My husband grew up in a wonderful family with a rich Mennonite heritage. Not a horse and buggy heritage, but a generational legacy of faith, farming, hard work, and German cultural traditions.
From those traditions – good, old fashion comfort food is born.
At Christmastime a few years ago, my mother-in-law gave me a copy of “Mennonite Girls Can Cook”. She made notes and highlighted recipes that were well-loved and well-used by both sides of my husband’s family. It is a treasure!
Verenika is a traditional Mennonite dish that my husband’s family serves at holidays and special occasions. And it is one of my absolute favorites!! It consists of a dumpling-type “ravioli” made from a sour cream dough, filled with a tangy cheese mixture, boiled, fried in butter, and smothered with a ham and caramelized onion gravy. Most often served with flavorful German sausage that has also been fried or baked.
I know. It’s a very heavy meal that was most likely created for farmers working long days work in the fields, not meant to be consumed regularly around the modern day dinner table – unless you want to get to know your cardiologist really well. But for special occasions, it is SO good and satisfying when shared with family and loved ones around a celebratory table.
Another thing that I love about Verenika is that it’s intended to be a community meal. It is very labor intensive to make from scratch. And so, similar to how tamales are prepared in Hispanic communities, women of all ages gather in Mennonite church kitchens, working together to assemble large quantities of this dish to serve as church-family meal.
Early in our marriage, my mother-in-law gave me a recipe card that was written by her mom, passing down a recipe from her Great Aunt Bertha for “Verenika Casserole”. This version is much more suitable for a weeknight meal. It is easy to prepare, yet wonderfully mimics the flavors of the authentic dish.
But the best part of my recipe is that my husband’s grandma, who passed away many years ago, wrote “Yumma Hubba!” at the end of the card. Makes me smile and think of her joyful nature every time I’m use it.
- 1 lb package of bow-tie pasta
- 4 slices of thick sliced bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 large onion, diced
- 16oz low fat cottage cheese
- 16 oz low fat sour cream
- 2 Cups diced ham (leftover holiday ham is the best, but a diced ham steak works too.)
- Freshly ground salt and pepper
- Boil pasta until al dente.
- While noodles are cooking, cook bacon is a heavy skillet until fat is rendered. Add diced onions and continue cooking until both are nicely browned.
- Drain pasta, and pour into a large bowl. Add bacon & onion mixture, cottage cheese, sour cream, ham, and mix well.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour into a butter 9 X 13 casserole dish.
- Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until bubbly and slightly golden.