Why You Can Feel Good About Phyllo

spinach tartlets


Photographer: Kate Sears Food Stylist: Anne Disrude Prop Stylist: Victoria Petro Conroy

Whether you call it phyllo, fillo or filo, one thing is certain, this store-bought dough is versatile. Phyllo (Greek for "leaf") is actually layered sheets of paper-thin pastry dough that, when baked, become light, crisp and flaky, with a wonderful toasted flavor. And there are reasons to feel good about phyllo: Because the dough has no trans fat, no saturated fat, no cholesterol and just 160 calories per 5 sheets, it makes the perfect substitute for puff pastry, ready-made piecrusts and refrigerated pie dough. Try the Spinach and Goat Cheese Tartlets, above (from Food Network Magazine), or any of the tips and recipes below.

Tips for Working with Phyllo

Phyllo dough is sold frozen, so always follow the manufacturer's instructions for thawing (overnight in the refrigerator). Trust me: You simply can't thaw at room temperature because the dough becomes gummy and difficult to work with.

Unroll the phyllo on a dry, flat surface.

Cover the top sheet of unused phyllo with plastic wrap and then a damp towel to prevent the sheets from drying out and cracking; uncover the sheets as you need them and re-cover them while you work.

You don't always need to brush butter between layers. I like to use butter-flavored cooking spray. (I’ve even used nothing between layers, and it still works for things like the piecrusts and "purses," below).

Fillings should be chilled or room temperature and not excessively moist.

Work as quickly as you can and realize that some sheets may dry out and crack. Just grab a fresh sheet and keep working.

Unused phyllo can be rerolled and refrozen for another day.

Recipe Ideas

For all of the ideas below, bake at 375 degrees until the phyllo is golden brown, 8 to 20 minutes (time varies depending on filling, number of sheets used, shape and size of phyllo, and whether or not the layers have been sprayed with cooking spray).

Note: Layered sheets means how many sheets are layered together.

Piecrusts & Pot Pies: Use 4 layered sheets in place of piecrusts for both sweet pies and savory pot pies; trim or roll back any excess dough that hangs over the edges; bake until phyllo is golden brown.

Open-Face Pies: Make galette-style pies by placing fruit (apples, pears, peaches, berries) on the center of 4 layered sheets. Fold over the edges of the sheets to slightly cover the filling; bake until phyllo is golden brown.

Strudels: Top 4 layered sheets with a variety of fillings and roll up (burrito-style) to make sweet and savory strudels. Filling ideas:

• Diced pears or apples and dried cranberries; add a little cinnamon and sugar if desired

• Brown rice, black beans and shredded Cheddar cheese

• Frozen, thawed (and well drained) chopped spinach, wild rice, feta cheese and oregano

• Scrambled eggs and shredded pepper Jack cheese

Parmesan Twists: Cut 4 layered sheets into 1-inch thick strips; hold strips by the ends and twist; transfer to a baking sheet, spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese; bake until golden brown.

Beggar’s Purses: Cut 4 layered sheets into 4-inch squares; place a variety of fillings on the center of each square. Pull up the corners and pinch them together to make "purses;" transfer to a baking sheet and bake until golden brown. Filling ideas for purses (dice all ingredients):

• Chicken curry or barbecued chicken
• Grilled steak and peppers
• Tofu and mixed vegetables
• Stir-fried Asian noodles seasoned with soy sauce
• Ground chicken or turkey with minced onion and teriyaki sauce
• Chopped cellophane noodles with bok choy and cremini mushrooms

Nests: Cut 3 layered sheets into 6-inch squares; press squares into the bottom and up the sides of a muffin pan. Spray with cooking spray; bake until golden brown. Fill with your favorite fillings, such as chicken and shrimp salad, chicken stew, thick chilis, vanilla yogurt and fresh berries, or chocolate pudding with chocolate shavings.

Napoleons: Cut 3 layered sheets into 4-inch squares; place squares on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown. Use layered squares as layers between grilled vegetables, fresh fruits and whipped cream or between savory fillings such as light cream cheese and smoked salmon.

Katafi: Shred phyllo or thinly slice with a knife; spread out on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crisp. Use katifi as a topping for salads, un-crusted pot pies and sweet pies, chilis, soups, and stews.

Robin Miller is host of Quick Fix Meals, a nutritionist and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Robin Takes 5” and “Robin Takes 5 for Busy Families.” She is the busy mom of two active boys. Her boys and great food are her passion. Check her out at www.robinmillercooks.com.

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