Tuesday, March 22, 2011

you say filo, i say phyllo

so i have absolutely no idea what the difference in spelling makes - perhaps someone with greek heritage could enlighten me. what i do know is that phyllo bakes up to delectable crunchiness, is a great receptacle for yummy fillings and works equally well in both savoury and sweet applications.
so for the dinner party i did on the 9th, i made up a little amuse bouche of mushroom and goat cheese phyllo triangles. it's always nice to have a little nibbly thing to start off a dinner - at beckta, when i worked garde manger, i had to invent one everyday and sometimes 3 or more for parties, i used to obsess over them and put myself in the weeds creating ridiculous concoctions, and ended up despising them... now they are something to take the pressure off. when you're entertaining, if you have a nice platter of something for people to snack on, you can tide them over and not be as stressed out and rushing to plate the first course.

i unfortunately don't have a picture of them once baked, but instead i'll show the process.

first off you have to make the filling and it is important to let it cool before assembling triangles - otherwise it's much trickier. i chose mushroom and goat cheese (something i've been making for years - my college roomies and i found the recipe online and thought it sooo sophisticated...), you could also do spinach and feta to make it like a spanakopita, or roasted red pepper, sun-dried tomato, olive and caper, or nuts and honey like an individual baklava bite, or vanilla custard and wild blueberries like a strudel (something i plan on whipping up very soon...). really just make what you like and it will be fantabulous.

i've been using cremini mushrooms of late. they're meaty, flavourful and budget friendly. they are baby portobellos - so, no dark gills, and a fancier name. shiitakes, oysters, maitakes, and king eryngiis would also be great but may prove a bit more difficult to find and a bit more difficult to stomach at the cash register...
it's important to not wash mushrooms - they'll absorb the water and that does not make for a good sear. simply brush them clean and saute in a screaming hot pan with an oil and butter combo (oil for its high smoke point and butter for its flavour). also don't salt them until they are finishing cooking - salt draws out the moisture and will result in boiled, rubbery mushrooms as opposed to caramelized, tender mushrooms.
then fire them into the food processor.

this is great - you don't have to stress and waste time cutting everything up all fiddly-like. with the help of a handy-dandy food processor, it will be a beautifully smooth puree of shallots, garlic, herbs and goat's cheese - so refined...
then chill and you're ready to assemble.

phyllo can be a bit of a pain. if it dries out it cracks and crumbles and can be devastating and rage-inducing.

but if you keep it covered with a slightly damp kitchen towel it's fine. once it's dry it will disintegrate in your hands, so it makes a world of difference to take this preemptive measure.   

then you have to stick 3 sheets of phyllo together (i'm sure 2 would work but 3 is what i do). individually they are so fragile that the filling would burst through. use butter as the glue. brush it lightly on with a soft-bristled pastry brush. for this batch i used brown butter - i thought the nuttiness would pair well with the earthy mushrooms - i haven't talked to the recipient yet, but i'll report back with her analysis...
my filling sometimes still bursts through, but makes for a tasty treat for the host/hostess - sort of like the extra, baked on cheese from a grilled cheese sandwich - in my opinion, the best part!

then i cut it into 6 strips. try to make them as even as possible - i am not very good at this, as evidenced by my brownie portioning skills as well...

put a little dollop of your filling at the base of each triangle. don't go overboard - this proportion is even a bit much, but i like a high filling to pastry ratio. any more would be hard to work with and totally explode once in the oven.
then roll it up.

then brush the tops with a little butter, although i think it would also be great with a sprinkling of cheese or turbinado sugar for something sweet (epiphany), and bake at 375 until golden brown and hot in the centre.


some people frown on the use of phyllo, thinking it so 'passee', i say "whatever". it's fun, yummy and makes for convenient consumption, so go for it.

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