Moosewood’s cheesy broccoli strudel is magic
I was intimidated the first time I sat down to eat at Moosewood. The restaurant, founded in 1973 in Ithaca, N.Y., by a collective of like-minded friends, was one of the country’s first to champion vegetarian and pescatarian dining. I was dabbling in vegetarianism at the time, in 2001, and saw Moosewood as a sort of temple to crunchy granola, with longtime practitioners who knew so much more about food than I did.
Back then I was in college, trying to pick a major and living, with around 18 others, at Triphammer Cooperative, a house on Cornell’s campus. I was in charge of meal planning for the residents, and that job taught me a lot. It was a crash course in vegetarian and vegan nutritional guidelines — the house was strictly vegetarian and included several vegans — but I also learned how to cost individual meals, the variability in people’s cooking styles and the importance of efficiency in the kitchen.
Here’s how it worked: As a condition of living at Triphammer, you had to sign up to cook and clean. Cooking was a group activity — three or four of us tackled each meal, and then another small crew cleaned up afterward. I was responsible for choosing recipes, scaling them up to feed 20 and working with another resident to order the food in bulk from wholesale purveyors.
Fortunately, the kitchen was fairly large, with a commercial-size, two-door fridge, separate freezer, six-burner stove, double sink and industrial dishwasher. My favorite spot in that space was the cookbook cupboard, which was packed with books like “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Moore Lappé, “The Vegetarian Epicure” by Anna Thomas, “Vegetariana: A Rich Harvest of Wit, Lore, & Recipes” by Nava Atlas and “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” by Deborah Madison. Most of the books were falling apart at the binding, but the most-loved cookbook, the one where the cover had fallen entirely off and the pages were full of cook’s notes and food stains? That would be the original 1977 edition of “Moosewood Cookbook” by Mollie Katzen.
Everyone in the house loved cooking from that book. Katzen, a former art student, wrote the whole thing out by hand, including little drawings, calligrams and instructive illustrations that offered step-by-step guidance for more complicated dishes, such as egg rolls, shish-kebabs and savory broccoli-and-cheese strudel. That hand-drawn touch gave the book charm and approachability. There are no full-bleed photographs of carefully styled dishes. Rather than push aspirational perfectionism, the book promoted a fun DIY attitude that, in my experience, encouraged even the most skittish cooks to dive in and get their hands dirty. (Katzen would write a few more Moosewood books before the Moosewood Collective took over and published over a dozen of their own. The original remains one of the best-selling cookbooks of all time.)
We cooked every single recipe from that book. There was vegetable chowder and split pea soup in the winter and chilled cucumber yogurt soup and gazpacho in the spring. Turkish-style stuffed zucchini, cauliflower-cheese pie, lentil-walnut burgers and mushroom moussaka — one of the dishes Moosewood Restaurant made on its opening night — graced Triphammer’s long dining table more than once.
I taught many people how to handle phyllo dough when we got to the section on savory strudels. My favorite was the one filled with broccoli and sharp cheddar cheese. The filling gets bulked up with breadcrumbs, and seasoned with lemon juice and black pepper, before it’s stuffed into buttered phyllo and rolled up like a big burrito. Baked until crisp, sliced and served with a side salad, it makes a meal that reminds me of the magic of Moosewood.
Broccoli Cheese Strudel
Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
A simple, cheesy broccoli mixture fills this crisp strudel. The recipe, adapted from “The Moosewood Cookbook” by Mollie Katzen makes a fine appetizer. To serve it as a main course, pair it with a side salad. Feel free to make additions to the filling, such as garlic, chile flakes or chopped herbs.
Storage: Refrigerate for up to 4 days, or freeze for 1 month.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small yellow onion (3 ounces), diced
2 cups (6 ounces) broccoli, chopped
1/8 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste
3/4 cup (3 ounces) plain breadcrumbs
1 cup (5 ounces) grated cheddar cheese, preferably extra-sharp
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
Freshly cracked black pepper
8 ounces (13-by-18-inch) sheets phyllo dough, defrosted
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and divided
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the broccoli and salt and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but still bright green, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Stir in the breadcrumbs, cheese and lemon juice. Taste, and season with pepper and additional salt, if desired. Let cool while you prepare the phyllo.
On a large, clean surface unroll the phyllo and cover it with a damp kitchen towel so it doesn’t dry out. Working quickly, pull two sheets off the stack, lay them so the wider side is facing you, and gently brush them with melted butter.
Lay another two sheets on top, and brush them with melted butter. Repeat with the remaining 4 sheets.
Using a large spoon, scoop the broccoli mixture into a line lengthwise near the edge of the phyllo closest to you, leaving an approximately 1-inch border on each end. Fold the short sides of the phyllo in and over the filling, and then roll the filling up in the phyllo, forming a 3-by-12-inch log.
Place the log, seam side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the top and sides of the strudel with more melted butter and, using a sharp knife, cut four diagonal slits into the top of the strudel to allow steam to escape. Bake for 30 minutes, or until deep golden brown and crisp. Cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before slicing and serving.