I bet not many of you know about this dish. And that is why I will do my best to present it well. So, this is a strudel… kind of. I have yet to reach a special level of awesomeness to be able to make the pastry myself. For now I leave it to my grandmother, and I will gladly continue to cheat with store-bought philo dough. For those of you who don’t use it often, philo dough is a very thinly rolled dough that resembles sheets of paper. It is very delicate and almost see-through. When fresh, the pastry should be dry, as in not tacky, but still pliable and elastic. Make sure to wrap it well if you have some leftover pastry because if it dries out completely, it will crack into a huge unrecognizable mess. Keep it in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
Back to the recipe. So, this is a savoury dish. The filling is based on zucchini and fresh cheese (ricotta or cottage cheese). Then you add some heavy sour cream and eggs, which are a must whenever you are baking with fresh cheese because the eggs act as a binder and keep cheese moist and fresh inside. Season to taste, soak in heavy cream (what, I never said this was a light dish!) and there you go. Very simple, but extremely delicious. You can make the filling as mild or as sharp as you want, by adding some ground black pepper and extra salt. But I must say that I like it more on a plainer side, when natural saltiness of cheese really comes through.
Heavy cream makes a crispy crust while baking and I am telling you, when you hear the sound of fork cracking against the top of freshly baked strudel, you will know you’re in for a treat. It is one of those comfort meals, that will surely warm you up on a cold rainy day. But when it cools down, the strudel changes its character completely – it becomes very light and the heavy cream on top is no longer heavy – it gets creamy and refreshing. You can also see how the texture of the strudel changes while setting – it becomes dense and you can see all the layers of cheese and zucchini intertwined with thin philo dough.
I can’t really say which way I prefer it – hot and crispy from the oven or cold and set from the fridge. Either way, this is a must-make recipe.
preparation time: about 45 minutes
baking time: 50-60 minutes, 180°C (350 F)
baking pan size: 22×30 cm (8,6×12 in)
Ingredients for the filling:
350 g zucchini
450 g fresh cheese (ricotta, cottage cheese…)
2 whole eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
Ingredients for the pastry:
1 package (300 g) of philo pastry
5 g melted butter
150 g heavy sour cream
1. Start by preparing the filling. Peel zucchini and shred them into a large strainer over a sink or a bowl. Sprinkle lightly with salt and let it rest for about half an hour.
Zucchini are full of water and if you put them into the filling as is, they will release the water as they bake and make the strudel soggy. The salt will help them release their liquid sooner so they can be drained before being put into the strudel.
2. If the type of cheese you are using is any like mine, do the same with cheese – put it in a large strainer and let it drain extra liquid. You don’t have to sprinkle it with salt though. If you like, you could let the cheese drain overnight in the fridge, but even a half an hour will do the trick.
3. After zucchini have been draining for at least half an hour, squeeze them tightly between your hands to drain the rest of the liquid. You could do this in a clean kitchen towel, but squeezing them by hand works faster and the result is the same – plain shreddings of zucchini, water-free.
4. In a large bowl mix together drained cheese, zucchini, eggs and seasonings. Adjust the amount of salt to your liking, it will mostly depend on how salty the cheese is. I used about 5 g of salt and a few gratings of black pepper.
5. Melt 5 g of butter. It will be used for brushing philo dough. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350 F.
Butter will make the layers of dough separated and crispier. Otherwise, the layers of philo dough would blend into one thick layer after they soak some of the liquid from the filling during baking.
6. Prepare your working surface, this will require a lot of space. Unroll philo pastry and transfer one sheet to the working surface. Using a pastry brush, cover it lightly with melted butter. Take another sheet of dough and put it over the first sheet. Again, brush with melted butter. Put the third sheet of dough over and smear about a third of the filling all around it. Roll it into a log tightly and transfer to a baking pan. Do not lign the pan with baking paper, grease it with some butter instead.
Philo dough is very delicate and tends to break, so be gentle. If it does break however, don’t worry, just continue rolling and be extra careful when transferring the rolls into the pan.
Repeat the procedure to make two more strudel rolls. Their size depends on the dimensions of your philo dough package, but don’t worry. If your pan is shorter than the roll, just cut the roll to fit the pan and join it with the second roll. Once you cover it with cream, nobody will know.
7. Spread heavy cream over the top of the rolls and bake for about 50 minutes or up to an hour. The strudel should be crispy and golden brown on top. Dig right in, but save some for the fridge as well. Serve with a glass of white wine.