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.
"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, each of these little guys is fairly low in calories — 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 F 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. Still, there's no reason to chump ourselves, so 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 temp. 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.
Then again, even if you do over-beat the whites, these little souffles are fairly indestructible. It's hot melty cheese in a crispy shell. Indeed, when the show is over, don't' be surprised if you walk away with an award for Best Appetizer at an Oscar Party.
GOAT CHEESE PHYLLO BITES
Phyllo pastry cups are widely available in the freezer section of most grocers, usually near the 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 the oven to 375F. Arrange the phyllo cups on a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk for 2 minutes. Add the milk in a stream, whisking, and bring to a boil, whisking. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the goat cheese, half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, the egg yolk, the 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 the cream of tartar and continue beating until they just hold stiff peaks. Stir a third of the whites into the sauce, then fold in the remaining whites, gently but thoroughly.
Spoon the mixture into the phyllo cups. Bake on the oven's middle shelf until they are puffed and golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a platter, sprinkle the tops with the remaining cheese and some herbs, then serve immediately.
Nutrition information 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; 55 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."