Watch Valentina Visan of St. Demetrus Orthodox Church, 140 Price St., Naples, 775-8998, make vareniki (Ukrainian pierogi) on CookIt! and get the recipe below.
The church’s annual Ethnic Food Festival is from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and there are Russian, Romanian, Polish and Greek foods that include sweet and savory pastries. The festival also offers beverages, a white elephant sale and a cash raffle.
Visan has traveled the world but never forgot her cultural roots. She was a researcher for the National Education Research Institute within the Ministry of Education in Bucharest, Romania. She and her husband moved to Zaire, Africa, in 1970 where her husband was an educational expert with Unesco, and she trained new teachers and wrote textbooks. In 1975 she moved to Cleveland with her daughter to wait for her husband’s tenure with the United Nations to end.
While walking in Cleveland she became mesmerized by a window full of decorated cakes in a bakery and decided to learn the art of decorating. She sold the cakes to raise funds for the local Romanian Orthodox Church.
Visan moved to Naples in 1981 and started Valentina’s Pastries Bakery on U.S. 41, where the Staybridge Suites is now located. It was a special order store and most of her elegant baking appeared on the party tables in homes in Port Royal and along Gulf Shore Boulevard. Visan also baked for St. Demetrius Orthodox Church and other good causes; she once made a cake that was a replica of the Naples History Museum, and which was large enough to cut into 1,000 slices. Each slice was auctioned to raise funds for the museum’s construction.
Her baking career also took her to the Ritz-Carlton, Naples, as a pastry chef and then to open Imperial Bakery & Deli at the entrance of Imperial Estates in north Naples with her son. Now she bakes solely for her family and friends and St. Demetrius.
Visan says she’s baking night and day to get ready for the Ethnic Food Festival and hopes the public will come to taste the delicacies that will raise money for the church.
Vareniki a dimpled dumpling with a comfort-food flavor, were especially popular in the Ukraine during Lent, when dairy was not allowed. But they’re versatile, and are treated different ways in different Eastern European countries. Left-over vareniki, according to some practices, may be fried. Sweet, fruit-filled vareniki are served with sour cream and sugar at other times of the year. Raw vareniki (with the dough uncooked) can be stored frozen, then cooked in three minutes, which makes them a convenience food.
Other preparation methods include the Latvian tradition of glazing with egg white, baking, and serving with soup. A Mennonite tradition is baking the vareniki — theirs are filled with hard-boiled egg — and serving with borscht. The Polish boil them or fry in butter and onions. Some people cook them in vegetable or meat broth; others fill them with a soft cheese filling before and after Lent.
Here is the recipe for vareniki, which are good any way they’re made:
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
6-8 medium potatoes
2 large onions, chopped
Oil, enough to sauté the onions
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil the potatoes until soft, approximately half an hour.
Remove from the water, peel off skin and mash potatoes with a fork.
Heat oil in a sauté pan and when hot add the chopped onions. Sauté until golden and remove from the pan.
Mix the onions into the mashed potatoes and blend and season with salt and pepper. Let cool.
Beat the egg, water and salt together and add the mixture to the flour. Mix well to make a firm dough and knead on a floured surface for 10 to 15 minutes until smooth.
Cover and let the dough rest for at least 15 minutes.
Roll out the dough to a thin sheet on a lightly floured board.
Cut the dough into 3-inch squares and fill each circle with 1 tablespoon of the potato mixture.
Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil.
When water is boiling, place the vareniki in the water and cook until they rise to the top. Boil a few minutes more and remove with a slotted spoon and place on a serving plate.
Serve hot alone or with sauted onions.