I’ve been taking a recipe writing class through mediabistro for the last three weeks and have one more week to go. While it started out at a nice steady pace it’s now quite challenging to find time to think about new and exciting, never seen before recipes, and then test cook them (once or twice or three times) in order to submit the assignments on time. So when we were asked to think about an ingredient and a season or holiday and come up with several recipes and then develop one, I immediately decided to make asparagus my food, and spring my season so that I could post the recipe as part of our asparagus roundup and halve the work I needed to do to keep myself up to date!
Baklava is generally a very sweet desert food but it seemed like little bits of asparagus had the perfect color and texture to replace the pistachios, and I knew they’d go well with layers of phyllo pastry and butter (what doesn’t), so I worked up a recipe starting from there. If you’ve never worked with phyllo pastry before you should start now: despite all the warnings on the box about needing to keep it damp and work quickly I find that if you just keep going it all works out in the end: if a couple of pieces of pastry stick together it will all taste just great in the end anyway! And there really isn’t anything better than the flaky buttery goodness of baklava, either traditional or with a spring vegetable mix!
Yield: makes about 25 baklava
- 2 bunches asparagus
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 ½ cups walnuts, chopped
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 lb mozzarella
- ½ lb ricotta
- 2 sticks butter
- 8oz phyllo pastry
- 1 tbs cornstarch
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/ tsp salt
Special equipment needed:
- 9 x 12” baking dish
- Pastry brush
- Blender (you can do without this bit its easier if you have one)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Trim the woody ends off the asparagus cutting them off from the point where the green color begins to fade. Place the tough ends of the asparagus in a steamer with 1 cup of water in a pot below and steam for approximately 5 minutes, then discard the woody stems and retain 1/2 cup of the water which you will use later in making the lemon sauce. If you don’t have enough cooking water, use regular water to top up the ½ cup.
- Chop the spear ends of the asparagus into small pieces about the same size as the walnut pieces – I sliced them longwise first and then cut them into 1/4” pieced.
- Combine the asparagus, garlic, walnuts and lemon zest in a bowl and set aside
- Blend the mozzarella and ricotta until well combined (if you don’t have a blender you can just cut the mozzarella into 1/2” cubes and mix with the ricotta: it’ll all blend together just fine once it cooks)
- Melt the butter in a small bowl.
- Lay one phyllo pastry sheet in a 9 x 12 baking dish and using a pastry brush, paint it with melted butter. Layer another sheet on top and butter that one, repeat for a total of 6 sheets.
- Layer half of the asparagus mixture onto the pastry, trying to cover it relatively evenly.
- Add half of the cheese mixture on top of this – just use your hands or a spoon to drop the mixture over the asparagus. Don’t try to spread it with a knife or you will break the delicate pastry.
- Repeat all three layers: pastry, asparagus, cheese. The first few sheets of phyllo on top of the cheese will be a little hard to work with as they will be uneven and possibly tear as you brush butter on them: don’t worry about this, torn pastry tastes just as good and nobody will know the difference.
- Add a final layer of pastry on top and top with the final coat of butter. With a sharp knife cut the baklava into diamond shapes by slicing as follows: cut diagonal, parallel lines about 3” apart at an angle of about 30 degrees all down the dish. Then cut the intersecting lines to create the diamonds, spacing these 1 ½ – 2” apart to create long, elegant diamond shapes
- Bake the baklava until golden, about 45 minutes.
In the meantime prepare the lemon sauce
- In a small saucepan, blend the cornstarch into the liquid reserved from cooking the asparagus ends.
- Bring to a boil, stirring frequently until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and allow to cool. In a second bowl, whisk the egg yolks and lemon juice and pour into the cornstarch mixture and whisk well. Place back on medium heat and whisk continuously until the sauce thickens to the consistency of a syrup. Remove from heat and immediately strain through a fine sieve.
When the baklava is baked, remove from the oven, pour the ‘syrup’ over and serve.