What to serve at this year's Oscar party? I had no clear idea about the right dish until I glanced at a list of the movies in contention at the awards ceremony March 2.
“Gravity” was the one that jumped out at me. Watching the trailer, I was a little alarmed at the sight of poor Sandra Bullock floating around in space. But I also was inspired by her weightlessness. It made me think of souffles, which are famously light thanks to all the whipped egg whites in them. Thus, these “anti-gravity” — not anti-“Gravity” — treats.
Still, a problem remained: How to turn a full-blown souffle into a tasty nibble for a party?
The solution: Make each one small enough to fit into a mini phyllo shell. Happily, these days you should be able to find mini phyllo shells in the freezer section of your local supermarket. Take them home, fill them and bake them, and they're good to go. Even better, no more than 15 calories per shell.
And if you can't find them pre-made, they're easy to make at home. Just stack four sheets of phyllo dough on top of one other, lightly spritzing each sheet with olive oil cooking spray as you stack. Cut the stacked sheets into 3-inch squares, ease the stacks into the cups of a mini-muffin pan, then bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they're barely golden at the edges. Let them cool before filling and baking.
What about that filling? I considered a chocolate souffle or an orange souffle or a broccoli souffle. But I opted for lusciousness of a cheese souffle because, after all, we're talking about the Oscars here, which is not exactly a model of restraint. I went with goat cheese, which is relatively lean even as it boasts tangy flavor and creamy texture. I also added some Parmigiano-Reggiano, because even a little of this rich bruiser delivers big impact.
With the cheeses chosen, making the “cream” sauce was easy; just thicken some 1 percent milk with a little roux (the classic butter-flour mixture) and flavor it with the cheeses and some Dijon mustard.
And here are a couple of tips about working with those eggs whites. First, it's much easier to separate the whites from the yolks when the eggs are cold. Secondly, separate them not by swapping the innards from one cracked egg shell to the other, but with your own (very clean) hands. That way you eliminate the possibility of puncturing the yolks with the sharp edges of the shell.
Once you've got your whites, it's best to beat them at room temperature. To warm them up quickly, simply put them in a metal bowl set into a larger bowl of hot water until they feel tepid to the touch. Then beat the whites until they're barely stiff. If you overdo it, your souffle won't be as stable or high as it could be.
Goat cheese phyllo bites
Phyllo pastry cups are available in the freezer section of most grocers, usually near pastry and frozen fruit.
Start to finish: 30 minutes (15 minutes active)
Makes 45 bites
3 packages (each package contains 15 cups) phyllo pastry cups
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup 1 percent milk
4-ounce log soft goat cheese, crumbled
1 ounce finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 large egg, separated, plus 1 large egg white, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Pinch of cream of tartar
45 fresh dill, tarragon or miniature fresh basil sprigs or snipped chives
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange phyllo cups on a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter. Add flour and whisk for 2 minutes. Add milk in a stream, whisking, and bring to a boil, whisking. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in goat cheese, half of Parmigiano-Reggiano, egg yolk, mustard, and salt and pepper, to taste, stirring until smooth. Set aside.
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat both egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and continue beating until they just hold stiff peaks. Stir a third of whites into sauce, then fold in remaining whites, gently but thoroughly.
Spoon mixture into phyllo cups. Bake on oven's middle shelf until they are puffed and golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a platter, sprinkle tops with remaining cheese and some herbs, then serve immediately.
Per bite: 30 calories; 15 calories from fat (50 percent of total calories); 2 g fat (0.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 5 mg cholesterol; 3 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 1 g protein; and 55 mg sodium.