When eaten in a cafe or restaurant, freshly made strudel can be one of the best pastries imaginable – sweet or savory. When taken home from a bakery, it often becomes disappointing because its crisp exterior has softened, and, paradoxically, toughened as well.
I don’t find reheating it altogether satisfactory. Clearly, the solution is to make your own, but that is no picnic for someone who doesn’t do it regularly: getting the consistency of the dough just right; clearing the dining room table; finding a clean tablecloth (perhaps the hardest part); stretching the dough tissue-thin without tearing it. Oof. That’s not for me.
Phyllo or strudel dough from the freezer case works well, of course; here’s another approach, albeit one that yields a rather different — yet delicious and interesting — result with savory fillings.
Some time ago, I saw a video or read a newspaper story about a pastry chef in Germany who makes strudel using egg pasta dough. I don’t remember whether this was an old family tradition or local quirk or whether he invented it, and for the life of me I cannot track down the source. Either way, it sounded great: Rolling out pasta dough on a hand-cranked machine is something my wife, Jackie, and I do all the time, and as it happens we love that kind of dough when it has crisped in the oven (think of the edges of the lasagna). Plus, it’s easy to handle.
I’d been meaning to try this, and the stars were finally aligned: We were leaving for a trip and needed to cull the inventory of the fridge. Part of this was a big bunch of Tuscan kale (cavolo nero) which I slivered then cooked with an onion, a little garlic, thyme and olive oil. There was a little bit of ricotta salata cheese, which I coarsely grated and added to two cups of the kale once it had cooled. There were eggs, too, and flavorful tomato sauce from this year’s excellent farmers market crop. A couple of the eggs went into a basic pasta dough; no salt, no oil in the mix. While that was resting, I toasted a big handful of fresh bread crumbs in a skillet just slicked with olive oil, stirring frequently to keep them from burning.
I set the oven to just shy of 400 degrees, then proceeded to roll the pasta into four sheets about 13 or 14 inches long, getting the pasta machine’s rollers down to their finest setting and giving each piece an extra pass through the final setting, stretching it gently as it emerged. This ensured the thinnest possible dough. I brushed each piece with olive oil, sprinkled it with the toasted bread crumbs, spooned a quarter of the kale mixture onto one end, and rolled it up into a mini-strudel. I laid these on a baking sheet, brushed them with oil and sprinkled them with salt, pepper and thyme leaves. They baked for about 25 minutes, but don’t worry too much about the timing: Start checking after 15 minutes and remove them when the dough is toasty and crisp. (Tap it to check.) In fact, remove them five minutes after they seem to be ready, to minimize the risk of internal sogginess.
As the strudels cook, heat tomato sauce and taste it for seasoning. To serve, spoon the sauce onto each plate and set two strudels atop the sauce (one for a first course).
There’s no mistaking this for traditional strudel. Pasta dough bakes to what I might call a dull but enduring crispness as distinct from the sharp, shattering (though all-too short-lived) crispness of strudel dough. But oven-browned pasta has great flavor and is an excellent match for a salty filling such as leafy greens with ricotta salata. And, even with moderate moisture of the kale and the ample moisture of the tomato sauce, the pasta strudel never got soggy — at least not in the few minutes it took us to finish.
Schneider’s Cooking Off the Column blogposts appear Fridays in All We Can Eat. Follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/TimetoCook.