There exists for me a very rare and special category of food: food that is so much lower in calories than it ought to be that it almost feels unfair. Portions that look huge and are full of cheese, but somehow there’s no nutritional downside. It appears that filo pastry is the key to this category. It’s thin and fragile, but bakes into solid, crunchy goodness so that you don’t notice how little there is of it. Plus it makes me feel all fancy. Filo pastry is a great way of separating out the filling for what would otherwise have been a single large pie into lots of little filo parcels, which means you get so much more crunch for your filling. Brilliant. Fair warning: these parcels are a bit fiddly. But they don’t take long, and they’re worth it. Some of the cheese leaked out of mine in the oven, and at first I panicked and was sad and assumed it was a disaster. Turns out, it wasn’t. It makes no different to the cheesiness or crunchiness of the parcels, plus I got to eat the crispy cheese. I guess a fix for this would be to double up the filo pastry for each parcel, which you are welcome to do, but I’m happy with fewer calories and crispy cheese.
You can use these parcels as a fancy low-calorie starter, or eat three of them and still have a low calorie dinner but feel like you are eating a feast. Guess which I did?
3 filo pastry sheets
800g plum tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
100g mature cheddar (I used low fat)
2 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil
Makes 6 parcels
Calories per parcel: 160
Takes 60 minutes
Stage one: Preheat the oven to 190C/fan 170C. Quarter the tomatoes, mix in the garlic and 1 tsp of olive oil, season and pop in the oven for 30 minutes. I’d give them a mix around half way through to stop them burning. This should dehydrate the tomatoes and intensify their flavour. If they’re still plump at the end of the 30 minutes, roast them for a further 10 minutes. The drier they are, the easier they will be to work with.
Stage two: Meanwhile, put the spinach in a colander and pour a kettle full of boiling water over it to wilt. Leave to cool, then squeeze as much of the water out of it was possible. Grate the cheddar into a bowl.
Stage three: Lay out the first sheet of filo pastry, and halve it so that you have 2 filo squares. Take a sixth of the tomato mixture and put it on the centre of the bottom edge of one of the squares. Sprinkle a sixth of the cheddar and the spinach on top.
Stage four: OK, here’s the fiddly bit. Gently start to roll up the parcel into a sausage. The tomato is going to want to seep through and rip the filo, so you’ll need to support it as you roll it up. Brush both sides of the pastry roll with olive oil, and then fold the ends of the sausage over the tomato side of the roll. This will help it hold together in the oven. Repeat for the other 5 parcels.
Stage five: Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, and lay the parcels on it. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden.