I have several foods that immediately bring to mind warm thoughts and memories of daily supper with all the family members gathered around the chrome and vinyl kitchen table and chairs set in our small “miner’s shack” home in the Coal Region.
Everyone was there; my Nana and Pappy, my Mom and Dad, and me. We ate, we laughed, we talked, we “discussed”…but we never argued. Never at the supper table or during any meal. Food prepared by loving hands — some dishes took hours — was precious and unifying. It would have been disrespectful to use that family time for “squabbles”.
Coming from a household of coal miners, supper was not a fancy, affair but it was always delicious. Sometimes the more simple the food was, the more delicious it was. “Peasant food”, that’s what people called it. Delights for your taste buds created from leftovers, cheap cuts of meat, and vegetables from your garden (or the neighbor’s – everybody shared).
Potatoes were cheap, plentiful, and a staple at nearly every meal at my house. Nana never left anything go to waste, so as we neared the end of the 10 pound paper bag of spuds, she was determined to use them up.
A favorite way was to make potato soup or these yummy dumplings known as kopytka. I loved these doughy delights so much as a kid, I would even volunteer to peel potatoes for this dish — and I hated peeling potatoes (and still do).
Poland, meet my Pennsylvania Dutch Nana…
Kopytka means little hooves in Polish; the little shapes are supposed to resemble cloven hooves (“kapytki” in Lithuanian cuisine). Kopytka are very similar to Italian gnocchi.
Kopytka are popular in Polish, Belarusian, and Lithuanian cuisines. But we “Dutchies” love potatoes and dough, too, so here was a match made in Heaven for this Coal Region kid from the diverse Schuylkill County ethnic culinary scene!
One potato, two potato
Kopytka is not the same as Polish potato dumplings (Kartoflane Kluski) which uses grated raw potatoes in the dough rather than cooked.
The mashed potatoes for Kopytka need to be starchy and on the dry side and should be silky smooth (to prevent “lumpy” kopytka!), so don’t use leftover mashed potatoes that you’ve prepared with milk and butter. A potato ricer or food mill creates the perfect consistency of cooked potato for use in this recipe.
Kopytka is often served sprinkled with buttered breadcrumbs (polonaise style), gravy or pan drippings. Many cooks fry the dumplings to brown them, or fry and serve them with goulash.
These little pillows of deliciousness have made many a Coal Cracker happy when they appear on the table for a meal.
Budget and palate pleaser
Kopytka is budget friendly, easy to make and likely to become a favorite of all ages in your family, There are a lot of ways to serve and enjoy this Coal Region dish from savory to sweet. I’ll take mine with plenty of melted butter and browned bread crumbs, please!
- Drizzled with melted butter and tossed with soft or dry bread crumbs browned in additional butter – a classic!
- Sprinkled with fried crumbled bacon
- Chopped and fried kiełbasa
- Fried or caramelized onion
- Meat or mushroom-based sauces (kopytka are a great side dish for a roast, goulash, or stew)
- Melted butter, topped with sugar
- Sweetened cream/farmer’s cheese (twaróg)
- Fruit jam
Polish KopytkaCourse: Sides, EntreeCuisine: Eastern European, Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
Little diamond shapes of potato dough meant to resemble cloven hooves, may be served savory or sweet.
1-1/2 pounds russet potatoes, cooked in their jackets, peeled and mashed or run through a potato ricer or food mill
1 large beaten egg
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
2 cups all-purpose flour or as needed
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons fresh white breadcrumbs
- Place mashed potatoes in a large bowl. Add egg, salt and flour as needed to form a smooth, cohesive dough without overworking it (the dough will be tough if overworked).
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Lightly flour your work surface and hands and roll pieces of the dough into “ropes” about 1/2 inch in diameter. Cut at an angle into approximately 1 inch to 1-1/2 inch pieces. Repeat with remainder of dough.
- Drop the cut dumplings into the boiling water. Avoid crowding and work in batches if necessary. Return the water to boiling, reduce to slow boil and cook 2 – 5 minutes, testing for desired doneness.
- Remove cooked dumplings to a colander and drain.
- Prepare topping by melting the butter in a small fry pan. Add the breadcrumbs and fry for 3 – 4 minutes or until golden brown.
- Transfer drained dumplings to a serving dish and sprinkle the buttered breadcrumbs on top.