Justin Scardina’s Piradzini “Piedogs”
Photos & text by Aryn Henning Nichols • Illustrations by Lauren Bonney
Recipes by Justin Scardina • Originally published in the Summer 2016 Inspire(d)
“I’m a quarter Latvian, half Sicilian, and a quarter ‘mutt,’” says Decorah chef Justin Scardina.
While the majority of people can’t even find Latvia on a map, Justin grew up with a grandma who had lived there the formative years of her life.
World War I had taken a great many soldiers, including Justin’s great grandfather. Without a spouse, his great grandmother was looking for a fresh start. Many people were emigrating from Latvia and settling in Chicago in the late 1930s – amongst them was Justin’s great grandmother, and her teenaged daughter, Sonja.
Grandma Sonja McGraw had five kids – four girls and one boy – and lived on the north side of Chicago.
“The culture was definitely present even for my mother,” Justin says. “She remembers going to events where everyone was still speaking Latvian.”
Justin’s mom, Karey (Scardina once she married), was the oldest of the brood, and, thus, Justin and his younger sister and brother were the oldest of the cousins. While the other cousins were still at home in diapers, Justin and his siblings would head the few blocks over to Grandma Sonja’s to make a Latvian snack called Piradzini.
Say what? “We called them piedogs,” Justin says. “Basically a baked sour cream roll stuffed with bacon, ham and onion…. good stuff.”
Pie (rhymes with me) dogs – a nonsensical word they made up so it would be easier for the little kids to pronounce– were a special treat made for all the big holidays in the McGraw family.
“We’d show up early, and Grandma would have everything set up in her big kitchen. The dough was all ready to go, and pretty simple to make, but the biggest task was mincing the meat and onion. You want the dice to be really small so, you know, you don’t have a huge chunk of bacon in one bite. Everything goes in uncooked,” Justin explains. “We’d use a water glass to cut out the dough rounds, then roll them out, add in the filling, and form the dumplings.”
While Grandma and the kids were inside prepping and baking piedogs – “It would take all day,” Justin says – Grandpa and the uncles grilled outside or took a boat out on the lake. The family would all come together for dinner – 16 could fit at Justin’s grandma’s long dining table.
“These were a huge event when ever some one made them in my family,” he says.
“My mom makes piedogs too – she bases her recipe off my great grandmothers, though. Grandma Sonja cut some of the fat out of the original recipe… it was the early 80s, you know,” Justin says with a laugh. “My mother put it back in.”
Justin made these for the first time himself about six years ago.
“I had a random craving and called home and asked for the recipe,” he says. “I could have sworn there was garlic in there, but mom says no.”
Perhaps that’s how recipes like this evolve over generations. Justin listened to his mom, though, and kept garlic out of his recipe… but he kept the fat in.
These days, when Justin isn’t making Latvian snacks or entertaining his seven-year-old daughter, Adina, he’s a chef at Luther College, and the mastermind and chef behind local pop-up restaurant Salt/Water. Check out Salt/Water on Facebook for details on upcoming menus and dinner dates.
PRINT RECIPE HERE
Recipes by Justin Scardina (and family!)
Sour Cream Dough
1/2 C Sour Cream
1 C Warm Water, slightly above room temp. 110-115F
1 1/4 t Salt
3 C All purpose Flour
3 t Yeast
1 lb Bacon, best you can afford, diced finely
1/2 lb Smoked Ham, again best you can afford, diced finely
2 yellow onions, finely diced
Black Pepper, loads for freshly ground black pepper
Start the dough… mix the warm water, yeast, sugar to together and allow to sit to proof the yeast about 8-12 minutes. In the mean time, stir the flour and mix in salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center of the flour. Now mix in the sour cream in the yeast/water mix until well combined. Add that mixture to the flour and mix gently until the flour comes together in a elastic ball. Transfer to a new, oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Allow to rise in a warm area for at least an hour.
In the mean time, chop all the bacon, ham and onions and mix well to combine. Liberally season with freshly ground black pepper, mix again and set aside until ready to use.
Now take the dough and knead for 5-10 minutes. Again place in an oiled bowl and allow to rise again. After a half hour, the dough will be ready. Take a 1/4 of the dough out on a floured surface and, using your hands, flatten a section at a time. Usually we would use a water glass to cut out 1-2″ circles of dough to stuff with our filling. Fill the circle with 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon of the meat filling and fold the dough over the meat to make a dumpling shape. Repeat until you run out of dough or filling.
Preheat an oven to 350 F. Arrange your dumplings in a single, spaced out layer on a sheet tray. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown on the outside. Make sure to check them after 10 minutes to rotate the sheet tray. Enjoy warm and stuff your face!