What happened was I read about cabbage strudel (did ever those two words have better partners?) almost four years ago and dutifully clipped the recipe (actually, by then I think I bookmarked it) and then schlepped that bookmark around with me from New York to Berlin, from one computer to another, until finally - finally! - last week, I found myself with a small head of cabbage and a package of phyllo dough and time - PRECIOUS, PRECIOUS TIME - to make it.
But when I got into the kitchen and reread the recipe for the last time before getting started, I got a little skeered about the amount of butter called for. I mean, did the strudel really need two whole sticks of butter? As much as I like to follow recipes faithfully, I just couldn't bring myself to use that much butter. It surely wouldn't make that much of a difference if I reduced a bit here and there, I told myself. Back me up, dear readers - wouldn't you have done the same thing? Gulp.
The recipe comes from a little shop in Forest Hills, Queens that sells only strudel. (I am chagrined to admit that in all the years I lived in Forest Hills, I never made it to André's.) Their cabbage strudel recipe is a study in simplicity - baked, shredded cabbage flavored with salt and pepper, then wrapped in buttered strudel leaves and baked. That's it. No extraneous herbs or spices, no special sauces. As the owner says, in this recipe "butter rules."
Ahem. Right. So let me admit right here and now that, yes, in this recipe, butter indeed does rule. I halved the amount that went into the cabbage and probably quartered the amount that went onto the phyllo leaves and while my strudel looked lovely and crisp and burnished and also smelled very good indeed, it needed a serious puddle of Sriracha to liven things up.
But every now and then, especially when I bit into the delectably crisp bottom layer of phyllo, where all the butter had pooled before baking, I got a fleeting taste of what this strudel would have tasted like had I been a dutiful cook and followed the recipe. It would have tasted pretty darn great.
So. Be ye not so frugal! You only live once! Don't let the amount of butter make you blanch. (But if it does, Sriracha helps. A lot.)
Update! The incomparable Nora Ephron on this very cabbage strudel. Perfection. The end.
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, more for greasing pan
1 very small head cabbage or half a medium cabbage (about 1 pound), cored and shredded
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
10 sheets phyllo dough, defrosted
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a large baking pan and spread cabbage evenly in pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cut up 4 ounces (1 stick) butter into small pieces, and sprinkle over cabbage. Cover with foil, sealing edges. Bake until tender and golden, 45 minutes to 60 minutes, occasionally lifting foil and mixing cabbage, then resealing.
2. Remove from heat, uncover and allow to cool to room temperature. (May be stored, covered and refrigerated, for up to 24 hours; use chilled.)
3. Set oven temperature to 400 degrees. In a small saucepan, melt remaining 4 ounces butter. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a work surface with the narrow end closest to you, and top with a sheet of phyllo dough. Brush lengthwise (up and down) with a little butter. Top with another sheet of phyllo, and brush again with butter. Repeat until all 10 sheets are buttered and stacked.
4. Arrange cabbage on top sheet, at end closest to you, in a thick layer 2 inches deep. Spread evenly to side edges. With the help of the parchment paper (and rolling as if for sushi in a bamboo roller), roll phyllo starting at the end with the cabbage. As you work, adjust parchment paper so that phyllo is rolled, enclosing cabbage, without the paper. Brush top of roll with butter, place on baking sheet and bake until golden, about 40 minutes. Serve hot or warm.