Friday, June 23, 2017

Pierogi Lasagna Update, with Mushrooms and Farmer Cheese

My first version of pierogi lasagna was based on a recipe from the website of Alice Kuhar, a Slovenian American radio personality in Cleveland. Before then, I had never heard of this popular American hybrid.

Lasagna is really a misnomer, because the dish is essentially a casserole version of the popular Eastern European dumplings known as pierogi--or, if you are Slovenian, žlikrofi.

Lasagna with a potato-cheese filling turned out to be much tastier than I imagined. But it is an admittedly heavy dish, more suitable as a side than a main course. A few months ago, I set out to make it lighter. More protein, fewer carbs, and meat-free.

It occurred to me to use some farmer cheese in the filling. A quick online search showed that someone else already had this brainstorm: Cleveland's celebrity chef Michael Symon. Like me, he is of half Eastern European heritage and has family roots in Johnstown, PA, where my own immigrant ancestors once lived.

Symon's recipe looked tasty--and ambitious, since he makes his noodles from scratch. But it was even richer than my original version, with a full pound of bacon and some some heavy cream added to the mix.

I went back to my original recipe and made a few changes. I skipped the bacon and used sautéed mushrooms instead. I added a layer of farmer cheese and cut down on the potatoes. Since my husband was getting over the flu, I used a lighter hand with the seasonings: less garlic and onions, and no chives or marjoram.

The result? Delicious! Lighter, protein-rich, but still in the Eastern European spirit. Comfort food. It is also an easy make-ahead dish, especially if you use no-boil lasagna noodles. Details follow.


Pierogi Lasagna with Mushrooms and Farmer Cheese

1-2 small onions, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
6 ounces mushrooms, sliced
a little wine, if desired
1-1/4 pounds potatoes. mashed
1 c. grated sharp cheese (I used cheddar)
¼ cup milk or sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 teaspoons fresh chives, minced (optional)
1-2 teaspoons fresh  marjoram, minced (optional)
1 pound farmer cheese

lasagna noodles (I prefer oven-bake style)
sour cream (optional) for top
grated parmesan cheese for top

Dice onions. Brown in olive oil until almost carmelized. Set aside. Brown garlic and mushrooms in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add a little wine, if desired. Set aside.

Wash and halve the potatoes, leaving skins on. Cook in boiling salted water until tender.  Drain. Be sure to save the potato water. Allow to cool slightly, then mash, adding a little potato water if needed.

Combine the mashed potatoes, onions, garlic-mushroom mixture, grated cheese, milk or sour cream, and seasonings. If needed, add more liquid to make filling spreadable. Taste and adjust seasonings. Under most circumstances, this tastes best when the filling is highly seasoned.

If lasagna noodes require pre-cooking, prepare according to package directions. I prefer to use no-boil lasagna noodles. You will need about ¾ pound.

Oil a 9 x 9 inch casserole dish. Place first layer of noodles on bottom. Spread with 1/3 of potato mixture, topped by 1/3 of farmer cheese, crumbled or dropped in spoonfuls. Add another layer of noodles and repeat, for a total of 4 layers of noodles and 3 layers of filling, beginning and ending with noodles. Top with a thin layer of sour cream., if desired, and a sprinkle of  parmesan cheese and chives.

The dish can be refrigerated, covered, until baking. If lasagna appears too dry after refrigerating, pierce noodles with a sharp knife and add some of the reserved potato water. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Cover with foil if top becomes too brown.

Let cool for about fifteen minutes and cut into squares to serve.