Hearty, savory strudels never go out of fashion
Although sweet strudels are more popular internationally, savory strudels have just as rich a tradition and are every bit as delicious.
FOOD FASHIONS come and go so fast it's hard to keep track. Are cupcakes still on-trend or have we reverted back to their full-sized siblings? Am I supposed to sous-vide or flash-roast my salmon? Will my dinner guests be disappointed if I don't offer micro-distilled liqueurs, home-cured charcuterie and a dusting of fennel pollen on everything?
Thankfully, a few foods never go out of style. For most Americans, it's things like pizza, roast chicken and cheese-laden pasta. In Central Europe, where I live, it's a hearty, savory strudel.
I know what you're thinking. Isn't a savory strudel awfully avant-garde?
Actually, no. Although sweet strudels are more popular internationally, savory strudels have just as rich a tradition and are every bit as delicious.
Invented by the Austrians, who were probably inspired by the Ottomans, strudels are popular from Romania to Lichtenstein. Naturally, favorite fillings vary, but across borders people are just as likely to call a rich vegetable- or meat-filled strudel dinner as they are to end a meal with a sweet one. After all, the only required element in a strudel, namely the delicate pastry that gets brushed with butter and spiraled around the filling (hence the name, meaning whirlpool in German), goes with mushrooms, cabbage and ham just as well as it does with apples, cherries and chocolate.
The one catch is that the pastry, which must be stretched tissue-thin by hand, is notoriously tricky to master. That said, hardly anyone makes it anymore, instead using one of the numerous timesaving alternatives. The most common is store-bought puff pastry, whose flaky, buttery character recalls the original but requires a fraction of the effort.
Some of the best savory strudels come from northeastern Italy, whose penchant for the pastry is a legacy of their former Austro-Hungarian rulers. In this one, sweet butternut squash and caramelized leeks are offset by melting cubes of creamy taleggio cheese. Hot, it's an irresistible vegetarian main course; at room temperature it makes ideal picnic and potluck fare. If you do serve it to an audience, be forewarned: You may well end up inspiring a food trend of your own.
Melissa Kronenthal is a freelance food writer.
Butternut Squash, Leek and Taleggio Strudel
1 medium (approx. 1 ½ pounds) butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3 large leeks, cleaned and chopped
8 ounces taleggio cheese, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 pound all-butter puff pastry, chilled
1 egg, beaten
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Halve the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Rub the cut surfaces with the olive oil and bake, cut sides down, on a parchment-lined baking sheet for about 35 minutes or until soft. Cool. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the leeks until golden, about 15 minutes. Cool.
2. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Peel the cooled squash and mash the flesh in a large bowl. Stir in the leeks, cheese, sage, salt and pepper.
3. On a floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to a 12-by-6-inch rectangle. Spoon the squash mixture across the short side of the pastry, about 1 inch from the edge. Roll the pastry around the filling like a jelly roll, tucking in the ends as you go. Place seam-side down on a baking sheet. Brush the top with the beaten egg. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.