Strudel is an easy and accommodating sort of pastry. If you start with premade phyllo dough and use ricotta as a foundation for your filling, a strudel can be adapted to all kinds of flavor experiments.
For example, last weekend I needed a vegetarian dish to round out a meal. I had some garlic that needed to be used up, so I roasted it and mashed it to a paste with roasted acorn squash. With a little ricotta this made a delicious filling inside the crisp, flaky strudel. There was the sweet, pungent taste of garlic, and the earthy flavors of squash and sage, with a little crunch from toasted pinenuts.
This can serve as a main dish, or a side dish. It's good re-crisped for breakfast or lunch, too. I mainly like the contrast in textures and tastes: soft, creamy filling and light, crispy pastry layers.
Pulling together the various components of this strudel does take a little time, but it's mostly hands-off. If you bake the squash in the oven instead of the microwave, just put both the squash and the garlic, wrapped in foil and drizzled with olive oil, in a 350°F oven for about an hour.
Acorn Squash and Roasted Garlic Strudel
makes 3 strudels, or 18-24 slices
1 head garlic, roasted
2 small acorn squash
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup fresh sage leaves, chopped
1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1/3 cup pinenuts, toasted
1/2 package (about 30 sheets) of frozen phyllo dough, defrosted
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
Split the acorn squash in half, scoop out the strings and seeds, and put the halves in a glass baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and a little salt and pepper, then either bake in a 350°F oven for about 50 minutes, or in a microwave for about 20 minutes, until the flesh is very soft and can be removed from the skin with a fork.
Scrape the acorn squash out of its skin and mash very well with a fork. Squeeze the garlic out of out of the cloves and mash with a fork. Put the garlic in a large frying pan over medium heat and add the sage leaves. Fry until fragrant, then add the acorn squash and cook until squash is warmed through. Set aside until slightly cooled.
In a large bowl, combine the cooked squash and garlic with the nutmeg, ricotta, and pinenuts. Stir well and taste. Add more salt and pepper if it needs it.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Melt the butter in a small bowl and add the olive oil. On a large piece of wax paper, lay out your first sheet of phyllo dough. Brush it with the butter, then stack another sheet on top. Repeat until you have about 10 layers. (You can use less than this; I just like to make mine a little thicker.) Spread about a third of the squash mixture over the sheet of phyllo, leaving an inch of room at the edges, then roll up from the long side, tucking the ends in. Pick up the wax paper and carefully roll the strudel off the paper and on to a large baking sheet.
Repeat to make two more strudels. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until they are golden and crispy. Cut into slice and serve right away. Or, if these have to wait a little, you can recrisp them in the oven at 400°F.
(Image: Faith Durand)