Hello readers! Ready to root me on in a cooking contest? Part of the fun for the upcoming “Eat, Write, Retreat” conference that I will be attending in Philadelphia later this month, is a Culinary Challenge.
When my contest package was delivered, I was thrilled with all of the OXO gadgets that it contained and quite frankly stumped, when I saw that my secret ingredient was …RAISINS! For an original appetizer challenge, good grief, what was I going to come up with?
I had already imagined that I would be preparing an olive tapenade or figs wrapped in a smoky bacon or something with potatoes. Why didn’t I get potatoes? I’ve not been dubbed the “Queen of Carbs” for nothing!
Don’t get me wrong, I love raisins. In my cereal, cookies, rice pudding and even salads they are an integral addition, but an appetizer? Up until that moment, the only appetizer dish with raisins as an ingredient that I have had the pleasure to enjoy, married them with baked brie, pecans and brown sugar. I still make this dish each Christmas, much to my family’s delight. The sole experience I have had with raisins at dinner time, though, was in a regional dish served to us when visiting friends in Sicily. While Concetta (Connie) was in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on our supper, her cousin called to inquire what was being made for the Canadian visitors. When Connie explained, her cousin responded with “What, you are making them eat peasant food?” Connie defended herself by saying: “They requested Sicilian recipes, what was I to do?”
When you hear a recounting of Sicilian history and make note of exactly where the island dwells in the Mediterranean, it is not surprising that there are many Arab influences on the cuisine. I think that both Connie’s recipe and my adaption of it hold true to this notion.
- 1 head of cauliflower, broken into large florets
- ¼ c canola oil
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- ½ t red pepper flakes
- zest and juice of an orange
- 1 T lemon juice
- ½ c golden raisins, plumped in hot water and drained
- ¼ c natural raisins, plumped in hot water and drained
- ⅔ c pine nuts
- freshly ground salt
- freshly ground pepper
- 12 sheets phyllo dough, thawed in refrigerator overnight
- ½ c canola oil
- 1 c dry breadcrumbs
- In a large pot of salted water, par-boil the cauliflower for 5 minutes.
- Drain and let sit in colander for a couple of minutes.
- Place a large skillet on high heat.
- Add the canola, garlic and red pepper flakes.
- Add the drained cauliflower and heat until well browned in spots.
- Don’t be tempted to turn the cauliflower too often.
- Add the orange and lemon juices, orange zest and raisins and then turn off the heat.
- Adjust with salt and pepper.
- On a clean counter, lay out the phyllo dough and cover it with a barely damp tea towel.
- Peel off one sheet and lay it on the counter surface.
- Replace the damp tea towel on the stack of phyllo.
- Brush the sheet with canola oil.
- Lightly sprinkle bread crumbs over oil.
- Continue with another five sheets, brushing each sheet with oil and sprinkling bread crumbs.
- End with a sixth sheet of phyllo.
- Arrange half the cauliflower mixture along the long side of the phyllo about 2 inches from the edge and the bottom and sides of the dough.
- Starting at the edge nearest the filling, carefully begin to roll the phyllo over the filling.
- Poke in the edges of the dough while rolling.
- Continue to roll so the dough completely encases the filling.
- Place the strudel, seam down on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.
- Cut 12 diagonal slits along the top to allow steam to escape and for easy cutting when you serve.
- Brush the top with remaining canola.
- Repeat the procedure with for the second strudel.
- Bake for 40 minutes or until crisp and brown.
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
I didn’t actually know the difference between natural and golden raisins (natural are brown and golden are well, just that) until I was putting together the ingredients for this appetizer. This recipe, along with a healthy dose of your day’s veggies, contains 3 portions of fruit because it takes just 1/4 of a cup to provide a fruit serving. This was new to me too!
My readers know how important family is to me. Many of the farms that produce most of the world’s supply of raisins are century old family farms where raisin knowledge is passed from generation to generation. I would love to wander the rows and rows of grapevines and meet the growers of the San Joaquin Valley in California. San Francisco has long been on our bucket list and is only a three hour drive away. Now, I’m California dreaming……
Kath’s quote: “Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves of bread and two jugs of wine and five sheep already prepared and five measures of roasted grain and a hundred clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs, and loaded them on donkeys.” 1 Samuel 25:18
Love-that is all.