A gorgeous and delicious vegetarian dessert recipe, thanks to Sur la Table

It is funny (but not unexpectedly so) how each chef sets the tone for the classes. Take, for example, Chef John Silva and his Summer Mediterranean Dinner class at Sur la Table. He has a quiet way about him. Quiet, yes, but shot through with a gentle, if wry, sense of humor. Which made learning how to cook everything from Toasted Quinoa Tabouleh to Fried Pastry Twists with a Honey, Sesame, and Lemon Sauce at his Sur la Table class such a delight.

Let me tell you about it (and, yes, we’ve got a glorious vegetarian dessert recipe courtesy of the generous chef).

Summer Mediterranean Dinner
The class was small, about 7 students which is about half the usual size (of these, I only spoke to three: A soft-spoken Sur la Table employee, her game but non-cooking brother, and a hippie / accountant imbued with infectious enthusiasm for simply everything). It actually was nicer having a small class: More intimate and more opportunity to do more cooking simply because there were fewer helping hands.

Of all the dishes we cooked (four, in total), the most interesting one was the dessert.

Vegetarian sweet
The dessert consisted of three parts: Pastry, syrup, and nuts. See, the plan is to fry some dough into a wonderfully light pastry, drizzle it with syrup, then sprinkle the whole thing with nuts. And, yes, it is as good as it sounds.

Now, the syrup is easy: Stir and drizzle. And the nuts are easy: Chop and sprinkle. But what is interesting is the dough.

See, after you roll out the dough and cut it into long, thin strips, you curl each strip into the frying oil by slipping the first inch or so of the strip into the oil, then using a fork (one of those oversize forks from a carving set would be ideal) to twirl the strip of pasta round and round as you lower it into the oil (much like twirling spaghetti, except you are feeding the pasta from the top, instead of twirling it up from the bottom, see?). You're, sorta, creating wee bird’s nests.

Is that fun or what?

Okay. So here’s my take on the recipe (sorry John, I rewrote your recipe a bit, it is the editor in me I’m afraid, which refuses to let me leave well enough alone).
Vegetarian recipe: Chef John Silva’s Fried Pastry Twists with a Honey, Sesame, and Lemon Sauce
for the pastry
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for kneading
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon raki, ouzo, or other anise-flavored liquor
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup water

for frying
4 cups extra virgin olive oil

for the syrup
(combine ingredients, bring to a boil until the sugar is dissolved, simmer for 5 minutes, then cool and discard the zests):
1 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup mild honey
2 (4" x 1") strips of fresh lemon zest
2 (4" x 1") strips of fresh orange zest

for the nuts
(mix and toast in a dry skillet over a low heat, stirring constantly until the seeds are golden, about 3 minutes):
2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

To make the pastry dough
In a bowl, stir together the dry ingredients, then make a well in the center and add the wet ingredients. Stir until a soft dough forms, then turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until dough is smooth and elastic, 8 - 10 minutes. If required, work in only enough flour to keep dough from sticking.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 30 - 60 minutes.

Divide the dough in half, and working with one half, roll the dough out on a floured surface to 18" x 11", lightly flouring the dough and the rolling pin as needed to prevent sticking. Cut into five 2" wide strips. Transfer strips to dry kitchen towel, lightly dusting each one with flour and stretching each strip to 20". Repeat with the remaining half of dough.

Heat 1" of your olive oil in a deep 12" skillet to 375F. Working with one strip at a time, lower an inch of two of the dough into the oil, then using an oversize fork (from a carving set would be ideal), capture the frying dough between the tines of the fork. Lower the remaining dough into the oil, twirling the fork (much like you do with spaghetti) until the entire strip is in the oil. Ideally, you will have something that looks, somewhat, like a bird’s nest. Fry the dough about 30 seconds, carefully flip, and fry for another 30 seconds or so, until the dough is golden brown.

Repeat with the remaining strips (you can fry multiple strips simultaneously as long as you do not crowd your pan which will lower the temperature of your oil too much).

To assemble your dessert
Place your nests on a platter, drizzle the syrup onto your nests, sprinkle with your nuts, and enjoy.

See. Isn’t it easy? This is why it is so worthwhile taking class. And I say this not just for the good eating. Of which there was a lot. I also say this for the wine!