I have a question about phyllo pastry. I have a favourite recipe for spanakotiropita that uses an entire package. However, I see many recipes that call for eight or 10 sheets. How do you separate out a few sheets from a frozen package? I have enough trouble dealing with separating the sheets when the whole package is thawed.
Before answering Heidi's question, I wanted to remind everyone what phyllo pastry is.
Phyllo comes from the Greek phyllon, which means "leaf." That definition makes perfect sense, considering this pastry's leaf-like thinness.
You could make phyllo, also spelled filo, pastry at home. The dough is simple and is made with flour, water, oil and sometimes other ingredients, such as raki, an anise-flavoured liquor. However, if you haven't made it before, you'll definitely want to get some special training to learn how to stretch and pull the dough until it's ultra-thin.
Because of the skill required to do that, most folks buy ready-to-use sheets of phyllo pastry, which is sold frozen at most supermarkets. Heidi was wondering how to separate those sheets when still frozen. The answer is, you can't; they would crumble apart.
When I need some phyllo for a recipe, I thaw the pastry overnight in the refrigerator. I then very gently unfold the sheets and remove what I need. As for the unused sheets, there are a few options.
One is to package up the sheets in amounts you think you'll use the next time and refreeze them. If they are tightly sealed, I can keep them frozen for a month or two, thaw them when needed and have good results.
Another option, and what I do most often, is to fold up the unused sheets carefully, slip them back into the plastic bag they came in, tightly seal the bag and store them in the refrigerator. They will keep there at least two weeks, but they never seem to last that long because I'll use them in another dish, such as sealing fish in pastry as I did in one of today's recipes.
I also sometimes like to use any leftover pastry to make bite-sized phyllo bundles, as I did in today's second recipe. They are easy to make and can be frozen. When I'm having guests over for dinner, the bundles make a tasty appetizer to serve before the main meal.
When using phyllo, ensure you have an uncluttered workspace on which to set and layer the sheets. Use a soft-bristled brush to butter or oil the pastry; a firm one can cause tears. When layering the sheets, don't worry if they are not perfectly aligned or flat. If you fuss too much, there's a greater chance of the pastry drying out or tearing.
Phyllo-Wrapped Halibut With Curry, Spinach and Chutney
Curry-spiced fish, baked in flaky phyllo pastry, and served with a minty yogurt sauce.
This recipe can be doubled.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 15-17 minutes
Makes: 2 servings
For the minty yogurt sauce:
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
2 tsp lime juice
1 tsp honey
n pinch ground cumin
Combine all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve with the fish.
For the fish:
2 tsp mild curry paste (I used Patak's brand)
2 tsp fresh lime juice
2 (5- or 6-oz) halibut fillets
4 sheets phyllo pastry
3 Tbsp melted butter
2 Tbsp mango chutney
20 leaves of fresh baby spinach
Combine the curry paste and lime juice in a sided dish. Add the fish and turn to coat. Let the fish marinate 15 minutes at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set a sheet of phyllo on a work surface and lightly butter it. Top with another sheet of phyllo and butter it. Repeat with remaining phyllo. Cut the four layered sheets, widthwise, in half. Set a piece of halibut near the bottom end of each half piece of phyllo. Divide and place the chutney on top of the fish. Divide and layer the spinach on top of the fish. Fold the sides of the phyllo slightly over the fish and then roll into a cylinder. Bake 15-17 minutes, or until golden. Serve as is, or, before plating, cut each phyllo-wrapped piece of halibut in half at a slight angle. Serve with the minty yogurt sauce.
Camembert, Cranberry and Walnut Phyllo Bundles
These appetizing bundles can be made several hours in advance, set on a baking pan tightly wrapped and kept refrigerated until ready to bake. The bundles can also be frozen. If you do so, when needed, bake them from frozen. If you thaw them first they'll become overly soft. Recipe can be doubled or tripled.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 12-15 minutes
Makes: 12 bundles
3 sheets phyllo pastry
2-3 Tbsp melted butter
12 small cubes camembert cheese
12 tsp cranberry sauce
12 walnut halves
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Lightly butter 1 sheet of phyllo pastry. Top it with another sheet and brush it with butter. Repeat this with the last sheet of phyllo. Cut the layered sheets into 12 squares. Place a piece of cheese, 1 tsp cranberry sauce, and a walnut half into the centre of each square. Lift up corners of each square and tightly squeeze them together to form small bundles. Place bundles on a parchment paper-lined baking pan. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.
Eric Akis is the author of the recently published Everyone Can Cook Slow Cooker Meals. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.