Swaddled in their own rustic gift paper, groundcherries are actually relatives of tomatillos—not the tree-grown stone fruit they’re named for—and they share some of the citrusy, tropical tang we associate with that green, husked staple of Mexican cuisine.
When the CSA shares arrived yesterday, I couldn’t resist tasting a couple straight from the box. Sure enough, there’s almost a pineapple undertone. Sweet, but not too sweet, balanced with bright, bright acidity. It was hard to stop at just a handful. But I had Thursday off, and the weather forecast seemed cool enough to run the oven.
Something about these little pearlized, marble-sized rarities made me yen for goat cheese and Phyllo. Phyllo, fruit, and I go way back. Buttered layers, sprinkled with sugar, loaded with most any fruit (nectarine and plum slices were particular favorites), rolled up and baked—a ridiculously easy yet showy (and maybe show-offy) dinner-party staple, back when I used to throw a lot of dinner parties.
After a false start on the filling (my first batch was too sweet), the results were even better than I’d hoped.
Yields eight bundles. Go ahead, give everybody two.
If you use frozen Phyllo, you’ll need to thaw it out (either on the counter for two hours or in the fridge overnight) before you can work with it. Note that once you get going, you’ll have to work fast; Phyllo quickly becomes friable, and once you’ve built your layers you need to be able to fold or roll the pastries without breaking them into bits. You’ll buy a few extra minutes if you work with just one sheet at a time, leaving the rest of the stack covered with a clean kitchen towel until you’re ready to move on.
For the filling
- 1 pint groundcherries
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp water
- a few drops of vanilla extract
- crumbled goat cheese (optional)
Remove the husks from the cherries and rinse off any sticky residue.
In a small saucepan, combine all the filling ingredients (except the goat cheese). Cook over medium heat for 5-8 minutes, until the fruit starts to break down and the syrup reduces slightly. Set aside to cool a bit.
For the pastry
- 1/4 cup whole almonds
- 1/8 cup sugar
- 4 sheets Phyllo dough
- 2 tbsp melted butter
Lightly toast the almonds in a dry skillet for a few minutes. Allow to cool completely. Pulse the nuts and the sugar in a food processor until they’re fully blended into a fine meal. Set aside in a small bowl.
Preheat the oven to 375°.
Take out the first sheet of Phyllo and lay it flat on your work surface. Brush it with melted butter, and sprinkle lightly with the almond sugar. Lay sheet two on top of sheet one. Brush the top with butter; sprinkle with the sugar. Repeat with sheet three. Add the fourth, but don’t butter the top.
With a sharp knife, carefully cut the layered stack into eight pieces. I took it straight down the center, top to bottom, and then split the halves into four smaller rectangles each.
Using a slotted spoon so you don’t get too much liquid, put a scoop of the cherries toward the end of each piece. Add a few crumbles of goat cheese, if you like. I suppose a schmear of cream cheese or mascarpone would be great, instead, but I was looking for the freshness of chèvre.
Roll or fold each piece (starting at the end with the fruit). Place the packets, seams down, on a parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheet.
Brush the top of each bundle with butter and dust once more with the almond sugar.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
Serve warm, maybe with a little vanilla ice cream. Or not.