Friday, October 24, 2014

Bacon and Cheese Pierogi Casserole

Warning: There was no way to make this look pretty on a plate. I did not even try. But don't let that deter you from recognizing the deliciousness and awesomeness of this casserole!

My only experience with authentic, homemade Pierogies happened a couple months ago when the kids and I met Paul for lunch at a tiny Polish diner near his office. The little diner advertised their homemade Pierogies all over interior and exterior walls of the tiny establishment so we naturally had to give them a try. I was also curious to see how homemade Pierogies measured up to my beloved Mrs. T's frozen Pierogies. In a matter of minutes, the waitress brought us a plate-sized Pierogi floating in a pool of grease with a melting pat of butter on top. I, being the snob I am, pushed it away. I could already feel my stomach rejecting the pile of grease in front of me. Paul, on the other hand, dug right in and declared the dish "fantastic." Afterwards, he kept teasing me about it, saying: "When you ordered a Pierogi, what did you expect - a salad?"

Fast forward to October 22nd of this year, the feast day of Saint John Paul II. I really wanted to make something Polish in remembrance of one of my favorite saints. When I asked my Polish husband what kinds of authentic Polish dishes he liked, the only thing he could come up with was cabbage rolls, kielbasa, and pierogies. The Pierogies sounded the most appealing to me, but I honestly did not feel like rolling out the dough and stuffing individual Pierogies. I decided to go the simpler (and admittedly less-authentic) route and make a "casserole-style" Pierogi. This is nothing like what your Polish grandmother used to make, as I'm sure she did not run to the Italian section of her grocery store to buy a box of lasagna noodles before making her Pierogies! I got the idea for this dish from some friends of ours who made something similar for their son's high school graduation party. I know I did not make it exactly how they did - I'm pretty sure they did not add any bacon. But, I was really wanting some bacon. It's been months. Paul did not object to this idea, so I used this recipe as an excuse to buy some bacon.

The casserole was easy to assemble and ready in no time! We served it with a simple tossed salad and lots of sour cream. I was amazed that both kids cleaned their plates! Matthew, who has historically spent the majority of his childhood gagging his way through mashed potatoes, ate his entire meal without incident. Emma picked out the bacon - but Paul the vulture was ready to swoop down and take care of her scraps: "I can't let good bacon go to waste!"

If you are feeling indulgent, want something to eat the night before a marathon, or are just in the mood for some good, old-fashioned, not-quite-Polish comfort food, than this is the dish for you!

*If you are wondering why I keep capitalizing the word "Pierogi", I do not have a good answer for you. It's something I'm doing subconsciously and am too lazy to go back and correct.

Bacon and Cheese Pierogi Casserole

5 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 tablespoon salt
1/2-3/4 cup milk warmed
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 lb. bacon, chopped
1 large sweet onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces cheddar cheese, minced
6 lasagna noodles
Salt and Pepper
Sour Cream (for serving)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the potatoes in a large stockpot and fill with enough water to cover by 1-inch. Bring to a boil, Add the salt to the water, stir, and allow the potatoes to cook until tender. Drain well.

Push the potatoes through a ricer into a large bowl, Add the warm milk and butter and enough salt and pepper to taste. Make sure the potatoes are very well seasoned! You can also add some garlic powder and paprika if you like. Set aside.

Cook the bacon and onion together in a large skillet over medium heat until the bacon is crispy. Add the garlic and continue to cook for an additional 30 seconds. Drain the onion-bacon mixture on paper towels.

Cook the lasagna noodles according to the packaged directions. Once done, cool the noodles under cold running water.

To layer the casserole: Spread half the potatoes on the bottom of a 13x9 casserole dish. Top with 1/3 of the cheese and half of the onion-bacon mixture. Place a layer of lasagna noodles over the top, Repeat with the potatoes, cheese, onion/bacon, and lasagna noodles. Sprinkle the top layer of lasagna noodles with the rest of the cheese.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the casserole is warmed throughout.

Serve topped with sour cream! Enjoy!

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