Simple Little Appetizers for Cold Nights

Goat Cheese, Hazelnut, and Mint Phyllo Triangles 3No one in our small New England town wants to commit to entertaining this winter! After countless storms and resulting cancellations, people are wary of planning too far ahead. My husband is a social animal, though, so I’ve figured out a way to issue some last-minute invites. It works like this. I wait until the local weather team gives the all clear, and then ask a few friends to come over for wine and nibbles. Afterwards, we all go out for dinner together. Simple and stress-free, this has become my social m.o. for the season.

Along with bowls of olives and toasted nuts, I’ve been serving some delectable cheese-filled Greek phyllo triangles. The classic filling for these savory pastries usually includes feta, sometimes cottage or other cheeses plus eggs. I opted for a mixture of creamy chèvre, grated Parmesan, chopped hazelnuts, and fresh mint. A dollop of this flavorful mélange is placed on a corner of a strip of buttered phyllo. Then the phyllo strip is folded into triangles (like a flag) so that the filling is encased in several layers of paper-thin dough. When baked, the butter-brushed packages become golden and flaky.

You can make these appetizers a day ahead, or assemble and freeze them so that you have a nice supply on hand. Either way, these bite-size starters, will take a little of the chill out of this long, endless winter!

Chèvre, Hazelnut, and Mint Phyllo Triangles
1/2 cup (4 oz) creamy goat cheese
2 tbsp grated Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
2 tbsp chopped toasted hazelnuts (see note)
2 tbsp finely julienned mint leaves
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg yolk
5 phyllo sheets, approximately 12 by 17 inches, defrosted in the refrigerator (see note)
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted plus extra for the baking sheets

1 to 2 tbsp julienned fresh mint leaves
1 tbsp finely julienned or grated lemon zest, optional

1. Arrange racks at center and upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter two baking sheets.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together the chèvre, Parmesan, hazelnuts, and 2 tbsp mint until well blended. Season with 1/4 tsp salt plus more if needed. Stir in the egg yolk until blended well into the mixture.

3. Place a phyllo sheet with the short end facing you on a work surface. (Cover remaining phyllo sheets with a moistened kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out.) Brush the sheet lightly with melted butter. Using a sharp knife or scissors, cut 6 lengthwise strips (each about 2 inches wide) from the sheet. Place a level teaspoon of the cheese mixture on the bottom left hand corner of a strip, and fold corner over to enclose filling and make a triangle. Continue folding the strip (like a flag) to make triangles. Place on one of the baking sheets and brush with more melted butter. Repeat with remaining strips.

4. Repeat this process using 4 more phyllo sheets. You should get about 28 triangles. You may have a small amount of buttered phyllo left over, which can be discarded.  (The triangles can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover the baking sheets tightly with plastic wrap, then with foil and refrigerate. Remove plastic and foil before baking. Triangles can also be frozen. Freeze them on the sheets, and when frozen, transfer to an airtight container, placing waxed paper or parchment paper between layers. Return to the freezer. Do not defrost; bake as directed adding 5 to 10 minutes to the time as needed.)

5. Place baking sheets in the oven and bake for 5 minutes, until golden on the bottom. Reverse sheets top to bottom. Turn the triangles with a metal spatula, and bake about 4 to 5 minutes more until golden on the other side. Watch carefully as they can become too brown quickly. Remove and cool 5 minutes.

6. Arrange the triangles on a platter and sprinkle with 1 to 2 tablespoons of julienned mint, and, if desired, with lemon peel or zest. Makes about 28 triangles.

Note: To toast hazelnuts, place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Watch carefully so that they do not burn. When cool enough to handle, place a few nuts at a time in a clean kitchen towel and rub off the skins.

Note: Phyllo sheets come in various sizes; if 12- by 17-in strips are not available, use 14 by 18-in ones, and trim to 12 by 17 inches. Fillo Club (often available at Whole Foods) is a favorite brand of mine that offers phyllo sheets in both these sizes.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2014

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