During the autumn harvest festival, Succot--which began at sundown Wednesday and lasts for eight days--many Jewish families serve their meals in an outdoor hut, called succah. Tradition has it that the children of Israel lived in these huts on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. The roof of the succah is covered with palm branches, and the inside is decorated with greenery, grapes and baskets of fruit.
One of the traditional foods served on the holiday is strudel, a many-layered pastry, with a variety of delicious fillings. Usually, strudel takes a long time to make. But I've been experimenting with prepared filo pastry, made from flour, cornstarch and water. A famous pastry chef once told me that ready-made filo is his favorite baking shortcut.
The classic Cabbage Strudel is easy to make and tasty. And it's versatile--it may be served as an appetizer, first course or main dish.
The Three-Cheese Filo Appetizers are inspired by a family recipe given to me by an Israeli friend. Make them in advance, store in the refrigerator and bake just before serving.
The lemon-filled pastries are a perfect Succot dessert. Thin, crisp individual filo pastries are filled with a rich lemon mixture, similar to the English lemon curd.
Once you've successfully experimented with store-bought filo pastry, you'll want to use it for more occasions than holiday baking.
Here are some tips on using filo pastry.
--If using store-bought frozen filo, be sure it's completely thawed before using; otherwise the layers will stick together.
--For a low-calorie filo dessert, use very little melted butter. Spread on pastry lightly with a pastry brush.
--Once buttered, filled and ready to bake, filo may be covered with plastic wrap and stored for several days in the refrigerator.
--Filo should be baked in a very hot oven at 400 to 425 degrees so that it puffs up nicely.
--Unused filo should be covered with a towel during preparation, to keep moist.
--Brushing filo with butter removes the thin layer of powdery flour covering each sheet of filo, which can make the pastry starchy.
--For brushing the filo, non-dairy margarine may be substituted for butter.
THREE-CHEESE FILO APPETIZERS
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
Freshly ground pepper
20 (8-inch square) sheets filo
1/4 pound unsalted butter, melted
1 cup shredded Jack cheese
Blend eggs, Parmesan and ricotta cheeses and mint in bowl. Season to taste with pepper. Set aside.
Place 1 sheet filo on counterboard. Brush lightly with some melted butter. Top with another filo sheet, leaving first sheet exposed about 1 inch. Lightly brush with more melted butter. Place long wooden dowel (or 10-inch knitting needle) 3 inches from edge of filo and fold filo over. Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons cheese mixture alongside filo-covered dowel. Loosely roll up filo around dowel, enclosing cheese filling to within 1 inch of edge. (1-inch edge becomes base of pastry.)
Gently push pastry inward along dowel from each end, creating crinkled effect. Gently pull out dowel. Bring ends of pastry together, forming circular "nest" or shallow tart. Pinch to seal.
Place on baking sheet and brush with butter. Repeat with remaining filo and cheese filling. Bake at 350 degrees 15 minutes. Fill centers of "nests" with Jack cheese and bake 3 to 5 minutes or until cheese melts. Serve hot. Makes 10 appetizers.
(From "The Gourmet Jewish Cook" by Judy Zeidler)
8 sheets filo dough
1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
Sour Cream Dill Sauce
Sprigs fresh dill
Place 4 sheets filo on sheet wax paper. (Keep remaining sheets covered with wax paper and damp towel to prevent drying.)
Fold filo in half like closed book and unfold 1 page. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle lightly with bread crumbs. Continue turning filo pages, brushing with butter and crumbs until center is reached. Do not brush butter in center. Close second half of book over first half. Working backwards, open last leaf and continue spreading butter and crumbs until center is reached. Brush center with butter and sprinkle with bread crumbs.
Depending on desired thickness of strudel, spoon half of Cabbage Filling in row along bottom edge of filo, leaving 2 inches border along bottom and at sides. Flip bottom border over filling and fold sides over. Brush sides with melted butter and continue rolling filo away from you, jellyroll fashion, ending with seam side down.
Cover baking sheet with foil. Brush foil with butter. With help of wax paper, carefully transfer strudel onto foil, seam side down. Brush surfaces with butter.
Repeat with remaining filo and filling. Bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes or until golden brown. Slice immediately and serve hot with Sour Cream Dill Sauce and garnish with dill sprigs. Makes about 2 strudels.
1/2 cup unsalted butter or margarine
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons paprika
3 cups finely chopped onions