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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Making veggies even more palatable (wrap it in puff pastry with a bunch of cheese)

Nearly two years ago, when my now husband and I first started dating, I made some filled pastry recipes for a gathering of our friends. For that occasion, I decided to try to make (for the first time, which is always of dubious wisdom when entertaining) both ham and cheddar-filled puff pastry triangles and spinach and cheese-filled puff pastry triangles. The ham ones were good, but the spinach ones turned out great. Spinach held nearly all of the cheese inside the pastry and resulted in a moist, cohesive, and flavorful filling. The pastries were much loved, particularly by one friend (the same friend for whom I made the cannelloni), and I've made them probably 10-15 times since then, mostly at her request, though I also had a chance to make them at Christmas this year both for a party that I went to and for our family's traditional Christmas Eve gathering. They were well-received (really, how hard is it to go wrong with a dish that contains both pastry and cheese, right?)

I was reminded of this recipe this week when we tried a frozen Spinach and Feta Pie from Trader Joe's for a quick dinner this week. While I found their pie definitely less than ideal, a great (and admittedly probably slightly less healthy) alternative would be to take this appetizer recipe and make it into a casserole-dish sized pie with a sheet of puff pastry on the top and one on the bottom.

Again, this recipe, inspired initially by the greek dish spanakopita, is a method more than a particular recipe. I've probably never used the same quantities and cheeses twice, and have added and omitted different ingredients at different times. One of the key ingredients I always leave in, though, is nutmeg....it goes well with both the spinach and cheese for a balancing and slightly unexpected flavor. You may want to double the recipe for a large gathering.

Spinach and Cheese Pastries (known by some as "Spinach Delights")
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
10-15 grinds black pepper
1/2-1 tsp kosher salt
dash crushed red pepper
dash nutmeg
1/2 beaten egg
1/4-1/2 cup half and half (can use fat free)
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2-3/4 cup fontina cheese, shredded
1/2 cup sharp aged cheddar, shredded
1 box Pepperidge Farm puff pastry sheets, defrosted in fridge for a day or two
1 box frozen chopped spinach
1-2 tbsp melted butter (optional)

In a saute pan, melt butter into olive oil and add crushed red pepper, chopped garlic and shallots, salt and pepper, and saute over medium heat until soft. Add to large bowl.

While those ingredients are cooking, defrost frozen spinach in the microwave, put in the middle of a kitchen towel and wring out excess water. Break spinach ball apart and add to the large bowl.

Add cheeses, nutmeg, and half beaten egg to large bowl and mix together. Add half and half, stirring, until mixture sticks together. The filling is done.

Using flour and a rolling pin, roll out each pastry sheet until it's approximately 1.5 times the size it started. Cut into squares with a pizza roller (16 or 20 per sheet for small or 9 or 12 per sheet for large).

To create individual pastries, put about one tablespoon of filling in the middle of each square, brush two adjoining sides with water (with your finger or a pastry brush) and fold into a triangle, pressing the moist sides to non-moist sides. Use a fork to ensure that the edges are pinched together, and brush each pastry with melted butter (using a pastry brush).

Bake on cookie sheets for 15-30 minutes (depending on size) at 400, or until brown on top. Cool on rack.

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