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Eric Akis: Savoury strudel can be star of show

It’s handy to have recipes that can serve two purposes. Today’s spinach and three-cheese phyllo strudel is an example.

It’s handy to have recipes that can serve two purposes. Today’s spinach and three-cheese phyllo strudel is an example. If you need a side dish for such things as lamb, kebabs, chicken or salmon, a slice of this strudel is a tasty and complementary option.

On the other hand, if you need a meat-free dish for lunch or dinner, the strudel could be the entrée — just plate and serve two slices of strudel per person with a side dish, perhaps a Greek salad or tomato salad.

You make this savoury strudel by buttering and layering six sheets of phyllo pastry. The pastry is then filled and rolled with a spinach mixture rich with feta, cottage and Parmesan cheeses, eggs, dill and other flavour-enhancing ingredients.

The strudel is baked until golden and the filling is cooked. After it rests a short while, the strudel can be sliced and served warm. It could also be served at room temperature.

Phyllo is thin Greek-style pastry sold in boxes in the freezer section of grocery stores. The best way to thaw it is to set the unopened box of pastry in the refrigerator the day before you need it. It will slowly and evenly thaw and be ready to use the next day.

You will have sheets of phyllo left over after using what you need for the strudel, and you can save them for another use in two ways.

One is to package up the sheets in amounts you think you’ll use the next time, and refreeze them. If they are tightly sealed, they’ll keep a month or two, and be ready to thaw and use when needed.

Another option is to fold up the unused sheets carefully, slip them back into the plastic bag they came in, tightly seal the bag and store them in the refrigerator. They will keep there up to two weeks, at the ready to use in another recipe.

Spinach and Three-Cheese Phyllo Strudel

Flaky, buttery, layered sheets of phyllo, rolled and filled with a tasty spinach mixture, topped with sesame seeds and baked until golden. Slice and serve the strudel as a side dish for such things as lamb, chicken or salmon. Or slice, plate and serve two pieces of the strudel as a main dish with a side salad.

Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Makes: four (main-course) or eight (side dish) servings

1 (10 oz./284 gram) tub baby spinach

200 grams well-drained feta cheese, crumbled

1/2 cup (2 per cent) cottage cheese

2 large eggs, beaten

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 to 3 Tbsp chopped fresh dill

2 large garlic cloves, minced

• pinch ground nutmeg

• freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 to 1/3 cup butter, melted

6 thawed sheets phyllo pastry

2 tsp sesame seeds

• store-bought or homemade tzatziki sauce, to taste (optional)

Bring a large pot with a 1/2-inch of water in it to boil. Add spinach and cook and stir until it just wilts. Spoon spinach into a colander and let cool and drain 25 to 30 minutes — until spinach is cool enough to handle, but still a little warm.

When spinach has cooled, use your hands to very firmly press on it and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. (This is an important step. If the spinach is overly wet, some of the filling may weep and seep from the pastry when baked.)

Set spinach on a cutting board, coarsely chop and set in a bowl. Add feta, cottage cheese, eggs, Parmesan, dill, garlic, nutmeg and pepper. Thoroughly mix to ensure the chopped spinach is very well distributed throughout the mixture (see Eric’s options).

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Set a sheet of phyllo pastry horizontally in front of you on a work surface. Brush the phyllo lightly with melted butter. Top with another sheet of phyllo and brush it with butter. Repeat process until all the sheets are used.

Spoon the spinach mixture on the layered phyllo sheets about one inch up from the edge closest to you. Set it on the phyllo in a long, about three-inch-wide rectangle, leaving about two-inches of clean pastry on either end.

Fold the sides of the pastry partially over the filling. Now carefully fold and roll filling into the pastry.

Transfer strudel to the baking sheet, setting it seam side down. Brush the top and sides of the strudel with melted butter.

With a sharp serrated knife, make eight very shallow cuts about two inches apart into the top of the pastry to make the strudel easier to cut when baked. Sprinkle strudel with sesame seeds.

Bake strudel 35 minutes, or until deep golden and the filling is cooked. Let strudel rest for 10 minutes, before using a serrated knife to cut into slices. Strudel could also be served at room temperature. Serve slices of the strudel with tzatziki sauce, if desired.

Eric’s options: The filling for the strudel can be made a few hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate until ready to make the strudel.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.