We may not be hosting the kind of holiday parties this year that we hosted in years past, but our desire for something festive to mark special days remains strong.
You and your family may find that these pleasing little puffs satisfy that desire with virtually no effort on your part.
Puff pastry is the little black dress of the kitchen. No matter how humble the ingredients you put inside it, when it emerges from the oven in its lofty glory, it looks elegant and refined. That’s a good enough reason to keep a package in the freezer, in my opinion. People will ooh and ahh, and think you spent hours in the kitchen. Only you will know that your puffs took mere minutes to make.
The herb paste, aromatic and complexly flavored, is the key. Most people will assume that it’s spinach, and its intense flavor will surprise them in the best possible way. If you have some of the paste left over, it’s good stirred into cream cheese for a spread, or into mayonnaise or sour cream as the start of a salad dressing.
While the puffs are good with just the herb paste, pepper jack and onion, they are even better if you have some leftover protein to throw in between the paste and the cheese. In my most recent batch, I had a little of my most recent smoked chicken left over, so I diced it fine and added it. The smoky chicken added a new flavor element.
Of course, you can vary the cheese in these. Cheddar is good, if not exciting. Smoked or unsmoked Gouda would be divine. You just want something that melts well.
This recipe looks long, but if you read it through, you will see that its length is mostly due to my attempt to give you clear instructions. Making the most recent batch of these took me less than 15 minutes.
Arizona herb puffs
Makes 8 to 10 puffs
Puff pastry comes in a box with 2 sheets, so you could make one sheet of rolls vegetarian and the other with optional add-ins: leftover roast chicken or pork, shredded beef, what have you. Put such add-ins atop the herb paste and under the cheese. You can prepare the rolls up to the slicing and refrigerate or freeze for later baking if that suits your schedule better. It’s important to pinch the seam shut tightly on the rolls before cutting to be sure it’s fully sealed.
1 bunch cilantro
? bunch parsley
1 package fresh mint, about ? ounce, leaves stripped from the stems
2 serrano or jalape?o chiles
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (from one-half medium lemon)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1? teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 17.3-ounce package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
2 cups shredded pepper Jack cheese
? medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
In a food processor or blender, combine the cilantro (leaves and some stems), parsley, mint leaves, chiles, lemon juice, cumin, salt and olive oil. Blend to a smooth paste. If you’re using a blender, you may need to add a little additional lemon juice to get it to blend smoothly.
Taste the herb paste. It should be picante, pleasantly sour and herby. If the chiles were not especially hot, tone up the herb paste with your favorite hot sauce until it’s quite spicy.
Working on a sheet of parchment paper or a lightly floured work surface, lay out a sheet of puff pastry. Spread it with herb paste, leaving an inch strip across the top of the sheet clear.
Add half of the shredded pepper jack, and half the red onion, again leaving that inch-wide strip across the top clear. Starting at the edge closest to you, tightly roll the pastry toward the top until you reach the clear strip. Brush the clear strip with the beaten egg, finish rolling the pastry and then roll it back toward you until the seam is visible. Pinch the seam closed to ensure that the filling doesn’t leak out in baking.
Return the roll to a seam side-down position. Cut into four or five pieces, each a little over an inch wide. Place the pieces 2 inches apart on the lined baking sheet.
Repeat with the other sheet of puff pastry dough and remaining herb paste, cheese and onion. Brush the tops of the cut pieces with the remaining egg.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm from the oven, or at room temperature (they’re better when warm).
Robin Mather is a longtime food journalist and the author of “The Feast Nearby.” Follow her blog as she writes her third book, “The Feast of the Dove,” at thefeastofthedove.com.