Sep 2, 2014

Baking with PHYLLO

Sheets of thin Phyllo Dough
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The photo to the right is not my bed sheets, but rather  very thin sheets of dough called Phyllo. Phyllo comes from the Greeks who have been making some of the most delicious pastries and savory pies in the world since around the 3rd centry B.C.E. Phyllo, also spelled "filo" has gotten a well deserved reputation for being hard to use, or too delicate, with the result that many people stay away from it and use, instead, puff pastry or strudel doughs that just don't give the same flaky, buttery results.

Phyllo dough is made with flour, white vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, and hot water, kneaded, then wrapped in plastic and refrigerated overnight. It is then run through a pasta machine making paper thin sheets of dough. I tell you this because most people don't bother with making it from scratch, instead, like me, go down to the freezer section of their local grocery store and buy a box of frozen phyllo dough. They say that fresh phyllo dough is better, and it probably is, but who has the time these days. 

I have to admit that when you pick up these thin sheets they do have a tendency to break. This can be somewhat avoided by defrosting the box of phyllo dough in your refrigerator overnight, then after carefully removing the dough, place a damp towel over the stack of thin sheets. Every time you remove a sheet or two, put the damp towel back on top. Personally I have fat fingers and very little patients, but somehow I manage to put these recipes together. Give it a try, I think you will love the results.

Cheese Phyllo Pie
Crispy, golden brown squares of warm cheese filled phyllo pastry. Great as an appetizer, a first course, or as a light meal with a simple salad on the side.

Ingredients for cheese filling:
24 ounces cottage cheese
4 ex-large eggs, beaten
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 heaping tablespoon all-purpose flour

Other Ingredients:
20 sheets of phyllo dough (1/2 of a 1 pound box)
1/2 cup butter, melted

Procedure:
In a large bowl mix all of the cheese filling ingredients. Butter the bottom of a 13" x 9" glass baking pan. Lightly butter a phyllo sheet and place in pan. Repeat until you have 5 phyllo sheets buttered and layered. Take about 1 1/2 cups of the cheese mixture and spread it all over the phyllo dough. Lightly butter and layer 5 more phyllo sheets and place them on top of the cheese mixture. Pour another cup and a half of the cheese mixture. Repeat layering of phyllo and cheese mixture ending with phyllo dough on top. You will use about 20 sheets or 1/2 of a 1 pound box of phyllo dough. Butter the top of the phyllo dough. Place in pre-heated 350˚F oven and bake for 40-50 minutes or until nicely puffed and golden brown. Let it cool slightly, cut into squares and serve warm.

Note: Make sure the cheese pie is cooked until it puffs up and nicely golden all around... if you under bake, there's a chance for the pie to be too "wet".

Crispy Baked Phyllo Egg Rolls
To me, egg rolls made with egg roll wrappers are too heavy, and greasy when deep fried. These baked phyllo egg rolls are crispy and light, a real pleasure to eat.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 pound ground pork
2 small ribs celery from the heart, finely chopped
A handful of shitake mushroom caps, chopped (you can use dried, rehydrated, if you can't find fresh)
1/2 head napa cabbage, shredded
A handful of bean sprouts
1/4 cup water chestnuts, drained and chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons Tamari sauce
1 tablespoons sesame oil
1 egg, beaten
16 13x17-inch sheets phyllo pastry dough, defrosted
3 to 4 tablespoons melted butter, for brushing dough
soy sauce or dipping sauce, recipe

Procedure:
Heat sesame oil in a wok or large, nonstick skillet over high heat. Add pork and brown for 2-3 minutes, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Add the celery and mushrooms, stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the cabbage, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, garlic and ginger, and cook 2-3 minutes more.

Stir in the Tamari sauce, then transfer the egg roll filling to a bowl and let cool. Once cool enough to handle, mix in the egg to help the filling keep its shape in the baked rolls.

Roll out one sheet of phyllo dough on a large work surface. Paint the entire sheet with a little melted butter, paying extra attention to the outside edges. Place another whole sheet of phyllo on top of the buttered sheet, paint them with a little more butter and fold them both in half widthwise.

Pile 1/8 of your mixture on the dough, two inches from the bottom and each side. Tuck bottom up and fold both sides in, then roll and wrap upwards until you reach the edge of the dough sheet. Paint the seam and the ends of the roll with butter and set it seam side down on a baking sheet. Repeat the process to make 8 rolls. (Phyllo dough dries out very quickly so as you are assembling the egg rolls, keep the remaining sheets covered with a damp kitchen towel.)

Transfer baking sheet to a preheated 400˚F oven and bake for 15 minutes on the center rack of the oven, until lightly golden all over. Serve cut in half at an angle, with soy sauce or a dipping sauce (see recipe tab under sauces for recipe). Makes 4 servings of 2 rolls per person.

Phyllo Cheese-Tomato Pizza
These little crispy, oven baked pizzas couldn't be easier to make and are great served at parties as an appetizer. Naturally you can use any toppings you like.

Ingredients:
12 sheets of phyllo pastry
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup each shredded cheddar cheese and mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
5 ounce (half a 10 ounce log) soft unripened goat cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Procedure:
Lay 1 sheet of phyllo on parchment paper lined baking sheet and brush with butter. Repeat with another 3 sheets of phyllo. Sprinkle with half of the cheddar cheese. Top with 1 sheet of phyllo and brush with butter. Repeat with another 3 sheets of phyllo and sprinkle with half of the mozzarella cheese. Top with 1 sheet of phyllo and brush with butter. Repeat with remaining phyllo.

Sprinkle remaining cheddar and mozzarella over top. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning and gently spread grape tomatoes around top of phyllo with green onions. Crumble chunks of goat cheese evenly over top.

Bake in centre of 400˚F oven for about 20 minutes or until phyllo is golden brown and cheese is melted. Using pizza cutter, cut into 12 squares to serve. Sprinkle with basil before serving. Makes 12 servings.

Phyllo Strudel
Sort of like a large egg roll, chicken, ham, spinach and Gouyer' cheese are wrapped in phyllo pastry and butter, then rolled and baked for a crispy strudel.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup fresh button mushrooms, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, skinned & diced
2/3 cup ham, thinly sliced & diced
salt & pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups chopped frozen spinach, liquid removed
1 egg, beaten
1 cup Gouyer' cheese, shredded (available at Moloka'i Wines & Spirits)
1- 1 pound box phyllo (filo) pastry (in frozen section at Friendly Market)
1 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sour cream for garnish

Procedure:
Saute onions, garlic, and mushrooms in butter for 5 minutes, or until tender. In a bowl, combine onions, mushrooms, chicken, ham, salt and pepper, and spinach. Stir in eggs and cheese. Lay out one sheet of phyllo and brush with melted butter, top with another sheet and brush, and then one more, for a total of three sheets. Spoon 2/3 cup filling along one end of the rectangle, leaving a margin of 2 inches in from the end as well as both sides. Fold in both ends and loosely roll up. Brush with butter and place on a greased baking sheet. Repeat until filling is used up.

Bake in 400˚F oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown (be sure to check). To serve, cut each strudel into 4 pieces with a bread knife, and garnish each piece with a dab of sour cream. Each strudel serves one person. Makes 4 servings.

Phyllo Asparagus Blankets
This is a great way to use phyllo dough. Simply wrap cooked asparagus in a blanket of phyllo dough and bake. Very tasty, and they make a wonderful presentation.

Ingredients:
8 asparagus spears
8 phyllo dough sheets, thawed
1/2 cup butter, melted (or use olive oil)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Special equipment
basting brush
parchment paper
baking sheet

Procedure:
Pre-heat oven to 350˚F. Snap off the tough end of one of the asparagus spears, then cut the rest of the asparagus the same length. Heat a large sauté pan filled with 1/2 inch of water to boiling. Add a generous pinch of salt. Boil for a couple of minutes until the asparagus is almost tender but not cooked all the way. Drain and pat dry. Cool.

Unwrap the phyllo and cut the stack in half if the sheets are big. What you want is for one side of the phyllo sheet to be the same length as the asparagus spears. Take 1 sheet of phyllo and brush lightly with some melted butter (or olive oil). Sprinkle lightly with grated Parmesan cheese, a tiny bit of salt and freshly ground pepper. Fold the buttered sheet of phyllo corner to corner in half making a triangle. Place one asparagus spear on the straight edge across from the point. The dough should be the same length as the asparagus. Simply roll the asparagus up towards the point of the phyllo dough. It sort of shows you the distinct layers of the phyllo dough. Place each piece, seam side down, on a baking sheet. Brush with more melted butter (or olive oil). Repeat until all the asparagus spears are used up. Place the phyllo wrapped asparagus spears on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper, and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy. Do check on them, as you don't want to them to burn. Sprinkle with a bit more Parmesan cheese when they come out of the oven. Makes 2 servings.

Pear, Ginger & Spice Phyllo Butter Cups
Simple little phyllo butter cups, filled with pears, ginger and spice, perfect for the end of a holiday meal, or the beginning of a midnight snack.

Ingredients for the phyllo cups:
6 (13-by-17-inch) phyllo sheets
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), melted

Ingredients for the pears:
1 pound Bartlett or Anjou pears (about 2 medium)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied or crystallized ginger
1/8 teaspoon fine salt
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Ingredients for the cream:
3/4 cup very cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream

Procedure for the phyllo cups:
Heat the oven to 425°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Arrange a sheet of phyllo on a large cutting board (be sure to cover the remaining phyllo sheets with a slightly damp paper towel or plastic wrap) and brush the top with melted butter. Arrange another sheet on top of the first sheet and repeat, alternating butter and phyllo, until there are 6 layers. Brush the top layer with butter.

Using a sharp knife, cut the phyllo into 12 approximately 4-by-4-inch squares. Fit 1 square snugly into each well of a 12-well muffin pan, gently pressing the phyllo into the bottom and up the sides of each well. Bake until the dough is lightly browned and crispy, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack. When the cups are cool, remove them from the pan and set aside. The cups can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Procedure for the pears:
Peel, halve, and core the pears. Cut into medium dice (you should have about 2 cups) and set aside.
Melt the butter in a medium frying pan over medium heat until foaming. Sprinkle the brown sugar over top and cook until the mixture is bubbling and the sugar has dissolved, about 3 minutes. Add the reserved pears, ginger, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is caramelized and the pears have just begun to release their juices and are softened, about 3 to 5 minutes. (The sugar may seize—or become lumpy—at first, but it will redistribute itself.)
Stir in the walnuts and set aside.

Procedure for the cream:
Place the cream, brown sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl and whisk vigorously until stiff peaks form, about 5 minutes. Add the sour cream and whisk until just incorporated. To serve, divide the gingered pears and their juices among the phyllo cups and top with the whipped cream. Serve immediately. Makes 12 servings.
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