When one thinks of Lent, they often think of food without sugar and/or fat, and of course devoid of flavor. Luckily, I do not typically give anything food-related up for Lent except for meat on Fridays. You’ll find that pagach (pronounced pah-gosh) is certainly not lacking in flavor or fat for that matter (thanks to the butter and cheese!). Brandon and I make it once per year on a Friday night during Lent since it fits the bill for a delicious, if not indulgent, meatless dinner.
I worked in a pizza shop for the majority of my high school years, and pagach was made and served on Wednesdays year-round. During Lent, however, an additional batch was made up for Fridays and we were sure to sell out before the night was over. You may be asking what exactly pagach is. Well, I can tell you its certainly not Italian despite its presence in the pizza shop, and originated somewhere in Eastern Europe. Think: oversized-peirogi-in-pizza-dough (but better).
First things first: pizza dough. As the rush of orders would subside at the pizza shop each evening, 50 pounds of flour would be loaded into the large mixer in the kitchen and a fresh batch of dough would be rolled out and refrigerated for use later in the week. Now, I do like to scale recipes down, but I never have been able to figure out how to scale that pizza dough recipe into something I can actually make at home. So after trying MANY recipes, I have finally settled on my favorite – it comes from Alex Guarnaschelli of Food Network fame.
Despite an updated recipe, I do use the same techniques I was taught while working at the pizza shop. First, the dough must always be oil-covered. If it is not, a skin will develop and the dough will not be able to stretch out without breaking. Second, to store and rise uniformly, the dough must be in the shape of a sphere. In order to do this, take the dough in your hands and begin to fold the dough in on itself as if you’re folding a sock. Continue to do this until the entire piece of dough, except the bottom, is a sphere. Then roll the ball on the counter with the heel of your hand, smoothing the bottom of the ball. This will assure the dough rises and stretches evenly.
Here you can see the size increase after 1.5 hr.
Here are the steps to rolling the dough balls:
Now for the pagach. All I remember the filling to be is glorified mashed potatoes and cheese and, despite searching, I can not find a recipe for pagach filling online that I like. So I set out to “doctor up” (tee-hee) some potatoes in a way that would give the most flavor to the pagach. Sauteeing some onions in garlic in butter and oil and adding chopped rosemary at the last minute created the base for the potato flavoring. I combined this mixture with the potatoes, milk, salt and pepper to create a well-seasoned, spreadable mixture.
After stretching out the pizza dough (you can use a rolling pin if you think stretching by hand may end in disaster), the potato filling is spread over half the dough, followed by a layer of chopped raw onion, followed by (and in my opinion, the best part of this whole contraption) a layer of cheese. I love the taste of sharp cheddar, but it doesn’t melt as well as mozzarella so I use a combination of the two.
The dough is folded over onto the filling and the edges are pinched closed. It’s necessary to cut some vent holes in the top of the pagach to allow steam to escape during baking. An addition I have made, since I like improving both flavor and aesthetics, is an egg wash over the top of the pagach before baking to assure a lovely golden-brown crust. And if you thought this wasn’t enough, spread a bit of butter of the top of the pagach after baking to even further increase the dietary sins you must take with you on Sunday!
So, as promised, a delicious, not low-fat, but meatless Lenten pagach.
PIZZA DOUGH (by Alex Guarnaschelli)
Yield – 2- 12 inch pizzas (enough for 2 pagach)
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cups warm water (about 110 degrees F)
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling dough
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 scant tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus some additional for coating the bowl/greasing the trays
- In a large bowl, combine the yeast and warm water. Stir to dissolve the yeast and allow the mixture to rest for 5 minutes.
- Using a sieve or strainer, “sift” about half of the flour over the yeast mixture and blend until smooth with your hands. Add the salt, pepper and honey and mix to blend. Sift in the remaining flour and mix to blend.
- Lightly flour a cutting board or flat surface. Turn the pizza dough onto the floured area and knead for 3 to 5 minutes. The flour should feel smooth and the ingredients fully integrated.
- Place the dough inside a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place, about 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in volume.
- Press gently on the dough and turn it onto a floured surface. Divide the dough into 2 equal parts, rolling each quarter into a loose ball. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow the dough to rest for an additional 15 minutes.
- Dough can be refrigerated and used for up to one week.
PAGACH (original recipe)
Yield – 1 large pagach
- 4-5 boiling potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 4-5 Tbs. unsalted butter
- olive oil
- 1 cup white onions, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 sprigs rosemary, chopped
- 1 cup milk
- kosher salt
- freshly cracked black or white pepper
- pizza dough (see above)
- 1 lb cheese, grated (I use 1/2 lb each mozzarella and sharp cheddar)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, add the potatoes and cook until soft.
- Melt 2 Tb. butter with 1 Tb oil over medium-low heat and sautee the garlic and 1/4 cup of onions until translucent. Stir in the rosemary and take off the heat after 1 minute.
- Add the onion-garlic mixture, milk and 1 Tb. butter to the drained potatoes and mash until creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Add more milk if needed.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Grease a baking sheet with olive oil and lay the stretched out pizza dough on the tray so half the dough is hanging off the top of the baking sheet.
- Spread the potato mixture on the dough, leaving about 1/2 inch margin. Top with the remaining onions and the cheese.
- Fold the top half of the dough over the potatoes and pinch the dough closed on all sides. Brush the top with egg wash and cut vent holes in the top.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until browned, rotating halfway through baking. Spread butter on the top of the pagach before serving.