November 21, 2011

Curried Butternut Squash Filo Squares

I've always wanted to cook with filo dough--but never attempted it--until now.  I've had my Williams-Sonoma Vegetarian for all Seasons cookbook by Pamela Sheldon Johns collecting dust for (gasp!) several years now, but rediscovered it to find some ideas for this year's Thanksgiving side dishes.

I love filo appetizers, but 99% of the time they have nuts or cheese, both delicious compliments to filo, but not for my nut/egg/dairy/shellfish food-allergic children.  So I found this Curried Butternut Squash Filo Pocket recipe, free of most top allergens (except gluten).  Just butternut squash, filo, and a few other ingredients.  Sounded easy enough.

So in my naivete, I started mixing filling and wrapping pockets 30 minutes before dinner, and needless to say, the kids were relegated to the kitchen table for dinner, since my prep stuff was covering half our dining table.  I needed to keep going lest the dough dry out.  AAAAH!  I swore left and right that I would never work with filo again!

But when those crispy pockets came out of the oven and I took my first crunchy yet creamy, smooth, sweet, utterly delectable bite I was immediately sold, wondering why I hadn't bought two boxes of filo instead of one.

The process is a bit tedious, so if you don't have help to look after curious/cranky/bored children, I wouldn't attempt it.  But hopefully you've got some family around next week.

So join me for just this one, Martha-esque week, where we pull out all the stops.  Filo, here we come!

I made a few modifications to the recipe to tone down the flavor a bit for the children, and of course subbed in dairy-free margarine for butter:

1 butternut squash, about 1 lb
2 shallots, minced
3 tablespoons minced cilantro
1/2 tablespoon curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup non-dairy margarine (we use soy-based Earth Balance). Use olive oil or olive oil in a spray can for ease and to address any soy allergies
6 filo sheets, thawed as directed (overnight in fridge or on counter for 5 hours)

Helpful tools: potato masher & pastry brush


1.  The night before making the filo squares, pop the box of filo into the fridge and forget about it til the next day.

2.  While prepping breakfast for the kids, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

3.  Use a sharp knife to cut the squash in half through the stem end and scoop out and compost seeds and fibers.  Place the squash in half, cut sides down, on your baking sheet, and bake until softened, about 20-25 minutes (or, if you just grabbed the biggest squash they had for whatever reason, it may take you more like 45 minutes until it softens--just keep an eye on it and poke it with a fork every 10 minutes).  Transfer to a rack and cool.  (If you have extra squash, try making soup).

4.  Scoop out the squash pulp and mash until smooth using a potato masher.  Stir in shallots, cilantro, curry powder, salt, and pepper.  Set aside.

5. If you're using olive oil from a can or otherwise, skip this step.  If you're using margarine, you'll need to clarify it.  Place the butter in a pan and melt it over medium heat.  Skim off the foam from the surface and let it cool a bit.  Pour off the clear yellow liquid into a bowl, discarding any white solids.

6. Reline baking sheet with foil.  Lay the stacked filo sheets on a cutting board and cut lengthwise into quarters (I just put the layers on a piece of wax paper and cut using cooking shears).  Cover it with a damp kitchen towel to keep them from drying out, removing strips as needed.

7. Lay a filo strip on a workspace (another piece of wax paper or silpat works well).  Brush the strip with your clarified margarine/olive oil, or spray with olive oil, then lay a second strip on top of the first.  Put 1-2 tablespoons (I liked it with about 2) of filling near one end and fold the strip over about 4 times to form a square.  Brush another strip with clarified margarine and wrap it around the open sides of the square.  Place the square on the baking sheet.  You may brush the top of the square with more butter, but I skipped this and it turned out just fine.  Repeat with the remaining strips and filling.

8. Bake until golden brown, 15-18 minutes (mine were perfect after 15).  Serve immediately.

Advice for cutting down prep time:
  • Use the can spray olive oil--you won't have to clarify the margarine and you won't have to brush anything on AND the kids can help spray (bonus!).
  • Set up some kind of assembly line for the filo.  I worked on 4 at a time--brushing with margarine, layering, adding filling, etc.
  • Get more filo than you need.  It is inevitable some tissue paper-thin filo sheets will tear beyond repair.
  • Double the recipe--you've already got your hands dirty, you might as well make more!
  • Cut squares in half into triangles before you serve to further double your servings.
Take a moment to enjoy cooking and preparing with your family this Thanksgiving.  Have a wonderful week!

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