Friday, May 30, 2008

Phyllo Dough-Don't Be Afraid

I was raised with a grandmother ("Noni") who could tame a box of phyllo dough with her eyes closed. Back in the day she even made the dough from scratch, an art seen in very few places anymore. The dough is made from flour and water, no fat, and stretched incredibly thin so when it is used in dishes such as baklava and spanikopita, it is layered with butter to create flakes that crackle deliciously on your teeth when you bite into it.

Many people cringe at the thought of using the dough. It is a bit touchy and it can tear and break but, what most people don't know is that it is incredibly forgiving. A tear or hole in a piece of dough can easily be remedied, especially when the dough is often folded over on itself several times. When taken out of the package, it should be left unrolled and covered (I use a sheet of plastic wrap and a damp towel) so it doesn't dry out while you are using it. Pull out only the sheets you are using, leaving the rest covered, as you make your recipe.

I told my bookclub I'd bring an appetizer tonight and since our host, Kathy, is making paella I thought I'd fill my phyllo do with something spicy. I made up the recipe below. It's quick, fantastic and has a serious kick. I hope you too 'get your phyllo on' and make up a batch.

Spicy Shrimp Phyllo Triangles
5 tbs butter, divided
1/4 cup minced onion
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 jalapenos (1 red and 1 green, if you can find them), stemmed, seeded and minced
2 tbs tomato paste mixed with 2 tbs water
1 tbs flour
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbs water
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp chili sauce (I like Sriracha), optional
3 tbs minced cilantro
1 pound bay shrimp (use part crab meat and part shrimp, if desired)
4 tbs olive oil
1 box frozen phyllo dough, left out to thaw at room temperature

Heat 1 tbs of the butter in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent. Add the jalapenos and cook, stirring, until peppers start to soften, 1-2 minutes more. Add the tomato paste/water mixture and stir well to combine. Sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes, until flour is no longer visible. Add the cream and water and, using a whisk, combine the mixture until smooth. Stir in the sour cream, chili sauce and cilantro and season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Remove mixture from heat and cool. Stir in shrimp and let mixture cool completely.

Melt remaining butter, add the olive oil and remove from the heat. Remove the phyllo dough from the package, unroll it flat, cover with plastic wrap and top with a lightly damp towel. Remove two sheets of the dough, leaving the rest covered, and set them horizontally on your work surface. Brush the first sheet with the butter/oil and top it with the other sheet, brushing it as well. Using a sharp knife, cut the sheets, from top to bottom, into 6 strips. Place a spoonful of the shrimp mixture on the bottom of each strip and then fold the strips like a flag, forming a triangle, to encase the filling. Brush the outsides of each triangle with the butter/oil and place on a baking sheet. Repeat with additional dough until the filling is gone. At this point the triangles can be covered and refrigerated up to one day, or frozen up to one month (freeze them on the baking sheet then, when frozen solid transfer them to a zip top bag-bake 5-7 extra minutes but don't worry about defrosting).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the baking sheet in the center of the oven and bake until golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter, let cool a couple minutes so you don't burn your taste buds off, and enjoy. Mmm...that's good!

Makes 36 Triangles

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