A slender man passed the lace screen doors maneuvering a green and rusty bike precisely the same colors as the front gate. A moment later he entered the kitchen and planted a smooshy kiss on Ana’s cheek. His next gift was his bike basket which secured two large heads of ripe green cabbage. Ana introduced her husband Grigore but called him Grisha every time thereafter. He was one of the few men in Moldova to shake my hand. That face to face moment revealed an attractive boyish looking man with charcoal-colored hair and leathery olive skin. His youthful presence overshadowed his wrinkles; was he really in his sixties? After observing the current cooking task at hand, Grigore vigorously rubbed his palms together and gave Ana a side squeeze. “I chose well. You’ll see,” were his triumphant words to me before disappearing with several small plates of old leftovers.
“Plăcinte Miresei (pluh-cheen-tuh mir-ace-say) is the first hot dish served at a wedding and certainly the most prestigious one,” Ana explained. As she continued to elaborate on the traditions of this dish, I soon understood Grigore’s comment and Ana’s subsequent laugh / eye roll combo. It’s called Bride’s Pie because how well a bride prepares it for the wedding determines how wisely (or unwisely) the groom chose his bride. If the plăcinte is delicious, the bride is sure to be a great gospodină or housewife. I wondered what dish the groom had to prepare to prove his worth. It’s a silly tradition that probably (hopefully) doesn’t have much meaning anymore, but it got me thinking about why I was cooking with women in their own kitchens. I wondered if I was perpetuating the stereotype that a woman’s place was in the kitchen. I cook with women in their own kitchens, not because I think only women belong there but because so many of the places I travel to tell them so. The kitchen is my avenue to showing heart-felt interest in another culture, forming genuine bonds of sisterhood, and expanding my knowledge to increase my awareness. Plus we get to eat delicious home-cooked meals from scratch!
Bride’s Pie is traditionally filled with a salted cheese mixture, but cabbage and goose liver are other popular fillings. Dry cheese curd (Meadow Gold sells bags by the pound) is most similarly compared to brînză de vacă or cow’s milk cheese which is used in this recipe. You’ll want to pulse the dry cheese curd in a food processor until it starts to stick together to form a paste. If you can’t find dry cheese curd you can always make it. Just buy cottage cheese, rinse it well to remove the extra cream, let it drain a few hours, and then lay it out to dry a few more. There are several ways to prepare plăcinte, but Bride’s Pie is most similar to what we call pie in the states. I have tried this recipe with several different fillings, all of which were delicious, but the key is to make sure your filling doesn’t contain too much liquid. After trying the traditional recipe below, you’ll realize how delicious it is, and venture out from there!
Sauteed onions, garlic, kale, feta // sauteed cabbage, carrots, salt, pepper // tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella // roasted peppers, goat cheese, balsamic glaze // spinach, sausage, onions, romano // dill, eggs, dry cheese curd // pie cherries, sugar // dry cheese curd, eggs, sugar // dry cheese curd, eggs, sugar, berries // grated apples, sugar, cinnamon // grated pumpkin, eggs, sugar, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon. And the list could go on FOREVER.
You don’t end up using all the dough this recipe makes, but don’t throw it out! The leftover dough will be a bit dry, so you can form it into a ball and either place it in a sealed container in the fridge for the next day or knead in 1 Tbs water to refresh the dough right then. Let it rest, roll it out and make empanadas, calzones or hand pies (whatever term you’re used to!!) using one of filling the ideas above. Depending on the filling, you may opt for an egg wash. Bake at 350 for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.
- 5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 700 grams
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 cups water, room temperature 475 ml
- 1/4 cup sunflower oil 60 ml
- 2 pounds dry cottage cheese curd, see note 1 kg
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 6 eggs
Add the flour and salt to a 12” (30 cm) bowl. Slowly add the water into the flour stirring with your hand after each addition. Knead until the dough forms a uniform consistency. The bowl should be clean and your hand free of sticky dough. Change your kneading process by firmly pressing your fists into the dough for about 5 minutes, turning and folding occasionally. Cut the dough into 5 pieces, one slightly bigger than the others. Make note of the largest one. Form each piece into a smooth ball, place on a floured surface, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes.
Oil 4 round 12” (30 cm) pie pans all the way up the edges and set aside. (I only have two 8" and two 9", so that's what I used.)
Pulse the dry cottage cheese curd in a food processor 7 or 8 times or until the cheese starts to stick together to form a paste. Crack the eggs in a small bowl. Add the eggs and salt to the cheese and mix very well with your hand until all the ingredients are incorporated. The mixture should not be runny. If you plan to add any other ingredients to your filing, prepare them all now, and keep in mind that the filing should not contain a lot of liquid.
Flour your work surface and roll out one small ball of dough in a circle about 12” (30 cm) across. Lay aside on a floured towel, covered, to rest 10 more minutes. Repeat for all the balls, rolling the biggest last.
Place your four round pans in a square on your clean work surface. Have a small bowl of oil and your pastry brush on hand.
Pick up the first dough you rolled, and hold it with both hands on the edge, letting the weight of the dough stretch the edge. Move quickly pulling gently with your your fingers as you rotate the circle. When you have completed the circle the edges will be frilly. Now you can stretch the rest of the dough starting in the center and pulling outward. Rotate the dough to pull in different directions. You want to stretch it very then - like paper. Place the dough over the top of all four of the pie pans, stretching the dough to cover the edges. With the back of your hands press the dough down into the bottom of each pan. Do not worry about small holes in the dough. Bigger holes (more than 5 inchecan be patched using the extra dough hanging between the pie pans. Oil the dough (on the bottom of the pan and the sidewith a pastry brush. Repeat with the second dough circle. Stick it to the first layer by gently patting it down. Oil again. Repeat the process for the third dough, but only oil the perimeter of the pie pans.
Arrange the oven racks to the 2nd and 4th notches. Preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C).
Divide the cheese mixture into 4 equal parts and spoon into the center of each pan. With the back of the spoon gently spread the mixture to the edges of the pan and bring the filling up halfway.
Be careful to not tear holes into the last two circles. Place the 4th stretched dough circle onto the pans, and press it down gently with the back of your hands into the filling. Apply oil, patch where necessary, and repeat for the last and largest dough circle (don’t forget to oil). Cut or tear the pie pans apart, and gently cut the dough in each pan like a pie - 4 or 6 pieces total. Using a butterknife, scrape across the top inner edge of the pans. Set the extra dough aside.
Add all four pies to the oven - two on top and two on bottom - and bake for 15 minutes. Rotate and bake another 15 minutes or until the tops are browned and hard to the touch. Cool 5 minutes and serve warm.
Pulse the dry cheese curd in a food processor until it starts to stick together to form a paste. If you can’t find dry cheese curd you can always make it. Just buy cottage cheese, rinse it well to remove the extra cream, let it drain a few hours, and then lay it out to dry a few more.