If pierogi are the only Polish food you’ve tried, here’s a chance to expand your terrain.
The London-based food writer Zuza Zak grew up cooking with her grandmother in the Polish countryside, and in her new book, “Polska: New Polish Cooking” (Quadrille, $35), she shares many of those recipes and stories through the eyes of a millennial wanting to preserve her heritage.
The book is full of regional and national favorites, including blini, wild cherry soup, a handful of dumplings that are not pierogi and this potato placki, a traditional potato cake. Through these foods and Zak’s deep family roots, you can learn about the history and evolution of Eastern European culture and cuisine.
Zak fondly recalls foraging for ingredients including mushrooms and sorrel when she was a kid, but you can use whatever mushrooms you like or have been curious to try from the grocery store.
Potato Placki with Creamy Chanterelles
Early autumn is the time for our favorite pastime: mushroom picking. Chanterelles and other wild mushrooms are sold in large wooden crates by the roadside throughout the autumn months in Poland.
We serve each placek (potato cake) with a small dollop of flavorsome topping, which needs to be rich and creamy. You can keep the placki warm in the oven while you prepare the sauce, so there’s no need to rush. Just cover them with foil and keep the heat low to prevent them from drying out.
2 large potatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Rapeseed oil, for frying
1 3/4 tablespoons salted butter
7 ounces chanterelles or other mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Scant 1 cup whipping cream
Finely grate the potatoes and onion into a bowl so that they turn to mush. Pour out any excess water. Mix together to combine and then sift in the flour and add the egg. Season well with salt and pepper and mix again until fully combined.
Heat a little oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot enough (a small spoonful of the mixture should sizzle as soon as it hits the pan), add spoonfuls of the mixture to the pan — each placek should be about 4 to 5 inches in diameter. Fry for about 15 minutes, turning halfway through cooking, until golden brown on both sides. Keep the placki warm in the oven on low heat while you repeat the process for the remaining mixture.
Melt the butter in a separate, large pan over medium heat and add the mushrooms. Cook for about 15 minutes, until browned, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, dried and fresh thyme and plenty of salt and pepper. Fry for a couple of minutes longer, before adding the cream. Turn the heat down and simmer for 7 to 10 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken and reduce, stirring often. Serve the placki with a dollop of the sauce on top. Serves 4.
— From “Polska: New Polish Cooking” by Zuza Zak (Quadrille, $35)