Category Archives: Cheese Dishes

Asparagus-Ramp-Goat Cheese Tart

Aparagus in GreenmarketAsparagus at the Greenmarket

With all the hoopla about ramps, it’s hard to forget that we are also heading into prime asparagus season.  When I was shopping for food last week at the Greenmarket, I saw row upon row of bundles of purple-tipped New Jersey asparagus all standing at attention as though they were ready to be marched into our kitchens.  I plucked the heartiest bunch of the ones that I saw, paid for my purchase, and headed home with them, not quite sure how I’d prepare these springtime gems.

IngredientsIngredients for tart

I’ve been trying to eat my way through the things I’d stored in my freezer until I’d finished with culinary school, which is quite a bit of soup, stocks, bread, and meats.  Rummaging around, I also found a batch of puff pastry I’d frozen.  Then, there were still some of those ramps to be used up.  They really do go a long way.  For years, I’ve wanted to come up with a great asparagus tart recipe to have on hand.  So, I decided to fiddle around with making an Asparagus-Ramp-Goat Cheese Tart, just to be able to use up everything.

Plated tartAsparagus-Ramp-Goat Cheese Tart

The recipe is really very easy to make.  First, you bake the pastry shell.  Then, while it cools, you prepare the asparagus.  Next, mix together the ingredients for the cheese.  The final step is to put all the components together and then bake it one last time, basically to warm it all the way through.  The tart is fragrant, gooey, and feels healthy with the bright green asparagus nestled on top.  It would be a perfect side dish for dinner or maybe the centerpiece of a luncheon or tea party.  Any way you decide to serve it, the asparagus and ramps won’t be around for long, so now is the time of year to make it.

Asparagus-Ramp-Goat Cheese Tart

Prep time: about 45 minutes (including baking time)

Serving size: makes one 12″ x 8″ tart, although you can make it larger if you like

Ingredients:

1 sheet Puff Pastry

1 Egg, large

1/2 tsp. Water

4 oz. Goat Cheese (regular Chèvre is fine)

4 oz. Cream Cheese

4 Ramp leaves, finely chopped

1/4 tsp. Salt

1/8 tsp. Nutmeg, ground

1 pinch White Pepper, ground

1 tsp. Butter, unsalted

1 Shallot, small, minced

4 Ramp bulbs, minced

7-8 Asparagus, ends peeled and trimmed

1 pinch salt

Assembly:

Adding strips to tart shellAdding strips to tart shell

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Roll out the dough very thinly to about a 12″ x 8″ rectangle.  You can make this a bit larger if you like, but you’ll need to be careful not to stretch it when transferring it to the baking sheet and you need to have a bit extra dough with which to make the edges.  Cut out strips of dough about 1/2″ wide and as long as the length of the tart.  Add them on top of the long edges of the tart and press down to seal them.

Egg wash for doughDocking and applying egg wash to the dough

With a fork, gently poke holes in the base of the dough, avoiding the edges.  This is called “docking” and will prevent the dough from rising too much during baking.  Mix together the egg and water and with a brush, lightly apply the egg mixture (or egg wash) to the base of the dough and the sides, taking care not to spread too thick of a coating.  You’ll have lots of egg wash leftover.  Put the dough in the oven and let it bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

Cheese mixtureMixing together cheese layer

While the tart is baking, combine the ingredients for the cheese layer.  Mix together the goat cheese, cream cheese, ramp greens, salt, nutmeg, and pepper until thoroughly combined.  Set aside until the tart has finished and is cool.

Cooked AsparagusCooked asparagus

These asparagus were so fresh and tender, I didn’t really have to do much to them.  I peeled off the tough outer layer and cut off the rough, stringy ends.  To cook them, melt the butter in a skillet.  Add the shallots and ramp bulbs and cook for about a minute, until they soften.  Then, add the asparagus.  Toss to coat the vegetables in the butter mixture.  Add 1 teaspoon of water to the pan and cover it with a lid, letting the asparagus steam for a minute or two until the water has evaporated.  Take care not to burn the asparagus or the shallots and ramps.  Remove the lid and toss to coat the asparagus in the remaining liquid in the pan.

Cooked tart shellBaked tart shell

When the tart shell has finished baking, remove it from the oven and turn the temperature down to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  As you can see from the photo, mine did rise and the strip on the edge shrunk up.  This is why I need to continue to work on my cooking skills.  I still make these kinds of mistakes.  Allow the tart to cool for about 5 minutes before working with it.

Spreading cheeseSpreading the cheese

Spread a thin layer of the cheese mixture over the base of the tart.  This will help to smooth out the bumpy bits that rose during baking.

Tart ready for ovenReady for the oven

Place the asparagus over the cheese in a neat row.  The asparagus should be about the same length.  Spread the cooked shallots and ramp bulbs over the middle of the asparagus.  These will add a touch of sweetness to the herbal-savory cheese and grassy asparagus.

Finished-TartFinished tart

Place the tart in the oven and cook for 15 minutes, until the tart has heated through and the cheese is soft and slightly melty.  The asparagus will still be a bit crisp.  If you’d like your asparagus to be softer, add a touch more water to them when you cook them on the stovetop and let them steam in the pan for a few minutes more.  Serve the tart out of the oven or at room temperature.

Buon appetito!

Ramp and Jarlsberg Gougères

Ramps at Union Square Greenmarket

It’s that time of year again – the annual frenzy over Ramps!  I’d heard via Twitter that they’d arrived at the Greenmarkets.  Even one of my culinary school classmates was talking about how he’d just cooked up a pile of them at his job, grilling them a la plancha.  One of my other classmates asked what on earth ramps were.  He was unfamiliar with this rite of spring in the New York area and was mystified as to the hype over these greens that he’d never heard of before coming up here.

Ramp greens

All kidding aside, I really do look forward to the appearance of these wild leeks.  To me, they are like seeing the first crocus buds breaking through the soil, an indication of spring’s impending arrival, followed by all the wonderful berries, tomatoes, vegetables, and greens that will be showing up in the local markets over the course of the next few months.  Last year, I might have gotten a bit carried away with three posts of ramp recipes, but they do add a bright flavor and bring gorgeous, vibrant color to dishes.

Ready to eatBasket of gougères

In search of a new recipe to bring to a cocktail party, I decided to see how ramps would work inside of gougères, the base of which is choux pastry, something that we made several times in culinary school mostly in sweet versions.  The technique for making these Ramp and Jarlsberg Gougères is straightforward, but does take attention to details and keeping an eye on how the dough comes together.  Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can add in any ingredients you like.  They freeze really well and would be perfect to take to those outdoor gatherings that are starting to take place now that the weather is getting warmer.

Ramp and Jarlsberg Gougères

Prep time: 45 minutes

Serving size: about 3 dozen gougères

Ingredients:

200 ml Water

1/4 tsp. Salt

100 g Unsalted Butter, cut into cubes

125 g All-purpose Flour

1 tsp. Mustard, dried

1/4 tsp. Nutmeg, ground

3 Eggs, large

1 Egg, large, if needed (it might not be)

100 g Jarlsberg Cheese, shredded

2 Tbsp. Ramp greens, chopped finely (about 5 large leaves)

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Prepare two baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Butter, water, and salt heated together

In a saucepan, place the butter, water, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat.  Just at the point when the butter has melted completely, pour in the flour and stir it into the liquid. Turn the heat to low as you mix in the flour using a wooden spoon.

It is very important not to let too much of the water-butter mixture evaporate before adding the flour, as that will throw off the proportions that drive this recipe.  This is also why the butter must be cut into cubes, so that it melts quickly and evenly with very little loss of water vapor as it dissolves.

Dough comes together in the pan

Continue stirring the flour mixture until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.  This is the dessécher (or “drying out”) phase of making choux pastry.  Remove the pan from the heat completely.  Add in the dried mustard and ground nutmeg and stir to incorporate.  Let mixture sit to the side for one minute, off of the heat, while cracking open the eggs.

Stirring in the eggs

Add the eggs one at a time and stir vigorously to incorporate them into the flour mixture.  At first, it will seem like the eggs will never combine with the dough, but keep on stirring until it is all blended together.

Dough with eggs mixed together

Continue adding the other eggs.  The dough will be slick and sticky.  One way to test to see if it is done is to scoop up a bunch of it on the wooden spoon, if it curves over in a hook, it is ready.  If not, it might need another egg, but don’t add in the fourth egg all at once.  Beat together the yolk and the white and add about half the beaten egg to the dough, mix together, and then check it again to see if it is done.  In the several times I’ve made these, sometimes all it needed was just one half of an egg to bring it all together.  (Add the extra half a beaten egg to your next omelet.)

Add in cheese and greens

Stir in the Jarlsberg cheese followed by the ramp greens.

Put on baking sheet

Take spoonfuls of dough and place them on the baking sheets.  Place them in the oven and let them bake for 25-30 minutes until they are puffy and golden brown.

Finished gougères

Remove the baked gougères from the oven.  Leave them on the baking sheet for a minute and then place them on a rack to cool.  These are fine served at room temperature or heated up again by placing them in a 250 degree Fahrenheit oven for 5-10 minutes.  If making them in advance to keep in the freezer, cool them completely and place in a resealable bag.

Buon appetito!

Lent 2013 Kick-off – Meat-free Meals

Fab-u-lous Dahlin!Easter Bonnet – 5th Avenue NYC 2012

Today is Ash Wednesday.  Lent starts today, so scenes like this one from last year’s annual Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue in New York City are still a few weeks away.  As I mentioned last year, it’s also the start of “Oops!  What am I going to fix on Fridays now that I can’t have meat” and the annual menu re-programming phase.  Hopefully, you haven’t already blown it, like I did, by eating meat this morning at breakfast.  In looking through my recipes over the past year, I realized that I’ve added a few new ideas to my files which I’m sharing with you to round out your Lenten menu planning.

 

 

Ricotta-Stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce – a family favorite and so easy to whip together

 

 

 

 

Now that you’ve got a batch of homemade tomato sauce on hand, why not use it to make Eggs Cooked in Spicy Tomato Sauce – add steamed vegetables or salad to make a complete dinner

 

 

 

 

You could also really spice up a Friday night dinner with these Beer-batter Fried Fish Tacos with Kimchi and Guacamole

 

 

 

 

 

Or warm up the evening with some comforting Wild Mushroom Risotto (just be sure to use vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock)

 

 

 

 

Pizza will make it on the menu at some point, so why not try Make-it-yourself pizzas using Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza Dough recipe

 

 

 

You can also see my post “Ack, it’s Lent – Recipes for Meat-free Fridays” for additional ideas on how to get dinner on the table while observing the season.  Hopefully, these recipes will help you and your family to break up the tune casserole / macaroni and cheese / take-out pizza / fish sticks ‘n tater tots rotation for Lenten Fridays.

Buon appetito!

Parmesan Shortbread Rounds

Parmesan Shorbread RoundsParmesan Shortbread Rounds

Four recipe tests, four.  That’s how many times it took for me to finally master this recipe, or at least get it to the point that I wanted it to be.  I’d made a sweet shortbread cookie before and had managed to get the base for the Millionaire’s Shortbread right with just a couple of tries.  This weekend, I’d made it my project to get this savory shortbread right.  Part of the secret is keeping the balance between the different ingredients to maintain the cookie-like structure, especially when adding spices and flavorings.

Grated Parmesan Cheese

I decided that grating the cheese on the fine holes of a box grater worked the best to bring out its nutty, creamy flavor in the rounds.  The final results just didn’t seem to come out the same when I used a Microplane, which created a finer, fluffier pile of cheese.  I also made sure that there was just a bit of sugar included in the mix to give them structure and a touch of softness to go with the crisp edges.  These will go perfectly for one of my next gatherings, if I don’t eat them all myself first.

Parmesan Shortbread Rounds

Serving Size: 30 2-inch rounds

Prep Time: about 1 hour, with time for dough to chill

Ingredients:

1 c. All-purpose Flour

2 Tbsp. White Sugar

1/4 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Dry Mustard

1/8 tsp. Cayenne Pepper

1/2 c. plus 1 Tbsp. finely grated Parmesan Cheese

8 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter, softened

Assembly:

Combine the flour, salt, dry mustard, and cayenne pepper in a bowl.  Add in 1/2 cup of the grated Parmesan and stir together with the flour mixture.  Then, put the softened butter in the bowl and mix it into the dry ingredients.  Once the butter is thoroughly incorporated, the mixture should resemble fine pebbles.

All the ingredients mixed together

You’ll need to use the warmth of your hands to shape the dough.  Form the mixture into a round log about two inches in diameter.  Once it is formed, wrap it in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to rest and chill for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Form dough into a log

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  While the oven is heating up, remove the dough from the refrigerator and slice it into rounds about 1/16 inch thick. If a bit of dough seems to crumble, just stick the round back together.

Slice dough into rounds

Place the rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Sprinkle the rounds with the remaining 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese.  Place in the oven and bake them for 12 minutes, turning the cookie sheet around after 6 minutes so that the rounds bake evenly.

Rounds on baking sheet

Once the shortbread rounds have baked.  Remove them from the oven and let them sit on the baking sheet for 15 minutes at least.  If you pull them from the baking sheet too soon, they will break apart.

Baked Parmesan Shortbread Rounds

Once the shortbread rounds have cooled on the baking tray, remove them and place them on a wire rack to cool further.  Then, place them in an air-tight container where they will keep for several days, if folks don’t eat them all right away.

Parmesan Shortbread Rounds

Buon appetito!

Ricotta-Stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce

A few years back, my youngest sister suggested making this dish for my father when we were at his house for dinner.  As he’s now back to bachelor-style fare, with my mother being ill, he doesn’t have pasta very often.  For some reason, he won’t fix it for himself, which we all find odd, as it is one of those things that we all learned how to cook early on in learning how to feed ourselves.  With these Ricotta-stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce, we also discovered that we had a niece/nephew-friendly dish as well, so it is in the rotation of possible menu selections for their visits.

I found this in the back of a cabinet when I cleaned out my parents’ kitchen

I offer it here as a second-to-last Lenten Friday dinner option, just as you can’t face one more tuna dish or going out for pizza again on a Friday night.  Throw in a salad and garlic bread to make it complete – red and white checked tablecloth optional.  Candle in Chianti bottle is even more optional.  This is also a good way to use up some of the Easy Tomato Sauce if you have any of that still on hand.  I made half a batch of the Ricotta-Stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce for the purposes of this demo, as you’ll see from the photos.  The leftovers are great, too, but I didn’t want to have them around for a week.  To feel the hungry hoard at my folks’ house, we double the recipe.

Ricotta-stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce

Prep-time: 1 hour (with cooking)

Serving size: 4-6 shells per adult

Ingredients:

Ricotta-stuffed Pasta Shells:

24 Jumbo Pasta Shells

1 15-oz. container Ricotta Cheese

1 1/2 c. Parmesan Cheese, grated

1/2 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Black Pepper, ground

1/4 tsp. Nutmeg, ground

2 Tbsp. Parsley, curly-style Italian, fresh, chopped

2 Egg Yolks (save whites for another use)

Savory Tomato Sauce:

1 tsp. Salt

1 c. Onion, cut into small dice

1 Tbsp. Garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

2 1/2 c. Easy Tomato Sauce

3/4 tsp. Oregano, dried

1 Tbsp. Parsley, curly-style Italian, fresh, chopped

Assembly:

Put a large pan of water on the stove to boil. When the water has reached a rollicking, bubbling state, add the salt and let the water come to the boil again.  While the pasta water is boiling and the shells are cooking, make the Spicy Tomato Sauce.

Put oil in large saucepan and let it warm over low heat.

Add onions and raise the heat a little bit.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the onions are translucent and soft.

Add garlic, stir into onions, and let cook for about 1 minute more, making sure not to let it burn or turn golden.

Add red pepper flakes.  You can adjust the amount to your taste.  The goal is to perk up the sauce to provide a lively balance to the heavy cheese, not to make it super-spicy.

Add Easy Tomato Sauce and stir to incorporate. [If the pasta water is boiling at this point, add the shells and then return to making the sauce.]

Add the dried oregano and chopped, fresh Italian parsley and stir into the sauce.  Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.  Leave to continue cooking over low heat while preparing the Ricotta-stuffed Pasta Shells.

If you haven’t already done so, put the pasta shells into the boiling salted water and let them cook according to the package instructions.

Once cooked through, drain pasta and let it cool while fixing the cheese filling.

Pour the ricotta into a medium-sized bowl.

Add 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese.

Add salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and ground nutmeg to the cheeses.

Add chopped, fresh Italian parsley to the cheeses and seasoning.

Mix seasonings and ingredients into the cheeses and blend together thoroughly.

Add egg yolk to cheese mixture and stir to blend it completely into the cheese mixture.

The mixture will have a slight yellow-ish hue from the egg yolk, and the ricotta mixture will be creamy.  It was about this point that I realized that I had just made the classic filling for cheese ravioli, as I’d learned in my pasta making course last year.

Put a couple of spoonfuls of the pasta sauce in the pan and spread it around to coat the bottom of it.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Carefully open up the cooked pasta shells and fill each of them with a couple of tablespoons of the ricotta mixture.

Place the cheese-stuffed shells in the pan.

Continue filling the shells with cheese and putting them in the pan, lined up beside each other.  When we make this for our family, it becomes a team effort, with my sister recruiting me and her boyfriend to help her stuff the shells, to get that double batch of them in the oven for dinner.

Cover the pasta shells with the tomato sauce, using about 2 cups of it.  Sprinkle the sauce-covered stuffed shells with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.

Cover the pan with foil and place in the oven to cook for 25-30 minutes, until the shells are heated through and the cheese is all melted.

Gently pull back the foil, allowing for the oohs and aahs to escape from everyone’s lips at the beauty and wonder of this gorgeous pasta dish.

Serve the shells immediately and bask in everyone’s contented smiles.  The tangy-tart sauce with a hint of heat (but not overly-spicy) helps balance the rich, creamy cheesiness of the stuffed shells.  This recipe has definitely become a crowd-pleaser around my folks’ house.

Buon appetito!

Cheddar Cheese-Chive Tuiles

Today’s post is actually going to be a 2-fer, as my mom used to say.  The Cheddar Cheese-Chive Tuiles (or lace, if you prefer) are the garnish for the next post: Leek & Potato Soup.  The soup is creamy, soothing, and has an onion-y perfume to it, but I felt it needed a bit of umph.  With it being a Friday during Lent, I couldn’t really just chop up some ham or cook up some bacon to toss on top of it, so I drummed up these cheesy, chewy creations.  They melt lovingly into the warm soup giving it a hit of tanginess.  Chives sprinkled on the dish along with some in the tuiles provide a bit of contrasting color as well as herbal grassiness.

Leek & Potato Soup with Cheddar Cheese-Chive Tuile

Cheddar Cheese-Chive Tuiles

Serving Size: makes 4

Prep time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

1 c. Cheddar Cheese, shredded or grated (good-quality, not pre-shredded)

2 tsp. Chives, finely chopped (use fresh, not dried)

Assembly:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Grate the cheddar cheese.

Chop the chives.

Toss together the cheese and the chives.

Place four mounds of cheese and chives on the baking sheet.

Place in the oven to cook for about 5 minutes, checking them after 3 minutes to make sure that they aren’t getting brown around the edges just yet.

Here’s how they should look when they are ready to be taken out of the oven.  Let them cool for about 2 minutes.

Carefully peel the tuile off of the paper and drape it over a curved surface, such as a rolling pin so that it gets that curved shape.  You can use a beer or wine bottle, too, but these do have a lot of grease on them (see wet spots on the parchment paper) due to the cheese, so that could get kind of messy.

Let the tuiles rest on the rolling pin for about 5 minutes, until they have taken shape.  Carefully remove from the rolling pin, keeping their curves.  These are great with the soup, but could be lovely with a salad or even as a garnish for roast beef.

Cheddar Cheese-Chive Tuiles

Buon appetito!