Alright, poppets, this one has to be quick. In one hour and 35 minutes, I am leaving the house to get on a bus to drive through the night from Berlin all the way down to Austria, where I will be skiing for the next 8 days. Ooh! The last time I did this was in the 8th grade. I remember that drive as a long night filled with classmates taking turns on some lucky kid's brand-new Game Boy and a lot of dirty, well, for 14-year-olds at least, jokes. This time, instead of the Game Boy, we've got an iPod, a couple of books and maybe even a few better jokes than last time up someone's sleeve. Honestly, I just can't wait.
While I'm gone, eating more ham sandwiches than I care to count, I leave you with a true Austrian gem in the spirit of my vacation, if you will. Potato strudel, which is sort of like the most delicious, most elegant potato knish you'll ever eat, only studded with bacon. It's tasty. And you don't need German strudel dough to do this, you can use plain old phyllo (or filo) instead.
Let's get started, shall we? My long underwear won't pack itself. Pardon the iPhone photos, I know they are hideous, but the night I made this, my camera battery died and this was all I had.
First you boil a whole mess of peeled, cubed potatoes. They will take far less time or elbow grease to prepare than you think. In the time it takes to boil a pot of salted water, basically, you should be able to take care of those babies. Add some caraway to the cooking water. It imbues the potatoes with wonderful flavor and some even make it into the strudel later. By the way, in case you didn't know, potatoes and caraway? Soulmates, star-crossed lovers, meant to be.
You mash those potatoes with Quark and a good amount of salt and pepper. In New York, I know, you can find Quark at the farmer's market and at Whole Foods and Fairway. It's a fresh German cheese. You can substitute fromage frais, if that is easier to find. The recipe I used has you thrown in minced mint, too, which sounds lovely. I didn't have any, so I left it out and no one missed a thing. Do as you like.
Next up is the bacon. Here at the grocery store, you can find ready-cubed bits of bacon just as you can in France. When I went grocery shopping, the store was all out of the regular stuff and only had "diet" cubed bacon left. One cold look at the package and I realized it was just regular cubed bacon, with all the fat cut off. Uh. Thank you for doing my work for me? (Incidentally, the brand-name of this bacon was Abraham, I kid you not.) So. Anyway. Bacon. Fry up a bunch of it, cubed, until the fat renders or, if you're using the superlean kind, sauté it in some olive oil. Then add sliced leeks and minced onions and cook until everything is wilted and glossy and fragrant, about 7 to 10 minutes.
Go back to the mashed potatoes and mix in an egg and then the leek mixture. Ooh, it will be hard not to stick your finger into those potatoes and have a taste! Oh, go on. Have a taste. Lovely. Make sure there is enough salt and pepper and set aside.
On a damp towel, spread out the strudel or phyllo dough that you've layered and brushed with butter (don't worry, I've written it all out below). Pile on the mashed potatoes, but don't overdo it. My split strudel is not very Austrian. They are far more restrained, I hear.
Using the towel, instead of pulling on that oh-so-delicate baby's bottom strudel dough, gently roll the strudel over itself, making one big long log. Gently glue the ends to the side of the strudel, making a nice neat package.
You brush this thing with egg yolk to make it all shiny and burnished later and bake it in a hot oven until it smells irresistible and is crackling with excitement. We ate great big slices of it next to green salad dressed with pumpkinseed oil. It doesn't keep particularly well, so try to come hungry, will you? Everyone takes two helpings, no discussion.
The outside casing is thin and crispy and sort of shatters under your fork, while the filling is fluffy and yielding and creamy and wonderful, the Quark and leeks and bacon and caraway combining to glorious effect. This food is fancy and peasant at the same time, easy enough for a weeknight (I swear), yet impressive enough for dinner with your mother-in-law.
Alright, I think that's it. I have to go: less than an hour and still no packed suitcase, eep. Have a lovely week, you all. Enjoy your strudels! Stay warm!
Austrian Potato Strudel
1 lb (500 grams) floury potatoes, like Russet, peeled and cubed
1 teaspoon caraway seed
1 cup (250 grams) Quark
2 teaspoons fresh mint, minced (optional)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or oil
3.5 ounces (100 grams) lean bacon, diced
1 leek, thinly sliced
1 onion, diced
1 large egg and 1 egg yolk
2 sheets of prepared strudel dough or phyllo dough (do not use puff pastry dough)
1. Preheat your oven to 390 degrees F or 200 degrees C. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Throw in the cubed potatoes and the caraway and cook until tender, about 10 or 15 minutes. Drain and put the cubed potatoes back in the pot. Some caraway will have gone out with the water, but some will still be stuck to the potatoes. Mash loosely with a fork. Mix in the Quark until well combined, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix the minced mint into the potatoes. Set aside.
2. Heat a tablespoon of butter or oil in a skillet and add the bacon. If using regular bacon, you can simply render its fat in the skillet without using any additional fat. Add the leek and onion and sauté, stirring, until glossy and wilted, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat.
3. Mix the egg into the potatoes and then the bacon-leek mixture. Combine well.
4. Unfold one dough sheet on a damp towel. Brush with some of the remaining melted butter. Unfold the second sheet over the first and, again, brush with the rest of the melted butter. Spread the potatoes over the second sheet evenly, leaving room at the edge of the dough. Do not overfill - leftover mashed potatoes are delicious if fried into croquettes the next day.
5. Using the damp towel to assist you, gently lift one edge of the strudel and begin rolling it over the filling. "Glue" the edges to the side of the roll and arrange the strudel, seam-side down, on a baking sheet fitted with parchment paper. Beat the egg yolk and brush the strudel thoroughly with the egg yolk.
6. Bake the strudel for 30 minutes, until the strudel pastry is shiny, golden brown and crackling. Remove from the oven, setting the pan on a cooling rack. Slice into thick pieces and serve immediately, with a green salad.