Easy pear and goat cheese phyllo tartlets
We're in full-fledged autumn, but not for long. It always surprises me how such a robust season, parading blazing hues of red and gold, can be so fleeting, especially out here in splendid but mercurial Colorado. Today, it's 80 degrees F; on Wednesday, we're expecting snow. Outside, the leaves are already starting to crisp, falling to the ground and crackling underfoot. In the kitchen, the change is echoed. Fresh basil makes way for dried thyme and sage. This even as the last harvest is being counted, and pumpkins are rolled, hugged, and displayed in roadside pyramids. Warm soups replace crunchy salads, and I can't seem to get enough of warm concoctions of apples and pears.
Last week, we brought a variation of this pear and goat cheese tart to Jenny and Lindsey's for a dinner party. I was a little uncertain about them, since I hadn't allowed much time to prepare the untested recipe, and presentation has never been my forte. Of course, the girls wouldn't have minded if they'd been a flop. They had everything covered, and somehow managed to squeeze 11 adults and 5 children in their cosy condo. Oh, and two dogs, a yellow lab and a golden retriever, who were clearly stars of the show. The youngest of the kids were like a whipping wind comprised of gleeful giggles as they chased Jack, Jenny's lab, around the place. He allowed them to pull his tail, grab his back, and smother him in hugs with a good-natured, slurpy looking grin. As for Riley, the golden, he pleasantly tolerated the commotion but mostly chose to abstain from the fury, establishing himself as a foot warmer, flopping with casual comfort in the midst of the highway of pattering little feet, and occasionally announcing his presence with a cheery, authoritative sound more like a bow wow than a growl, but a little of both.
But back to those tarts. They were good (it's hard to go wrong with pears, a little honey, and goat cheese), but I wasn't totally satisfied. So, this weekend I decided to make them again, only in this version, I added a smidgeon of ground walnuts, a touch of dried sage, fresh thyme instead of dried; and, I used a phyllo crust. That final touch made all the difference, for me.
People say phyllo is fiddly, and I agree, in the sense that it takes some skill (I don't have) to capitalize on the artistic potential. On the other hand, you can't go too wrong, either. Lay your sheets between two layers of waxed paper with a damp towel on top to keep them moist as you work. All you need do after that is work quickly, and the result is temptingly crunchy, no matter how messy, wrinkly and crinkly. Enjoy. If only more aspects of a day's tasks could discount ironing so easily. : )
- 2 ripe medium pears, chopped (think small pieces for muffin cups)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons ground walnuts (optional)
- approximately 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 4-ounce container crumbled goat or feta cheese
- dash dried sage
- 1 8-ounce package phyllo dough
- First prepare the filling. Mix all ingredients apart from the phyllo dough in a bowl and set aside.
- Prepare a muffin tin with baking cups lightly coated with cooking spray.
- Lay phyllo sheets on a piece of waxed paper. Lay another sheet of waxed paper on top, and cover with a damp towel. This will help keep the dough from drying out as you work.
- Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut squares from the dough one at a time, creating cup shapes in the muffin cups.
- Spoon filling evenly into phyllo cups.
- Bake at 400 F for 10 to 12 minutes. Phyllo edges should be lightly browned.