Mini-phyllo shells make a very big impression

Entertaining

Entertaining: Fill these prebaked cups with savory ingredients for delicious appetizers, or with sweet concoctions to end the meal.

Sunday Gourmet

January 30, 2000|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

The celebrated 19th-century French gourmand Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is the author of the often-quoted lines, "The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a star."

I couldn't agree more with his statement, but I might rephrase it for contemporary purposes by saying that "The discovery of a new food product (especially one with convenience features) is more important to those of us who entertain than landing an Explorer on Mars."

That's how I felt this past week as I prepared appetizers for a small potluck dinner. I made Cremini Mushroom and Saga Blue Cheese Tartlets for my contribution, which took no time at all to prepare because I bought already baked mini-phyllo shells and simply filled them with the mushroom/cheese mixture.

I first heard about these pastry shells from my good friend and colleague, Shirley Corriher, who used them for miniature chess pies when we taught a cooking class together last year in Ohio. Months went by, however, and I had yet to pull a package from the freezer shelf at the market.

Then, several days ago, I found myself with hardly any free time and a commitment to bring hors d'oeuvres to a dinner party. I decided to make savory tartlets. Quickly I sauteed chopped creminis with garlic and added fresh rosemary and bits of Saga Blue as seasonings. I bought prepared phyllo shells instead of making traditional pastry ones from scratch, and much to my delight the tarts were a big success. Guests loved these starters and indulged in three to four servings each.

Although this delicious mushroom stuffing was an ideal choice for our winter menu, I can think of other fillings for these little shells. Pieces of Camembert cheese, dried cherries and toasted walnuts, for example, or sliced, cooked asparagus tossed with Brie cheese and pistachios would make fine combinations.

For sweet confections, you could fill these shells with lemon or lime curd and garnish with mint sprigs. Although these tart shells are packaged fully baked, I think they are best when filled and then heated for a few minutes.

Cremini Mushroom and Saga Blue Cheese Tartlets

Makes 30 tarts or enough to serve 10

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

12 ounces cremini (brown) mushrooms, cleaned and coarsely chopped (see note) 1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, plus extra rosemary sprigs for garnish about 3 ounces Saga Blue cheese (without rind removed) or other creamy blue cheese, cut or crumbled into small pieces, at room temperature

30 mini-phyllo dough shells (see note)

Heat oil in medium, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add mushrooms and saute, stirring, until browned and all liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute, stirring, 1 minute more.

Remove from heat. Stir in salt, pepper, 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary and 2/3 of cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. (Mushroom filling can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before using.)

When ready to serve, arrange oven rack at center position. Arrange shells on aluminum foil-lined baking sheet and fill each with some mushroom mixture. Bake at 350 degrees until filling is hot, about 5 minutes. Remove. Garnish center of each tart with small piece of remaining blue cheese (you may have some cheese left over) and small rosemary sprig. Arrange tartlets on serving platter and serve immediately.

Note: Cremini mushrooms are simply the brown version of white, cultivated mushrooms. I think these dark mushrooms have a more intense flavor, but you can substitute white ones if you wish.

I used the Athens brand of mini-phyllo shells. These tart shells are about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and are fully baked. They come in packages of 15 and are available in the freezer section. Shells take about 10 minutes to defrost at room temperature.

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