May it Please the Palate- Pittsburgh Cuisine

Imagine my excitement when a friend passed on a "New York Times" article about "Rust Belt" cuisine, featuring my home town of Pittsburgh. I clicked on the link, anticipating insight into the 'Burgh's signature Polish-German specialties such as kielbasa, pierogies, and giant fish sandwiches that overhang the bun like airplane wings.

So what did the "Times" have to say? Knotweed. Freaking Japanese knotweed. Yes, it seems that the point of the article was how the Steel City is slowly catching on to the farm-to-table movement, and a "foraging and food supply company" named "Wild Purveyors" was on the cutting edge, harvesting Japanese knotweed from an abandoned truck depot.

I can just picture "Pittsburgh Dad" now, potbellied in his Steelers' jersey, saying to his buddies, "Hey younse guys, wanna head dahntahn and warsh down some stinging nettle pesto with some Iron City longnecks?"

Actually ... no, I can't.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all about sustainable local agriculture. But driving back from a family wedding in Pittsburgh last weekend, we had to stop at Primanti Bros. The original Primanti's was a dive in the Strip District. It opened after the bars closed, and served sandwiches piled high with fried potatoes and coleslaw right on top. Today it's a bit of an upscale chain, but the waitresses still call you "hon" and it remains a Pittsburgh institution.

Giant fish sandwiches are more mysterious in origin. Best guess is that the large Catholic population popularized them on "meatless Fridays" when the three rivers forming the Golden Triangle were clean enough to fish from. Today bars and restaurants try to outdo each other with two or three massive cod or pollock filets perched precariously on a sesame bun.

Pittsburgh is also said to consume 11 times more pierogies than any other American city, with sour cream mixed into the dough as a regional twist. The Pittsburgh Pirates even hold a pierogi race in the 5th inning of every home ball game. Here's a typical recipe (from Pittsburgh. about.com) for:

Pittsburgh Pierogies

Ingredients:

* 2 cups flour, plus extra for kneading and rolling dough

* 1/2 teaspoon salt

* 1 large egg

* 1/2 cup sour cream, plus extra to serve with the pierogi

* 1/4 cup butter, softened and cut into small pieces

*butter and onions for sauteing

*ingredients for filling of your choice (potato & cheese filling recipe below)

Pierogi Dough:

Mix together the flour and salt. Beat the egg, then add all at once to the flour mixture. Add the 1/2 cup sour cream and the softened butter pieces and work until the dough loses most of its stickiness (about 5-7 minutes). You can use a food processor with a dough hook for this, but be careful not to overbeat. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes or overnight; the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Each batch of dough makes about 12-15 pierogies, depending on size.

Prepare the Pierogies:

Roll the pierogi dough on a floured board or countertop until 1/8'' thick. Cut circles of dough (2'' for small pierogies and 3-3 1/2'' for large pierogies) with a cookie cutter or drinking glass. Place a small ball of filling (about a tablespoon) on each dough round and fold the dough over, forming a semi-circle. Press the edges together with the tines of a fork.

Boil the perogies a few at a time in a large pot of water. They are done when they float to the top (about 8-10 minutes). Rinse in cool water and let dry.

Saute chopped onions in butter in a large pan until onions are soft. Then add pierogies and pan fry until lightly crispy. Serve with a side of sour cream for a true Pittsburgh pierogi meal.

Potato, Cheese & Onion filling:

Peel and boil 5 large potatoes until soft. Red potatoes are especially good for this. While the potatoes are boiling, finely chop 1 large onion and saute in butter until soft and translucent. Mash the potatoes with the sauted onions and 4-8oz of grated cheddar cheese (depending on how cheesy you want your pierogies), adding salt and pepper to taste. You can also add some fresh parsley, bacon bits, chives, or other enhancements if you desire. Let the potato mixture cool and then form into 1'' balls.

Serve with a shot and a beer - Japanese knotweed optional.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at http://mayitplease thepalate. blogspot.com/

Published: Thu, May 16, 2013

Comments

  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »