierogie Marketplace with pierogie-inspired wares.

The festival last year drew more than 5,000 hungry visitors, some of whom waited in line for as long as two to three hours for the doughy creations of vendors like Etna-based Cop Out Pierogies. The weather was rainy, cold and windy last year, but the crowds still came because of their love for pierogies, says Carl Funtal, the owner who calls himself the CPO (chief pierogie officer). His pierogies won the first year, in 2013.

“I love the environment out there. We have a blast,” says Funtal, a retired Shaler police sergeant. He started the company three years ago, and its motto is, “It's not a party till the cops show up.”

“I don't know that you can go to an event where you see so many happy people,” Funtal says. His eatery offers a long list of pierogie fillings and will do any flavor filling the customer wants. Cop Out also makes sweet “pie-rogies.”

What is it about the doughy pierogies that makes them so irresistible and insanely popular in some areas?

“It's a comfort food for those that know pierogies and have eaten pierogies,” Funtal says. “I've eaten them my whole life.”

He has many customers who come in to get Cop Out's pierogies when they are visiting the area from Chicago, where the people say there aren't enough steady places to get the goodies.

While pierogies have an especially strong fan base in Pittsburgh, many other places are catching on, including Wisconsin and Nebraska. Both restaurants and food trucks make and serve them.

“I feel like pierogies are on the cusp of being the next big trend, and I'm so glad people are embracing it,” Barber says.

She says it is the comfort-food factor that people love.

“Potatoes and cheese and dough are three of the most comforting things in any culture, I'm sure,” she says. Pierogies are “bite-sized, really fun finger food — things that you can pop in your mouth.”

If you have frozen, pre-made pierogies, they also are quick to prepare — maybe 10 minutes, which is much quicker than waiting on mom's pot roast, Barber says.

“I would love to see more people getting out there and making pierogies,” she says.

Pierogies are popular at churches, where many groups of people cook and sell them. At St. George's Ukrainian Catholic Church in the North Side, a core group of 25 to 30 people meets most weeks to cook pierogies, and they easily sell 100 dozen of them at a time for $7 a dozen, says the Rev. Ihor Hohosha, the pastor. The pierogies — available in potato, sauerkraut and a mix — provide good financial support to the church and give people a social activity and tasty food, he says.

Customers “say that taste and that flavor is unbeatable,” Hohosha says.

With so many Ukrainian immigrants in Pittsburgh, including Hohosha, pierogies are a favorite dish with many memories attached, including Christmas Eve dinner for many people.

“You ask any Pittsburgher, ‘Do you now about pierogies?' they say, ‘Sure.' ”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

Assembling and cooking pierogies

All of the recipes are from “Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food” by Casey Barber and each recipe makes approximately 24.

The assembling instructions for all of the recipes here are the same. You can choose from the cooking methods below.

Assemble

Line a rimmed baking sheet with waxed paper or parchment paper.

Divide the rested dough into 4 equal pieces with a bench scraper or knife. Set aside 3 dough pieces and cover them with a mixing bowl. Roll the first piece of dough as thinly as possible into a rough 8-by-12-inch rectangle.

Using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut out 6 rounds of dough.

If the dough isn't quartered evenly, you may get 5 rounds from one piece and 7 from another. Resist the temptation to reroll dough scraps for additional rounds. It seems wasteful, but the dough won't be as tender the second time around.

Spoon 1 teaspoon of filling into the center of the each dough round.

Using your finger, swipe a very scant amount of egg wash — just a light touch — around the dough edge.

Fold each round into a half-moon shape: Either fold the dough over the filling on the work surface or gently cup the pierogie dough in your hand in a U shape and fill it. Gently but firmly seal the pierogie by pinching and squeezing the edges together with your thumb and pointer finger. Start with one pinch at the top, then move to one “corner” of the pierogie and pinch along the edge back to the top. Repeat on the opposite side to finish sealing the pierogie.

Transfer the finished pierogies to the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining 3 dough rounds and filling. Freeze the pierogies on the baking sheet, refrigerate for up to 3 hours, or cook immediately.

Cook

To boil fresh or frozen pierogies: Boil a pot of water over medium-high heat (approximately 1 quart of water for every 6 pierogies). Add the pierogies and cook them until they are floating, for 2 to 3 minutes for fresh and 4 to 5 minutes for frozen.

To pan-fry fresh or boiled pierogies: Heat 1 tablespoon of neutral oil (like canola or vegetable) or melt 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add as many pierogies as will fit in a single layer without crowding them. Cook until the pierogies are brown and crispy, for about 2 minutes per side. Repeat with additional oil or butter and pierogies.

To cook large batches for parties, you also can pan-fry pierogies on an electric or two-burner stovetop griddle.

To deep-fry fresh or frozen pierogies: Use an electric deep fryer or a large, high-sided pot filled with at least 2 inches of vegetable or canola oil. (Fill the pot no more than one-third full.) Heat the oil to 350 degrees. Add the pierogies and cook until they are golden brown; frying time varies based on equipment, for about 3 minutes for fresh and 5 minutes for frozen.

Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Transfer the pierogies to the baking sheet and cool for 1 minute.

Rice Pudding Pierogies With Cranberry Compote

For the oat dough:

2 large eggs, divided

12 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt (full-fat, reduced-fat or nonfat)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1 tablespoon sugar

14 teaspoon kosher salt

1 14 cups oat flour

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon water

For the pierogie filling:

2 cups whole milk

14 teaspoon ground cinnamon

14 teaspoon ground ginger

12 cup Arborio rice

14 cup sugar

For the Cranberry Compote:

2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries

14 cup sugar

1 cinnamon stick

12 whole star anise pod

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

To prepare the dough: Whisk 1 egg, the sour cream or yogurt, butter, sugar and salt in a bowl. Whisk the oat flour and all-purpose flour in a large bowl. Gently stir the wet ingredients into the flour. The dough will initially be very dry and shaggy, seeming as if it will never come together, but keep stirring, and it will pull itself into shape.

When the dough starts to come together, press and smash it against the sides of the bowl with your palms, picking up dough bits and essentially kneading it within the bowl until it forms a ball.

Tip the dough and any remaining shaggy flakes onto a clean work surface. Knead the dough until it is smooth, for about 1 minute. Cover the dough with the bowl and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Whisk the remaining egg and water in a small bowl for the egg wash.

To prepare the pierogie filling: Bring the milk to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in the cinnamon and ginger. Stir in the rice and cook until the rice is tender and the milk is almost completely absorbed, stirring frequently, for 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in the sugar until it is dissolved. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour. (Filling can be made up to 3 days ahead; cover and refrigerate.)

To prepare the Cranberry Compote: Stir the cranberries, sugar, cinnamon and star anise in a bowl. Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, to begin dissolving the sugar and softening cranberries.

Transfer the mixture to a small saucepan and add the vanilla. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves into a liquid and comes to a simmer.

Cook for a few minutes more until the cranberries soften but still remain whole. (The compote can be made up to 1 week ahead; cover and refrigerate. Reheat before serving.)

Reuben Pierogies With Thousand Island Dressing

For the rye dough:

2 large eggs, divided

12 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt (full-fat, reduced-fat or nonfat)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup dark-rye flour or pumpernickel flour

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 tablespoon water

For the pierogie filling:

12 cup sauerkraut

13 cup shredded Swiss cheese, finely chopped

18 pound thinly sliced pastrami, finely chopped (about 12 cup)

For the Thousand Island Dressing:

12 cup mayonnaise

3 tablespoons ketchup

2 tablespoons sweet-pickle relish

14 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

A few shakes favorite hot sauce

To prepare the dough: Whisk 1 egg, the sour cream or yogurt, butter and salt in a bowl. Whisk the flour and caraway seeds in a large bowl. Gently stir the wet ingredients into the flour. The dough will initially be very dry and shaggy, seeming as if it will never come together, but keep stirring, and it will pull itself into shape. When the dough starts to come together, press and smash it against the sides of the bowl with your palms, picking up dough bits and essentially kneading it within the bowl until it forms a ball.

Tip the dough and any remaining shaggy flakes onto a clean work surface. Knead the dough until it is smooth, for about 1 minute. Cover the dough with the bowl and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Whisk the remaining egg and water in a small bowl for egg wash.

To prepare the pierogie filling:

Combine the sauerkraut, cheese, and pastrami in a bowl.

To prepare the dressing:

Stir the ingredients into a small bowl. (The dressing can be made up to 1 week ahead; cover and refrigerate.)

Santa Fe-rogies With Pico de Gallo

For the cornmeal dough:

2 large eggs, divided

12 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt (full-fat, reduced-fat or nonfat)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 12 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

12 cup corn flour

2 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal

1 tablespoon water

For the pierogie filling:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small yellow onion, minced

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chiles, preferably Hatch

12 teaspoon kosher salt

14 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

For the Pico de Gallo:

12 pound ripe tomatoes (about 1 large), diced

3 tablespoons very finely minced red onion (about 14 a small onion)

1 small jalapeño or serrano chile, stemmed, seeded and minced

14 cup minced fresh cilantro, leaves and stems

14 teaspoon kosher salt

1 lime, halved, optional

To prepare the dough: Whisk 1 egg, the sour cream or yogurt, butter and salt in a bowl. Whisk the all-purpose flour, corn flour and cornmeal in a large bowl. Gently stir the wet ingredients into flour. The dough will initially be dry and shaggy, seeming as if it will never come together, but keep stirring, and it will pull itself into shape.

When the dough starts to come together, press and smash it against the sides of the bowl with your palms, picking up dough bits and kneading it within the bowl until it forms a ball.

Tip the dough and any remaining shaggy flakes onto a clean work surface. Knead the dough until it is smooth, for about 1 minute. Cover the dough with the bowl and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Whisk the remaining egg and water in a small bowl for the egg wash.

To prepare the pierogie filling: Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until onion is soft and starting to brown, stirring frequently, for 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the beans, chiles and salt, and cook until the beans are soft enough to mush with a spatula, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Stir in the corn and cook the mixture until it is warmed through. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and cool to room temperature. (The filling can be made up to 3 days ahead; cover and refrigerate.)

To prepare the Pico de Gallo: Mix the first 5 ingredients in a bowl. Adjust the seasoning with more salt and a squeeze of lime juice, if desired.

Nutella Pierogies With Bananas Foster Sauce

After you've made homemade Nutella, I'm not sure you can go back to buying the jarred version. This filling is slightly thicker and more granular than what you'd want to spread on toast, so it keeps its integrity when heated inside the pierogie. For a spreadable breakfast version, omit the flour and add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil or nut oil to the food processor, and grind to the preferred consistency. For a nonalcoholic Bananas Foster sauce, skip the rum, but remember, the sauce won't flambé without it.

For the cocoa dough:

2 large eggs, divided

12 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt (full-fat, reduced-fat or nonfat)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

14 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon water

For the pierogie filling:

1 cup whole hazelnuts

14 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon oat flour or unbleached all-purpose flour

For the Bananas Foster Sauce:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

14 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar

14 teaspoon ground allspice or cinnamon

1 small pinch kosher salt

2 ripe bananas, sliced 12-inch thick

2 tablespoons dark or spiced rum

To prepare the dough: Whisk 1 egg, the sour cream or yogurt, butter, sugar and salt in a bowl. Whisk the flour and cocoa powder in a large bowl.

Gently stir the wet ingredients into flour. The dough will initially be very dry and shaggy, seeming as if it will never come together, but keep stirring, and it will pull itself into shape.

When the dough starts to come together, press and smash it against the sides of the bowl with your palms, picking up dough bits and kneading it within the bowl until it forms a ball.

Tip the dough and any remaining shaggy flakes onto a clean work surface. Knead the dough until it smooth, for about 1 minute. Cover the dough with the bowl and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Whisk the remaining egg and the water in a small bowl for the egg wash.

To prepare the pierogie filling: Skin the hazelnuts: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Scatter the hazelnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast the nuts until the skins start to crack and separate, for 10 to 15 minutes. Pour the hazelnuts onto a clean kitchen towel, loosely fold it closed, and rub or flake off the skins. Unfold the towel and remove the skinned hazelnuts; use caution, as the nuts might still be hot.

Repeat with any stubborn, unskinned nuts, and don't worry if some bits of skin remain.

Pour the skinned hazelnuts into a food processor and grind until the nuts are reduced to a fine powder. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the sugar, cocoa powder and flour. Grind until a granular paste forms; the filling should be almost Play-Doh-like in consistency.

(Filling can be made up to 1 week ahead; cover and refrigerate.)

To prepare the Bananas Foster: Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the sugar, allspice and salt, and cook until the sugar dissolves and starts to bubble, stirring frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes.

Stir in the banana slices and cook until the slices are softened and warmed through, for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the rum. Return the skillet to the heat, carefully and quickly flambéing the sauce with a long barbecue lighter or long match. Cook until the flames die down.

(The sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead, though it can't be flambéed if made ahead. Cover and refrigerate, and reheat before serving.)

Pickle Strawberry Jam Pierogies With White Chocolate Sauce

You might be weirded out by seeing the words “pickled” and “strawberries” in the same sentence, but trust me, you're looking at a winning combination. The jam is tangy but not sour, and just different enough to hook you with a single bite.

For the basic sweet dough:

2 large eggs, divided

12 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt (full-fat, reduced-fat or nonfat)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1 tablespoon sugar

14 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon water

For the pierogie filling:

14 cup Champagne vinegar

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

12 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

14 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns

12 whole star anise pod

12 cup sugar

1 tablespoon powdered low-sugar pectin

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 pound (1 dry pint) strawberries, cut into small pieces

For the white chocolate sauce:

23 cup white chocolate, chopped into small pieces

14 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon light corn syrup or Lyle's Golden Syrup

To prepare the dough: Whisk 1 egg, the sour cream or yogurt, butter, sugar and salt in a bowl. Add the flour to a large bowl.

Gently stir the wet ingredients into the flour. The dough will initially be very dry and shaggy, seeming as if it will never come together, but keep stirring, and it will pull itself into shape.

When the dough starts to come together, press and smash it against the sides of the bowl with your palms, picking up dough bits and kneading it within the bowl until it forms a ball.

Tip the dough and any remaining shaggy flakesonto a clean work surface. Knead the dough until it is smooth, for about 1 minute. Cover the dough with the bowl and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Whisk the remaining egg and water in a small bowl for the egg wash.

To prepare the pierogie filling: Bring the vinegars, peppercorns and star anise to a boil in a very small saucepan over medium-low heat. Remove the pan from the heat; cover the pan and let the ingredients steep for 30 minutes.

Strain the vinegar into a medium saucepan; discard the spices. Whisk the sugar, pectin and salt in a bowl, then it whisk into the vinegar. Add the strawberries and stir over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture starts to bubble. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens into a sticky jam, for 35 to 45 minutes.

Transfer the jam to a bowl and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour. (The filling can be made up to 1 week ahead; cover and refrigerate.)

To prepare the chocolate sauce: Fill a small saucepan halfway with water and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. Place the chocolate, cream and corn syrup in a heatproof (stainless steel or Pyrex) bowl.

Set the bowl atop the pan of sim-mering water; do not let the bowl touch the water. Stir the mixture constantly to melt the chocolate. (The sauce can be made up to 1 month ahead; cover and refrigerate. Reheat before serving.)

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