Archives for category: Cheese

“Good-bye to…food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you…Do human beings ever realize life while they live it? — Every, every minute?”

Oh Thorton Wilder. I know you’re relegated to the dustbin of high school English classes but this quote from Our Town gets me every time. I haven’t read Wilder in years but this weekend, in between working a new job, visiting the Whitney Biennial and the Francesca Woodman show at the Gugg*, and generally avoiding people in green, I read multiple applications for the Board I’m on, students eager to get into an academic summer program.

Someone’s application made a reference to Our Town and my mind wandered to this passage. Food and coffee and freshly ironed dresses, hot baths, sleeping, and waking up…In the words of Rodgers and Hammerstein, these are a few of my favorite things.

Wilder in mind, I set out for this weekend’s simple cooking pleasure. With the weather warming up, but the farmer’s markets not yet stocked with the first produce of the season, an in-between, intermediary meal was in order. Something to welcome the spring and sun and longer days, and gently bid farewell to the unfriendliest of seasons (although kind of friendly this past year).

My hand reached for Plenty on the shelf. That’s the cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi I wrote about here two weeks ago. It would have to be the caramelized garlic tart. The perfect early spring food: the lusciousness of cream, the lightness of pastry, the fragrance of rosemary and thyme. It’s letting go of winter and greeting spring simultaneously. It’s warm and cool, light and dark, sweet and savory, like March itself.

The Ball jar above is filled with cream, crème fraîche, eggs, salt, and pepper. Its final destination: the all-butter puff pastry, to be filled with caramelized garlic, two types of goat cheeses, rosemary and thyme. In the words of a friend, “I do.”

Caramelized Garlic Tart
From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 8

1 sheet all-butter puff pastry (approx. 375 g)
3 medium heads of garlic, cloves peeled and separated
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
scant 1 c water (220 ml)
3/4 tbsp sugar
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp chopped thyme, plus a few twigs to finish
1/4 lb (120 g) soft, creamy goat’s cheese (I used Caprichio from Spain)
1/4 lb (120 g) hard, mature goat’s cheese (I used smoked goat cheddar from Redwood Hill, CA)
2 eggs
1/3 c (100 ml) heavy cream
1/3 c (100 ml) crème fraîche
salt and black pepper

Have ready a shallow, loose-bottomed, 9-in. (28 cm) fluted tart tin. Thaw the puff pastry if frozen for at least 40 minutes before handling, then line the bottom and sides of the tin. Place a large circle of wax paper on the bottom and fill with dried beans. Let rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C). Place the tart in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, with the beans. Remove the beans and wax paper, then bake for another 5-10 minutes, until the pastry is golden. Set aside, leave the oven on.

While the tart is baking fend off vampires by preparing the garlic. (A trick by the way to peeling all that garlic is putting the cloves in a jar, like a Mason or Ball jar, and shaking hard for about one minute. At least half the skins will fall off that way.) Place the cloves in a small saucepan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a simmer and blanch for 3 minutes, then drain well. Dry the saucepan, return the cloves to it, and add the olive oil. Fry the garlic cloves on high heat for 2 minutes. Add the balsamic and water and bring to a boil, then simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add the sugar, rosemary, chopped thyme, and 1/4 tsp salt. Continue simmering on medium for 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the garlic cloves are coated in a dark caramel syrup. Breath in deep. Set aside.

To assemble the tart, break up both types of goat’s cheeses into pieces and scatter in the pastry. Spoon the garlic cloves and syrup evenly over the cheese. In a jug or bowl whisk together the eggs, creams, 1/2 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour this over the tart filling to fill the gaps, but make sure you can still see the garlic over the surface.

Reduce the oven temp to 325 F (160 C) and place the tart inside. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the tart filling has set and the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool a little. Remove from tin, lay a few sprigs of thyme on top and serve warm with a crisp green salad.


*If you live in NYC I highly encourage you to visit the Whitney Biennale, up until May 27th. Head straight to the second floor for Latoya Ruby Frazier’s black and white photographs—these are worth the visit alone; then check out Werner Herzog’s film, an ode to c17 Dutch painter Hercules Segers set to the music of Ernst Reijseger, also on the second floor. And then check out the little room toward the back of the second floor gallery with the Forrest Bess (by Robert Gober) installation: chilling. Then head up to the fourth floor rehearsal space of Michael Clark, British dancer and choreographer, who, with the dancers in his company, have taken over the entire floor. You get to stand around and watch them rehearse through April 8th.

Finally…worth a trip to the Guggenheim to see Francesca Woodman through June 13th. Woodman was a prolific photographer with a very short career, basically 1975 to 1981. I loved the Providence photos in particular.

When I saw Sam Sifton’s gooey wild-mushroom lasagna in last weekend’s Times magazine I 1) held the magazine up to my nose and tried to inhale the aromas and 2) logged onto Fresh Direct’s website and ordered all the ingredients in the recipe. And thus began this weekend’s cooking adventure.

I’m into mushrooms. I have a friend who puts them in the category of “things that are slimy like sushi and therefore gross,” but I couldn’t disagree more. They are a vegetarian’s best friend, a meat-lover’s confidant, an umami-laden, savory, rich, earthy delight that adds depth and complexity to any dish.

This was not a thirty-minute meal. I started cooking last night at 6:30 and didn’t get the dish on the table until 10 pm. And I worked relatively quickly, or so I thought, but did not have a sous chef to help me cut all the shallots or grate the cheese or assemble the herb oil. But it was so worth it.

Let’s start with the herb oil. As Sifton writes, Monica Byrne and her partner Leisah Swenson run a tiny restaurant in Red Hook, Brooklyn, called Home/Made, and this herb oil infuses many of their dishes. It’s essentially good olive oil marinated with sage, rosemary, thyme, salt, and garlic. It’s an oily pesto that you use to roast the radicchio and cook the shallots and even make the bechamel in this recipe. I made extra so plan to use it to marinate sandwiches for lunch this week or even use as a pistou in soups.

I used three different kind of mushrooms for this lasagna: cremini, shiitake, and oyster; and four different kinds of cheese: Gruyère, Fontina, Parmesan, and smoked mozzarella. This is not a cheap dish to make, but it does yield about ten servings so in actuality it’s not too bad. Plus the results taste like something you’d pay good money for at a restaurant, with layers and layers of taste. It’s the perfect cold-weather dish to savor warm, rich flavors, and if you’re into wine, would go well with a dry, crisp white to cut the richness of the cheese.

I didn’t, however, use the optional truffle oil. Personally I don’t use the stuff. I find the smell slightly nauseating and besides, it’s not made with real truffles so what’s the point? But the herb oil should not be optional—it’s worth the extra effort.

If you’re hosting a dinner party this would be a great dish to make to serve lots of folks, including vegetarians, and could even be made in advance and just popped in the oven an hour before serving. I only wished I’d had a nice crunchy green salad to serve on the side, but made do with some crisp sliced carrots and sour green beans I had pickled over the summer. I would even try serving this to my anti-mushroom friend in the hopes that she could make nice with the fungus once and for all.

Gooey Wild-Mushroom Lasagna
Sam Sifton, adapted from Monica Byrne, Home/Made, Brooklyn

1/2 c extra-virgin olive oil or herb oil
6 large shallots, peeled and minced
1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, wild or best available (oyster, shiitake, cremini), trimmed and sliced
1 c dry white wine
1 softball-sized head of radicchio, halved, cored, and cut into small pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp unsalted better, or herb oil
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 tbsp flour
3 c whole milk
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 c Gruyère cheese, grated
1 c Fontina cheese, grated
2 tbsp best-quality truffle oil (optional)
2 9-oz boxes no-boil lasagna sheets
1 baseball-size ball of smoked mozzarella, sliced
1 c fresh Parmesan, grated

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 1/4 c of the herb oil. When it’s hot, add half of the shallots and cook until translucent. Add the mushrooms, toss to coat, and cook for approx. 12 to 15 minutes, until they start to turn color but remain plump. Add the white wine to deglaze pan and allow to cook down into a syrup, approx. 5 to 7 minutes. Put the mushrooms into a large bowl and reserve.

2. In another bowl, toss the radicchio with 1/4 c herb oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the strips onto a baking sheet and place in the oven approx. 15 minutes, until the strips are lightly browned. Combine with the mushrooms and reserve.

3. Make the béchamel. Place a saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter. When it foams add the rest of the shallots and cook until they’re translucent. Add the garlic, stir to combine, and cook until the garlic has started to soften. Stir in the flour and cook gently until the mixture turns light brown and gives off a nutty scent, approximately 10 minutes. Add the milk to the mixture, whisking, until the sauce is thick and creamy. Add the nutmeg and 1/2 c of the Gruyère and 1/4 c Fontina, and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Reserve a cup of béchamel and pour the rest over the mushroom-radicchio mixture and stir to combine. Add the truffle oil, if using.

5. Assemble lasagna. Spread all of the plain béchamel across the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Place a layer of lasagna sheets across the sauce, and do not overlap the sheets. Spread a generous layer of mushroom mixture on top of the pasta, and follow with some grated Fontina and Gruyère. Put another layer of pasta above the cheese, and top with smoked mozzarella. Repeat until the pasta is gone and the pan is full. Top with remaining cheeses and grated Parmesan. Cover with a buttered sheet of aluminum foil and place in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and cook (or broil) until the top is golden and crispy. Pat yourself on the back for making such an awesome dish.

I had a craving this week brought on by subliminal messaging. Wednesday morning I was reading the Times‘s Dining section and recall seeing more than one recipe involving cornmeal. I suppose it’s that time of year—for cornbread stuffing, creamy polenta, cornmeal cookies. By 4 pm I was at the greenmarket in Union Square with a serious hankering. I swung by the Cayuga Pure Organics stand and bought a bag of fine cornmeal (not its coarser cousin, polenta—no offense polenta).

My plan was to make jalapeño spoonbread using Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe from her Recipes for Health column. Spoonbread is an airy, soufflé-like cornbread that turns golden brown and rises during baking. I find it’s moister than cornbread, and the leftovers make for one mean breakfast the next morning.

In the end I couldn’t find a jalapeño or an ear of corn (or frozen corn for that matter) so I made some adjustments. I substituted cayenne for the jalapeño, and did away with the corn kernels all together.

By the time I got baking it was nearing 10 pm, and since I decided to beat the egg whites by hand, it was close to midnight when I finally pulled the puffy, fragrant cornmeal soufflé from the oven. No matter, still airy and warm I cut into the spoonbread and helped myself to a midnight snack.

The next morning, I reheated a slice in a skillet with a little butter and served it drizzled with maple syrup for a scrumptious breakfast.

The story doesn’t end there. I tried the recipe again yesterday with my friend Amy while on a lunch break (the perks of being a freelancer and working from home). But the two spoonbreads couldn’t have been more different. Whereas the first night the cornbread browned and puffed up just like it was supposed to, yesterday is remained yellow without browning and never quite reached soufflé heights, and I know why.

You know how when beating egg whites you’re supposed to make sure there’s nothing else in the bowl? No trace of anything that could prevent the whites from reaching their stiff peaks? I goofed and left about 1 tsp of milk in the bowl ergo the egg whites never full aerated. Nonetheless, yesterday’s batch was spoonable and yummy, just with less of the french-toast-like consistency of the first batch. More like regular cornbread, less dense though.

You can probably tell which photo of the finished product is from which experiment.

Jalapeño Spoonbread
Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman, The New York Times

1 c water
2 c milk (whole or 2%)
3/4 tsp salt
1 c (130 g) cornmeal
2 tbsp unsalted butter
3 eggs, whites and yolks separated
Kernels from 1 ear of corn of 3/4 c frozen corn (optional)
2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
1/2 c (2 oz) Gruyère cheese, grated (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and butter a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet or baking dish.

2. Combine the water, milk, and salt in a saucepan and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat. Slowly add the cornmeal in a stream while whisking constantly. Turn the heat to low and continue to whisk for 8 to 10 minutes, until the mixture is thick. Remove from heat and stir in the butter.

3. One at a time, stir in the egg yolks, then add the cheese and corn kernels, if using, and the jalapeños.

4. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Stir in 1/4 of the egg whites into the cornmeal mixture, then gently fold in the remaining 3/4. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish and place in the oven. Bake for thirty minutes until the spoonbread puffs and begins to brown. Serve at once.

Should you achieve soufflé greatness it is a satisfying but fleeting accomplishment. Dig into the spoonbread while still warm and puffy, because it will deflate before you can reach for seconds. Chill leftovers and serve the next day reheated in a skillet with a bit of butter (and maple syrup if you’re so inclined).

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