For my December baking class, I taught my students how to work with store-bought filo dough and puff pastry. We also made no-knead bread, a gorgeous beet tart, and that incredible brown sugar pound cake. For the puff pastry, I was planning on doing some classic riff on butternut squash, leeks, and thyme. Until I flipped through the appetizer section of a new-to-me cookbook and found a version using squash, spicy harissa, and feta cheese. Hello? Hello!
I tested the recipe for a party we threw for Randy’s work. I tweaked it a bit. I wondered if it would be too spicy or too out-there for a group of people I didn’t really know. It was one of those times when I put the plate of mini-tarts out, turned my back for a moment or two to finish something at the stove, turned back around to find them gone. Gone. I got more comments on those little tarts than I did on anything else I made for that night (including a very cool Bûche de Noël – recipe coming soon).
When I made them for the party, I used my default favorite squash – the delicata. I love those little guys for their ease of preparation (you don’t have to peel them) and for their subtle flavor. But I didn’t like how the slices looked on the tart and I think the flavor got lost. When I made them for the class (and the subsequent times after – yes, I’ve made them three times in two weeks), I used butternut. I advise looking for a squash with a long neck since the slices you get from the neck are more uniform than the ones you get from the body. Unless you are able to find a very small squash, you will likely have leftovers. Personally, having a little stash of roasted squash in my refrigerator to add to all manner of things (risotto, pasta, soup, salad), makes me very happy.
Now permit me a paragraph of utter geekdom as I talk about store-bought puff pastry. Having used it for years and now having taught how to work with it to several classes, I know a thing or two about it. Let’s start with the fact that you don’t want to use Pepperidge Farm if you can possibly help it. I know it is widely available and I know it is cheap, but I also know that puff pastry should only contain three ingredients (flour, butter, and salt), and possibly four (sugar). Pepperidge Farm not only is not an all-butter puff, it is a no-butter puff. There is a long list of ingredients on the side of the package, not one of them is butter and most of them I can’t pronounce. So unless that is your only option, steer clear. In Seattle, we are lucky to have two excellent sources of store-bought puff – DeLaurenti and Grand Central Bakery. Both are affordable and terrific and only contain the three or four ingredients I mentioned. Nationally, Trader Joe’s carries puff pastry seasonally, and that season is right now. I tried it for the first time recently and found it to be fine. Not terrific but good, four ingredients, affordable. So stock up! One other option if price is not an issue is DuFour, an exquisite puff that comes with the exquisite price tag of $16/pound.
Each type of store-bought puff (and yes, I am aware on into my second paragraph of geeking out) comes in a different amount, so be flexible when working with this recipe. I call for 12 ounces because I tested it using the DeLaurenti brand and theirs comes in a 12-ounce sheet. Yours might be different. It’s all good – just roll with it. No pun intended. Also, remember you can make these lovely spicy pastries bite-size or larger for more of a substantial first course. You could even serve them as a main course.
One Year Ago: Sweet & Salty Brownie
Two Years Ago: Caramel Chocolate Treasures
Three Years Ago: Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread
Spicy Squash and Feta Puff Pastry Tarts
Inspired by Vegetarian
Makes about 16-32 tarts (depending on how you cut them)
1 medium butternut squash, preferably one with a long neck
7 ounces Fage 2% Greek yogurt
1-2 tbsp. harissa
7 ounces feta cheese, 2 ounces crumbled finely, 5 ounces cut into small cubes
12 ounces all-butter puff pastry
4 thyme sprigs, leaves stripped
Preheat the oven to 375F. Peel and seed the squash. Split the neck in half and thinly slice into semi-circles. Slice the base into thin crescents. Put all the squash onto a large baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and a large pinch of salt. Use your hands to mix together well. Spread out on the sheet and bake for 25 minutes, or until tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Mix together the Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon of the harissa, and the 2 ounces of crumbled feta. Taste it and add more harissa if you would like more heat. Set aside.
Unfold the puff pastry onto a lightly floured surface. Roll it out with a rolling pin, just to even out the folds and to make an even rectangle. Using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife, cut into 16 rectangles. If you are making cocktail sized appetizers, cut each rectangle in half.
Transfer the rectangles to two baking sheets. Spoon about a tablespoon of the yogurt mixture onto each rectangle and top with a slice of squash. Add one or two cubes of feta to each pastry. Repeat with the remaining rectangles. Sprinkle them all with thyme and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until puffed and golden. Serve warm or cool the tarts on a wire rack.