I've been a bit sniffy about phyllo pastry since its heydays in the 80s, when everything including the cat was wrapped in great billowing flounces of the blasted stuff, and you ended up feeling as if you'd eaten the bottom half of a hamster cage. But phyllo really is very useful and convenient: it's not fatty, it bakes in a jiffy, and its neutral taste makes it the perfect casing material for all sorts of zingy ingredients. The secret with phyllo is, I think, to use it fairly sparingly, and to strenuously avoid the temptation to crumple it up or tie it into parcels or purses.
You really can prepare these easy bites in ten minutes, provided that you have the fillings on hand, and you use spray-on olive oil. They're hugely versatile because you can use so many different fillings, in appropriate combinations. They bake in under 7 minutes, and are economical too: you can get 24 tartlets out of just four sheets of phyllo pastry.
You can, of course, use melted butter or olive oil, or a combination, to brush between the layers, but this will take longer.
I usually make these with Gorgonzola and sliced leeks softened in a little butter. The ones in the picture contain Roquefort and a delicious green-olive and artichoke salsa I bought today at the Jozi Food Market; some are filled with fresh ricotta, cherry tomatoes and Woolies pesto.
brie, camembert, ricotta, or any soft cheese, crème fraîche, blue cheese, Parmesan, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, tofu, pesto, sautéed onions or leeks, pine nuts, roast butternut, cooked mushrooms, steamed asparagus tips, tinned artichoke hearts, figs, herbs, garlic.
10-minute Phyllo Tartlets
4 sheets phyllo pastry
spray-on olive oil*, or olive oil in an sprayer
a little extra olive oil for sprinkling
salt and milled black pepper
Preheat the oven to 170° C. Put a large piece of greaseproof paper or clingfilm on the counter. Take one sheet of pastry (cover the rest with a damp tea towel) and place it on the paper. Spray a film of olive oil evenly all over the sheet, and cover with another sheet of pastry. Make sure that all your kitchen windows are open and don't inhale the olive oil! Continue layering and spraying until you've used up all four sheets. Now, with the tip of a very sharp knife, a round pizza cutter, or a pair of scissors, cut the sheet into 24 squares. If you'd like deeper tartlet cases, and fewer of them, make the squares bigger (but do put more filling in, so that your guests don't end up eating acres of dry pastry).
Pick up each stacked square, spray its underside with a little olive oil, and tuck it into the bottom of a muffin tin. Fill each case with your chosen filling. Sprinkle a little olive oil over the filling and season with salt and pepper.
Bake at 170°C for 5-7 minutes, but watch them like a hawk. The trick is to get the centre hot and melted, without the outer bits going too brown.
- If you like, you can dust a little seasoned salt or Parmesan between the layers.
- To make rewrapping your unused pastry easier, unroll it at the beginning onto a sheet of greaseproof paper or clingfilm. When you're finished, fold it in half, and roll it up in the paper or clingfilm, twisting the ends like a cracker. Store in the fridge.
- Brush a little beaten egg white over the outer edges for really crisp and golden finish.
- * I use Antonio's Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Spray.
Makes 24 tartlets.