For more than a decade, my husband and I have invited a small group of friends to dinner on New Year's Eve. It's my favorite night of the year to entertain, and, typically, I spend the days before cooking and preparing for this celebration.
This year, however, we will be out of town up until the day of the fete, so I need to prepare as much as possible in advance.
As a main course, I've decided on a vegetable couscous served with cumin and pepper lamb chops. The vegetables for the couscous can be made ahead, frozen and reheated at serving time. Quick-cooking couscous will take only minutes to prepare as will the pan-grilled chops. A salad of mixed greens in an orange dressing will come next, followed by a chocolate almond torte, which I can bake and freeze a week ahead.
I still hadn't chosen an appetizer when I remembered some delicious fennel, prosciutto and goat-cheese strudels I had created for a holiday cooking class earlier in the month. They can be prepared and frozen in advance, taken straight from the freezer and baked.
The strudels are stuffed with sauteed chopped fennel, onions and prosciutto combined with goat cheese and grated Parmesan. The filling is spread along the longer sides of phyllo sheets and rolled tightly into a log. After baking, the crispy strudels are cut into small rounds - just the right size to pop into your mouth as an hors d'oeuvre.
These starters are ideal to serve on the 31st, or you could offer them at a New Year's Day brunch or open house. A plate of these tempting nibbles would also make a delectable treat to serve friends or family who are glued to the television watching bowl games during the holiday weekend. There's plenty of time to get them out of the freezer and into the oven during the half.
Fennel, Prosciutto and Goat-Cheese Strudel
Makes about 36 servings
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds fennel bulbs) chopped fennel (See note)
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
8 ounces creamy goat cheese
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (colored portion of rind)
several grinds black pepper
2 large eggs, beaten lightly to blend
9 sheets phyllo dough, about 14 by 18 inches
6 to 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
6 tablespoons dry, unflavored bread crumbs
Heat oil in large, heavy skillet over medium heat until hot. Add fennel and onions and saute, stirring constantly, until vegetables are tender, but not mushy, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in prosciutto. Cool mixture to room temperature.
In large mixing bowl, mix together cheeses, lemon zest and pepper. Stir in cooled fennel mixture and eggs and mix well.
Place phyllo sheet on clean kitchen towel with long side in front. (Cover remaining sheets with lightly dampened kitchen towel so they don't dry out.) Brush phyllo sheet generously with butter, then sprinkle with 1 tablespoon bread crumbs. Place second sheet over first, and repeat. Place third sheet on top and brush with butter but don't sprinkle with bread crumbs.
Use 1/3 fennel mixture and spread in 2-inch wide strip at long end nearest you. Fold 2 short sides of phyllo sheets over about 1 inch. Then, starting at end with filling and using towel as aid, roll into log shape. Place on baking pan and brush with butter. Repeat to make two more strudels. (Strudels can be made 5 to 6 hours ahead; cover with lightly dampened kitchen towel, then tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. To freeze strudels, wrap each one tightly in plastic wrap and then with foil.)
To bake strudels, arrange oven rack at center position. Bake strudels, with towel and foil removed, at 375 degrees 20 to 25 minutes, until crisp and golden brown. (To cook frozen strudels, remove wrap and foil, and bake, adding extra 5 to 10 minutes as needed.)
Remove and cool on pan for 10 minutes.
Slice into 1-inch rounds and arrange on serving plate. Garnish slices with fennel sprigs, if desired.
Note: When preparing fennel bulbs, remove and save lacy stalks and fronds. Halve bulbs lengthwise, cut out and discard tough cores and then chop bulbs. You can use the fennel sprigs from fronds to garnish strudel slices.
Pub Date: 12/27/98