Johannesburg - Mention phyllo pastry and many people will throw their hands up in despair not knowing quite how to deal with these paper-thin layers of pastry.
Phyllo pastry was originally used in multiple layers coated with butter or oil to create a flaky crust that has become synonymous with Greek pastries such as baklava.
Now more readily available, it is ideal to use not only for Greek dishes but for pies, tarts and to make wonderful desserts.
Phyllo pastry is available frozen in most supermarkets.
TIPS FOR HANDLING PHYLLO PASTRY
l If frozen, thaw overnight in the fridge in its packaging.
l Prepare all ingredients for your recipe before opening the pastry.
l Remove the number of sheets required for the recipe and reroll remaining pastry and seal in a plastic bag.
l Once opened and unrolled, always keep the pastry covered with a damp cloth to prevent drying out. This happens very quickly and will make the pastry brittle and dry, and very difficult to work with.
l Phyllo pastry tears easily so handle it gently. This is often not a problem as it is easily patched by brushing with butter and placing it where required.
l Each sheet is usually brushed with melted butter, margarine or oil before being topped with another sheet.
l To cut the pastry, use a sharp knife so as not to tear the sheets.
l If making a large pie or baklava in a tray, cut through all the layers of pastry before baking so that the baked product will be easier to cut and serve.
l Phyllo pastry triangles or parcels can be prepared and frozen until required. Bake straight from the freezer.
l Make sure any fillings used in phyllo pastry are cold. Hot fillings will make the pastry disintegrate.
ROASTED VEGETABLE, FETA AND CRANBERRY PIE
250g butternut, peeled and cubed
250g orange sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
4-5 baby parsnips, peeled and sliced
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 small red chilli, deseeded, finely chopped
60ml olive oil
125ml dried cranberries
15ml Moroccan spice mix
100g baby spinach
2 eggs, slightly whisked
80g butter, melted
12 sheets of phyllo pastry
300g ricotta cheese, crumbled
30ml sesame seed
Preheat oven to 200°C.
Put butternut, sweet potatoes, parsnips, onion, garlic and chilli in a roasting pan. Drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Roast, stirring halfway, for 20 minutes.
Stir in the cranberries and spice mix. Bake for 10 minutes.
Remove and stir in the spinach until wilted. Set aside to cool slightly.
Combine the cream and eggs and stir into the roasted vegetables.
Reduce oven temperature to 180°C. Brush a 25cm spring-form pan with a little melted butter.
Place phyllo on the work surface and cover with a dry tea towel, then a damp tea towel.
Brush one sheet with melted butter, place in the prepared pan, allowing sides to overhang. Repeat with 10 sheets, brushing with melted butter in between each. Turn each sheet slightly to line the pan completely.
Place half the roasted vegetable mixture into the phyllo case, top with ricotta cheese, then remaining vegetables.
Fold remaining phyllo sheet in half, place on the vegetable mixture and fold over the phyllo edges to enclose. Brush with remaining butter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden. Set aside to cool slightly for 10 minutes and serve.
MOROCCAN MINCE ROLLS
300g lamb mince
60ml chopped almonds
1 small onion, finely chopped
125ml chopped fresh coriander
2ml ground cinnamon
2ml ground cumin
salt and pepper
30ml olive oil
60ml chopped fresh mint
100g feta, crumbled
15 sheets of phyllo pastry
In a bowl, combine the mince, almonds, onion, coriander and spices. Season.
Heat oil in a frying pan over high heat and add the mince mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is brown.
Add the egg and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes until the egg scrambles through the mixture.
Remove from the heat and stir in the mint and feta. Allow to cool slightly.
Lay one sheet of pastry with the short edge facing towards you. Cut in half lengthways to form two long strips. Brush each with melted butter.
Place a spoonful of mince along short edge. Carefully roll pastry, tucking in sides to form a tight cigar shape. Towards the end of rolling, brush the edge of the pastry with butter and seal.
Place seam side down on a baking tray. Repeat with remaining pastry and filling.
Brush with butter and bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for 15-20 minutes.
1 small onion, sliced
1 bay leaf
80ml cake flour
250ml sour cream
10ml grated lemon rind
3 tomatoes, seeded and diced
15ml chopped parsley
4-5 sheets of phyllo pastry
60g butter, melted
Put the onion, bay leaf, water and milk in a large frying pan or pot.
Bring to a simmer and add the haddock. Simmer gently for 5-10 minutes or until the fish is cooked and flakes easily. Remove the fish and flake it. Strain the cooking liquid and reserve 250ml.
Melt the butter in a pot and stir in the flour. Cook for a minute. Add the cooking liquid while stirring and cook until the mixture thickens and boils.
Stir in the sour cream and lemon rind. Remove from the heat and add the flaked fish, tomatoes, parsley and seasoning to taste.
Spoon the mixture into an ovenproof dish.
Brush one sheet of phyllo with melted butter. Fold it to fit on top of the fish in the dish. Brush the rest of the sheets with melted butter and cut each sheet into four. Take each portion of pastry, scrunch it up and place it on top of the pie. Cover the surface of the pie with scrunched pieces of dough. Bake at 180°C for 20-30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and crisp. Remove and serve.
125ml castor sugar
30ml lemon juice
1 cinnamon stick
60g blanched almonds, lightly toasted
60g pistachio nuts, lightly toasted
500g thick cream cheese
250ml crème fraiche
160ml castor sugar
5ml vanilla extract
5ml lemon rind
10 sheets of phyllo pastry
SYRUP: Combine all the ingredients in a small pot and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil for 5 minutes. Remove the cinnamon and cool.
FILLING: Put the nuts and cinnamon into a processor and process until the nuts are well chopped. Remove and combine with about 45ml of the syrup. Set aside.
Beat the cream cheese and crème fraiche until smooth and well combined. Beat in the castor sugar, eggs, vanilla, rind and juice.
Lay one sheet of phyllo pastry on your work surface and brush with melted butter. Top with another sheet, placing it at an angle so that four corners are visible. Continue layering the sheets with melted butter.
Lift the sheets and place them into a 22cm spring-form pan. Fit it in snugly with the ends overlapping the pan.
Pour in half the cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle over half the nut mixture. Top with remaining cheese mixture and sprinkle the remaining nuts on top. Trim the pastry around the top and roll it under to make a neat edge.
Bake at 150°C for 40-50 minutes or until the mixture is set but has a slight wobble in the middle. Switch off the oven and leave door ajar for 30 minutes. Remove cake, cool and then refrigerate for a few hours. Unmould from the tin and serve.
SWEET POTATO TRIANGLES
500g orange sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 bunch of spring onion, white part only, chopped
5ml chopped garlic
1 mild red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
45ml chopped chives
150g feta cheese, crumbled
500g phyllo pastry
100g butter, melted
Combine sweet potato, olive oil and seasoning in a roasting pan.
Roast at 180°C for 20-30 minutes or until the sweet potato is soft.
Remove and put in a bowl. Add the spring onion, garlic, chilli and chives and mix well, mashing the mixture slightly.
Mix in the feta and season to taste.
Lay one sheet of pastry on your counter. Brush with butter and top with another sheet. Brush that with butter. Cut the pastry into 5 strips lengthwise.
Place a spoonful of filling at the bottom of the pastry strip about 2cm from the edge. Fold the corner of the pastry over diagonally to cover the filling, forming a triangle. Continue folding to the end of the strip. Brush with butter and place on a baking tray. Continue until all the filling has been used.
Bake at 180°C for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and serve warm.