Roasted Vegetable Strudel
Today I ate a doughnut. I feel compelled to tell you that. It was a French crueller (weakness), my first doughnut in I don’t even know how long, and it was delicious. I know, who cares, right? But do you remember when you were a child and you broke that really nice vase/plate/window? Do you also remember how you spent the next 45 minutes, which was tantamount to an eternity, trying to figure out how to hide the evidence or pretend that it wasn’t your fault and practice telling a story of how really it was that horrible boy Joel – likely a psychopath, at such a young age – from down the street who did it, and you tried to warn him away but he practically threatened you with a pitchfork and people MUST believe you……but then you got home. You looked at your parents and said, “I broke your vase/plate/window and I’m really sorry, it was just awful and I didn’t mean to and I’m sorry!”
I ate the doughnut. Except, look, it was really good and it could totally happen again at some point in the future. I just…I just had to get that off my chest before I can talk about anything else.
Mike and I were booked in to go to a friend’s house for a dinner soirée on Saturday night. A few weeks ago she came to me in a panic saying, “There’s going to be a VEGETARIAN! A VEGETARIAN, at my HOUSE! FOR DINNER!!! Oh NOOOOOOO!!!” Give the girl a break though, because she’s a great cook, she just needed some inspiration. I suggested some easy options for her, like a moussaka, vegetable and white bean gratin, roasted vegetable strudel — she stopped me at that one. And made me explain it in great detail. And draw a picture. She still looked skeptical, but I knew that it was death or taxes that she’d come up with something fabulous regardless.
Fast forward to a week before the party, when I asked her what I could bring. Her answer? “That thing. That thing you said, with the vegetables. Yeah, the pastry diddy with the cheese and stuff.” So….vegetable strudel it is!
You know what else? Crikey, I can’t let this go. I don’t even LIKE doughnuts. This wasn’t my first doughnut in a dog’s age because I’ve been abstaining or showing will power (ha!), but rather because doughnuts taste fat, fake and doughy going down, and then I’m left with bloated greasy-sugar-gut for the rest of the day. I don’t know why I did it, to be honest. Well, other than the obvious reason, which is that someone left a doughnut on my desk. A French crueller, to be specific. I could hardly turn down a mystery gift of baked goods, right? What if it was from a smitten co-worker who secretly has a crush on me and s/he’s was hiding around the corner waiting to see me devour this doughnut with relish because they know that’s the closest chance of happiness that we might ever share together? WHO WOULD I BE to crush his or her dreams just because I was too proud to accept a doughnut from my mysterious paramour?
(Yes, I know. The doughnut was actually leftover from a meeting and it just happens that my desk is halfway between the boardroom and the coffee machine, but I like my explanation much better.)
Roasted Vegetable Strudel
1 streudel serves 4-6 as an entree with salad
- 1/2 lb chilled puff pastry (1 portion) *
- 1 large Italian eggplant (~ 1 lb)
- 2 medium zucchini (~ 1 lb)
- 1 sweet red pepper
- 1 sweet yellow pepper
- 1 bulb garlic
- 1 tbsp Dijon or grainy mustard
- 1.5 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tbsp oil packed sundried tomato, chopped (about 2 large tomato halves)
- 1/2 lb shredded mozzarella (250g or 1 heaping cup)**
- salt and pepper to taste
* When you buy puff pastry from the freezer section, let it thaw overnight in the fridge.
** You COULD use a delightful water packed fresh buffalo mozzarella, but…I don’t. I like ‘pizza cheese’ for this dish, because it tends to be salted and more full flavored as well as having wicked melting proclivities.
Preheat your oven to 400ºF with your racks set roughly in the center.
Shave the top off of your head of garlic, just enough to expose the cloves, and drizzle the bulb with a wee splash of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. Wrap it up tightly in tin foil and tuck your parcel in the oven for about 40-45 minutes or until it feels soft when you gently squeeze the foil.
As soon as the garlic is in the oven, get started on your vegetables. You may have to do this in batches, depending on the size of your oven.
Cut the top and bottom off of your eggplant and slice it lengthwise into slabs about 1/4 – 1/3″ thick, trying to make them as uniform as possible. Sprinkle the slices with salt and leave them on a rack while you prepare the other ingredients. The salt will encourage some of the moisture to leech out of the eggplant, as well as tempering the bitterness from those seeds. If you can let the eggplant sit for 1/2 hour, that’s perfect. If not, 15-20 minutes will do the better part of this job.
Cut the tops and bottoms off from your zucchini and slice them across on an angle into ovals about 1/4″ thick. Brush the slices on both sides with olive oil, season lightly with salt and pepper, and lay them in a single layer on 1 or more baking sheets. Roast the zucchini for about 20 minutes or until they’re tender and soft but not mushy.
Slice the peppers in half and remove the stems, seeds and ribs. Place the peppers cut side up onto a baking sheet (ungreased is fine). Tuck these in the oven while you prep the eggplant, which will take about 5 minutes.
Pat the slices of eggplant dry with paper towel and brush both sides liberally with olive oil. Eggplant is like a sponge when it comes to liquids or oils, so be thorough so that no spot has been missed. Roast the peppers and eggplant for about 25 minutes, or until the skins of the peppers are blistered and blackened and the eggplant is soft and golden.
Let all of the roasted vegetables cool until they’re almost at room temperature. You can turn the oven off at this point, as long as you know it’s going back on in about 3o minutes to cook the strudel. In the mean time, when the peppers are cool enough to handle you can peel off the skin and slice them into 1/2″ strips.
Yup, you still probably have some cooling time to get through, so make a roasted garlic spread for the dough. Squeeze every last ounce of deliciously sweet, golden, roasted garlic out of the husky peel which you can discard. Add the mustard and herbs, and mash together with a the back of a spoon until it’s an even paste. Season gently with salt and pepper.
Because I’m particularly lazy, I like to buy the puff pastry that’s already rolled out and just thin it down a bit more with my rolling pin. The added bonus to buying puff pastry in this format is that the roll of dough comes wrapped in a sheet of parchment, which makes transferring the strudel to your baking sheet significantly easier.
Roll the puff pastry out on a sheet of parchment paper, or a lightly floured surface, until it is 9×13″ and a generous 1/8″ thick. Spread the herbed garlic mash evenly overtop in a thin layer.
Eyeball your puff pastry and imagine it being measured out lengthwise into thirds. Cut the dough horizontally at a 45º angle but only one third of the way, and repeat at 1″ intervals. Turn the dough around and repeat the process on the other side, angling your cuts in the opposite direction. The center third of the dough should be uncut, and the strips of dough on the outside should point towards the center in a ‘V’ shape. Do you wee those stumpy little triangles of dough on the far corners where the cuts don’t come into the middle? Slice all of the way through those, because they have another purpose…..
Lay the eggplant down on the dough and sprinkle with 1/2 of the sundried tomatoes. You can cut the tomatoes into small chunks or thin strips according to your preference. I left them whole because I’ve got a stash of sundried cherry tomatoes that I pillaged from my parent’s house a few weeks ago. The cherry tomatoes may LOOK big, but they’re remarkably thin so you won’t get an overwhelming bite of über-sweet and leathery tomato when you’re not expecting it.
Pile the zucchini on top of the eggplant, trying to keep the mound within your ‘center third’ area. Intersperse the remaining sundried tomatoes.
Finally, lay the strips of pepper across the heap-o-veg and sprinkle with the shredded mozzarella cheese.
Now comes the fun part! Do you remember those orphaned triangles of dough on the corners? Place 1 at each end of your dough rectangle, tucking it slightly underneath and pressing gently to make it stick. Starting at the end pull the first piece of dough from your left in towards the center but still on that 45º angle. Pull the first piece of dough from the right in , overlapping the left. Tug up on that stumpy little triangle of an end piece, and stick it to the others so you have a little trinity of pastry dough at the end of your roll.
Repeat bringing the dough around the roll and over, creating a lattice pattern as you go.
The end result should be a log shaped roll of lovely overlapping strips of puff pastry around your cheese topped vegetable interior.
Bring the oven temperature back up to 400ºF.
CAREFULLY transfer the uncooked strudel onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You see, this is where rolling out the dough ON parchment comes in handy. That way, you can just lift the paper on both sides and carry it apron-style. If you had to roll the dough out on a floured surface, line the sheet with parchment so it’s ready to receive your wondrous baking treats, and then use 4 hands (find a friend. A gentle friend with a steady hand, preferably) to lift it onto the sheet. I won’t lie to you; this isn’t easy, so just do your best.
Bake your strudel for 20-25 minutes or until the puff pastry has puffed into a lovely golden brown crust.
You can serve the strudel immediately when it’s soft and the cheese is delectably gooey, or you can let it cool to eat at room temperature.
If you opt to let the strudel cool, use 2 large spatulas to carefully lift the pastry off of the baking sheet and onto a cooling rack. The roasted vegetables will release a bit more juice as they cook, and although some of that will have leaked out during the cooking process you don’t want to encourage a soggy crust by letting your pastry stew away in those savory juices for longer than necessary.
This is a great hearty appetizer with a peppery glass of red wine, but it also makes a simple vegetarian entree if you serve slices of the strudel with green salad or a light soup.
Mike The Meat Eater gave this meal three grunts of pleasure, which I took to mean, “I’d rather be eating hot dogs, but this is pretty good too…”