filo wrapped asparagus
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Asparagus spears wrapped in filo pastry are a glorious vegetarian snack or appetiser. Filo, the paper-thin, super-crunchy Middle Eastern pastry, buttered, layered and baked till golden is lovely on its own. And when it hides Parmesan-flavoured, fresh asparagus spears inside, it’s irresistible.
I have written before about the extreme appeal of things wrapped; it was about dough/pastry/batter filled with filling and stuffed with stuffing. It’s not just pastry that can enrobe tasty surprises. A while back I had a period of obsessive wrapping one food in another. Salmon in bacon for instance, though pancetta works better if you want to follow my suit. Chicken salad packaged in lettuce leaves, a very healthy option of a chicken salad sandwich, incidentally. Bacon (again! bacon is perversely good at the wrapping malarkey) encasing dates, a free-wheeling version of devils on horsebacks.
Some things are better combined with others (and most things are better wrapped in bacon). Combination intensifies flavours or makes them melt together creating a new unexpected harmony. Textures, too – bacon (did I say bacon?) coated meat doesn’t dry out and acquires succulence from the fat. It’s as simple as combining ingredients to create a dish: imagine being served bread, butter, ham and pickles separately and urged to eat up one before you start on another. I know, there are people who like to eat everything separately but most of us prefer piling elements of our dinners onto the fork and refusing to finish the potatoes if we’ve run out of meat.
Filo pastry is my favourite wrapping material and I refuse to acknowledge that it’s actually quite calorific with all the butter or olive oil brushed onto it. It’s still a remote runner-up to puff pastry in calorie rankings, which is also not too bad a wrapper but way, way, too rich.
What is so good about filo?
Filo is paper thin and flexible, but will retain the shape whilst baking. You buy it ready-made and nobody in their right mind will scorn you for not making your own at home. It will carry sweet as well as savoury and it is actually gorgeous on its own: spiced or sugared, buttered or oiled, layered and baked. And it really needn’t be so fussed over – it dries out if uncovered, that’s true, but as long as you roughly wrap the rest up in the parchment it came in while you’re working on each sheet, it won’t be ruined.
It does cook quickly so it’s not suited for raw meaty filling that needs to spend a while in the oven. The Greeks have mastered the use of it, making little filo hand pies with spinach or cheese. Asparagus cooks quickly so it’s ideal – and don’t listen to anyone who tells you to precook it; they are simply telling you to ruin the vegetable.
Make ahead: wrap the spears and cover them tightly on a tray, and they’ll easily last overnight. Brush with butter just before they go in the oven.
filo wrapped asparagusServings: 4Time: 45 minutes
- 20 asparagus spears
- 60g (4 tbsp.) butter, melted
- 5 sheets of filo pastry
- salt and pepper
- 30g (1/3 cup) grated Parmesan
1. Wash the asparagus and snap off the woody ends. Pat them dry with kitchen towels.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Line a large baking tray with parchment.
3. Work with one filo sheet at the time, keeping the rest wrapped so it doesn’t dry out. Spread one sheet on the work surface and brush with butter. Fold it in half along the long edge and brush the top surface again. Sprinkle filo with salt, pepper and Parmesan and cut it in four, the length of each piece about the same as an asparagus spear. Roll a spear into each rectangle like a cigar, scrunch up the ends and brush with butter. Continue with all the asparagus and filo.
4. Brush the rolls with any leftover butter and sprinkle with Parmesan if there’s any left. Bake for 15 minutes until the rolls are golden and the ends browned and crispy. Serve immediately.