Category Archives: Cheese Dishes

Risotto alla Gorgonzola

Having visitors provides a great excuse to get to the parts of the city that one normally doesn’t get to in the course of one’s usual errands. This past week, my sister came to town for a few days. We didn’t really have a plan, per se, for things to do on this trip. I had some long-overdue things to get done and dragged her around town. In return, I also took her to someplace that I knew would be a little bit of heaven for her.

Murray’s Cheese Shopis one of those institutions in New York that is spoken of as the authority on all things for fermented dairy, much like the cheese counter at Fairway. I made sure that my sister was fully prepared to enter this notable establishment. She’s often told me that cheese is one of hers and her boyfriend’s food loves. I wanted to make sure that she enjoyed her visit.

She wasted no time in making her selections after a brief perusal. On the first time in the shop, it can be a bit overwhelming to see all the different varieties, but the staff is always helpful to offer recommendations and to provide samples. The cheeses are well labeled as to where they are from and how they might taste.

My sister grabbed several kinds of soft and hard cheeses as well as some salami to take back with her. Murray’s also has various hard sausages, cured meats, honeys, and dried fruits for sale that pair well with their other wares. In addition, the shop sells ice packs to keep everything cool for the journey back home.

We’d had kind of a large lunch that day at one of my favorite Turkish restaurants. My sister and I both wanted something a bit simpler for dinner. She had suggested a dish that she’d had when visiting me in Italy: Risotto alla Gorgonzola. I’d never made this, but the sampling of blue cheeses at Murray’s inspired me to attempt it.

Based upon my sister’s description of the dish and my own experience in making risotto, I could guess at the kind of cheese that was used. Gorgonzola is not as simple as it might seem. There are various versions from softer and creamy (younger) to more pungent and crumblier (older or more aged). It is made in the Piedmont and Lombardy regions of Italy, which are in the North. For the dish that I made, I used two different types: a Gorgonzola-Mascarpone layered type and a creamy Gorgonzola. These melted well into the risotto and gave it a richness with a subtle and not too overwhelming blue cheese finish.

Gorgonzola and Mascarpone in layers 

Creamy Gorgonzola

Risotto alla Gorgonzola

Serving Size: 4 appetizer portions or 2 main dish portions

Prep Time: about an hour

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/3 c. finely minced yellow onion
1 Tbsp. finely minced garlic
1 c. carnaroli rice
1/2 c. dry white wine
2 c. low-sodium chicken stock (warmed)
1/8 lb. Gorgonzola-Mascarpone layered torta
1/8 lb. soft Gorgonzola (called Dolce or Cremificato), cut into small cubes
1 pinch salt
1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley

Assembly:
In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, melt butter until foamy over low heat. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally and watching carefully so that it doesn’t get browned or burnt. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes more so that it is softened and the onion is translucent. The onion and garlic are meant to melt into the finished dish so that they don’t stand out against the rice.

Add the rice and stir to make sure that each grain is coated with the buttery liquid. Cook for 30 seconds before adding the wine. Stir to incorporate the wine and cook until it is just about completely absorbed into the rice. Pour in about 2 tablespoons of the warm chicken stock and incorporate it into the rice mixture.

Continue to add the stock several tablespoons at a time, stirring completely and waiting for the liquid to be completely absorbed before pouring in the next bit of stock. As the cooking continues, you will see the starch being released from the rice and the grains becoming tender and creamy. When there is about a quarter of a cup of liquid left, you might want to taste the rice to test the texture. It should be almost al dente. Finish adding in the rest of the stock and cook until it has been completely absorbed.

Once all the liquid has been incorporated, you can turn off the heat. Break up the Gorgonzola-Mascarpone and stir to blend thoroughly, leaving no lumps of cheese. Next, add the creamy Gorgonzola and stir to blend completely into the rice. The heat from the rice will melt the cheeses. After they’ve all been mixed in together, season with salt and pepper, and stir in the parsley.

Buon appetito!

Egg-in-a-Hole Grilled Cheese

On Friday, while the rest of America (and maybe some of the rest of the world) was trying to figure out how to concoct the perfect sandwich from the previous day’s Thanksgiving leftovers, I was trying to find something that would appeal to my cold-starved body. There was no turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, or veggies to reheat. Most of all, there was also no extra slice of pie to eat for breakfast.

A few weeks ago, I had seen Aida Mollenkamp on The Food Network doing a show all about eggs. One dish she made was basically a twist on a bacon, egg, and cheese on a roll, the deli hangover staple. My brain decided that this Egg in a Hole Grilled Cheese was just the kind of food that my body was ready to tackle after several days of chicken soup and cold medicine.
I was surprised to see how many shops were closed in my neighborhood the day after Turkey Day. It was very quiet. Among the places that were open was the Italian deli. Knowing that I had eggs and butter in the fridge, as I was supposed to have made a pie to take to Thanksgiving dinner, I just needed to pick up bread, ham, and cheese.

I guess I sort of cheated a little bit to suit my own tastes, but this recipe is flexible like that. I used a Comté cheese instead of regular Swiss. They are cousins, so the flavor is similar. The deli had proscuitto cotto, which I used instead of Canadian bacon. I think that you could also substitute sliced ham and get the same effect. Bacon would make this sandwich too greasy and regular proscuitto would be too dry, but there are many various that you could do.
The honey mustard I used was Honeycup – also very good for Southern ham biscuits. It has a nice sharp-sweet tang with a bit of a bite, especially if you slather it on the bread the way that I do. I used a farm bread which worked well, but has as its downfall that you end up with lots of bread in the filling-to-bread ratio. I recommend using something more square-shaped.
Once you end up adding the cheese and ham and topping the egg side with the mustard side, you end up with something like this in the pan. Although not in the recipe, I realized that I needed to add more butter to the pan after I flipped the entire sandwich so that there would be some fat to cook the second side of the bread. Instead of adding the butter to the pan, which would make it turn brown instantly due to the now very hot pan, I buttered the non-mustard side of the bread after I placed that slice on top of the egg bread and before I flipped it to toast in the pan. This seems to work very well.

After a few minutes more, my lunch was ready. A softly cooked egg surrounded by gooey cheese and smoky ham all wrapped up in buttery, crunchy toast. I added a small side salad dressed with a simple vinaigrette to round out the meal. I wish I could eat more mid-day repasts like this, although not with the cold that my body is still fighting.
Buon appetito!

Ham and Cheese Breakfast Casserole from The Kitchn

Being an avid reader of other people’s blogs, as I’ve expressed here previously, I really love it when I find a “must try” recipe. While sometimes I find other people’s cooking experiments to be interesting and intriguing, many of them don’t inspire me to actually attempt to recreate their culinary endeavors.

One blog that I can usually find great ideas from is The Kitchn. I became hooked on it after a co-worker got me into checking out Apartment Therapy on a regular basis. I’m a huge fan of design and, as they often highlight solutions to storage/space issues (a perpetual New York apartment-dweller’s challenge), it’s one of my go-to sites on a regular basis. Their kitchen-oriented features are put together in a separate blog.

I was poking around in there a few weeks ago, when I was kind of in a cooking mood, and found a recipe that looked too good to pass up: “Ham and Cheese” Breakfast Casserole. Now, we didn’t grow up eating things like this for breakfast. Eggs were usually scrambled or in omelets, and then there was the waffles/pancakes category, and then the cold cereal or oatmeal option for the morning meal. Casseroles contained tuna (primarily) or maybe you could consider a baked pasta or chicken dish a “casserole,” but it wasn’t generally something eaten at breakfast.

One Easter Brunch when I was living in the DC area, pre-graduate school, I was introduced to the eggy-cheesy a.m. version of this one-pan dish. A roommate of mine and I were cooking for some friends, and she came up with the idea to throw a breakfast casserole together as it was a. relatively quick to do and b. required little attention once assembled beyond making sure it didn’t burn in the oven. She grew up in the Midwest, so I don’t know if these are more popular out there, but the only other time I’ve had this dish was in grad school, when another Midwesterner hosted a brunch and served one that was similar.

With the weather still being frigid to maybe-not-so-frigid around here, the idea of eating a warm, hearty weekend breakfast while lingering over a cup of milky coffee just seemed like something that would hit the spot. Fortunately, too, I live in a neighborhood where all the ingredients were within about a five-block walking distance and could easily be obtained during a brisk and brief Saturday grocery shopping excursion.

As directed, I assembled it the night before so that all the ingredients could meld together and so that the dry bread could soak up the liquid. I think that the only change I might make in future would be to figure out how to use up all of the loaf of challah in this dish, as I had some left over. I would also cut back just a little on the pancetta (I know, hard to believe that I am saying that, but it did seem to overpower the dish just a bit.). I think that a good French country ham might work, too, or some nice, thick-cut country bacon.

Once again, my oven did not disappoint. It is uncanny how it knows just how melted to get the top, with just the hint of crustiness on the cheese, but not enough to make it an inedible block of hardened fat. This was cooked through so that the bread was moist, the bacon’s crunchy, smoky, saltiness giving a kick throughout, with the thyme lending a bit of earthiness to the dish.

And, when plated, the dish’s stringy, gooey, lusciousness is even more apparent. It makes great leftovers, as well, as my stomach can attest to having enjoyed this several times for breakfast over the past week.

Buon appetito!

Inside-Out Cheeseburgers

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been a little bit sidetracked from posting. I’d traveled over Easter weekend and had picked up a couple of food magazines that I don’t normally buy. Then, it seemed like my regular culinary reading pile just seemed to grow of its own volition. It got a bit overwhelming so I decided to plow through all of it.

This sort of took me off of my previously-stated goal of recreating the recipes with which I grew up, and also highlighted an interesting dilemma for me. There’s so much new stuff and different recipes out there it’s some times hard to stay on focus. One of Epicurious‘ bloggers pointed out this week that, for most people, there seems to be a “rotation” of meals on a regular basis. With this reliance on the quick, simple and familiar, it does get a bit daunting to try to slot in something a bit more daring.

But, this week, I decided to return to the recipe card file once again. I picked something that was on the Epicurious blogger’s proposed list for the American family meals merry-go-round, but that has a little twist. This recipe was on a pre-printed card that came with the box and was one that I learned to make when I was still a pre-teen. It’s simple and the gooey insides make for a great surprise for those who aren’t expecting it.


Inside-Out Cheeseburgers

Prep time: 30 minutes, including cooking time
Serving size: 6 burgers, 1 per person

Ingredients:
Shredded cheddar cheese (or your favorite kind)
1 lb. ground beef
2 T. minced onion
1/4 c. dry bread crumbs
1/4 c. milk
2 tsp. prepared mustard
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. horseradish (not in sauce)
salt
pepper

Assembly:
Mix together by hand (yes, get your hands into it!) all the ingredients except the cheese. Divide meat mixture into 12 patties. Put 2 tablespoons of shredded cheddar cheese on 6 of the patties.

Top those with the other 6 patties and press together to seal around the edges. On heated grill, griddle or fry pan, cook the burgers for 4-5 minutes per side. You can also cook for 3 or so minutes per side for color and then put in the oven to cook the rest of the way and make sure the cheese has melted.

Serve on toasted hamburger buns.

Buon appetito!

Cheese Ravioli

When I weeded out my cookbook collection last year, I was pretty vigilant. I took an especially critical look at my Italian collection, as I had quite a few volumes about this cuisine. In doing some research on the last of the series of Lent-friendly family recipes, I combed through several of them, but this one was where I found the recipe for which I was looking – classic Cheese Ravioli.

Again, this was not one of the favorites of the siblings with whom I did a straw poll. Bland, was one word that was used. Heavy, was another. Having eaten plenty of ravioli, tortelloni and other cheese-filled pastas in Italy proper, I can attest to the fact that they can be culinary wonders, luscious and comforting, if prepared properly. This is completely the opposite of any pasta that ever came out of a can when we were growing up, not that we ate that in my house, that was only available at other people’s houses. In re-reading this book, I was drawn into the poetry and passion of the author for his subject, and I completely share his conviction that handmade pasta can be simple and ethereal.

I don’t do reviews of cookbooks, but this one is fantastic, if you would like to know more about typical, traditional pasta recipes and some of the history of the regions that they represent. This book was a gift to me literally weeks before I found out I’d gotten into graduate school in Italy, where I’d never been in my life. It holds a special place in my heart because of that, but in re-reading it for the first time in many years, I realized how wonderful it was as well. I became so engrossed in the section about the pastas of Liguria – one of my absolute favorite places to vacation – that I missed my subway stop.

It takes a lot to distract me that much, but I guess memories of really great food is one of those things. It got me dreaming about past meals and lovely summer afternoons on the Italian coast. That was all the inspiration I needed to try to tackle this recipe. My first attempt at this wasn’t all that successful, frankly, which just means I need to try to make pasta from scratch more often.

The typical proportions for making pasta from scratch is one egg to 100 grams of double-zero flour, which is the kind used in Italy.
The beaten egg and a pinch of salt are poured into the well created by the flour – think sandcastles and moats at the beach.
Mix everything together to incorporate the egg and flour – working with your hands is best.
After a few minutes, it will start to come together more.
Knead the pasta for 10-15 minutes. Then, shape it into a ball.
Cover it and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Roll out the pasta very thinly. You can do this with a rolling pin or a machine, but a real pasta connoisseur will be able to tell the difference between the two.
I made a classic filling with ricotta, parmesan cheese, finely chopped parsley, black pepper, beaten egg, and a pinch of nutmeg.
After placing filling on the pasta sheet, I cut them using a fluted pastry wheel (actually bought in Bologna).
Cook in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes or until they puff up. Fish out of the water, don’t dump the pasta, to avoid it breaking and creating a large mess.
Serve immediately with marinara sauce and let melt in your mouth, or as the Italians say, “Si scioglie in bocca.

Another option, as I discovered when I had left over filling, is to make crespelle, which is an Italian dish that doesn’t usually spring to my mind, although I enjoy it and always think it looks elegant. These are basically, filled, baked crêpes. The April 2008 issue of Food & Wine (which I was reading during my subway rides into work this week and which didn’t make me miss my stop) features this recipe. It gave me another chance to use my crêpe pan, which I have to confess, I haven’t done since last year’s blog post in honor of Julia Child’s birthday.

I think that this was much better than my attempt at making cheese ravioli. If we’d had this meal growing up, I’m sure that it would not have been on my siblings’ list of Lenten dishes that they dislike. This recipe can be altered to include spinach combined with the cheese (another classic pasta filling combination). I was also dreaming (as I do on meat-less Fridays), about slivers of proscuitto cotto layered inside the crespelle, lying on top of the cheese. I am definitely keeping this recipe in my collezione di ricette italiani.
Buon appetito!

Goat’s Cheese Salad

As a friend pointed out to me recently, on a topic having nothing to do with food, it is rare to get a hit right out of the park on the first shot. Recipes are much the same way. Even the best-written, best-tested ones might not work the same way in every kitchen or in every cook’s hands.

America’s Test Kitchen’s recipes are thoroughly tested and vetted. I really enjoy watching the methodology behind their process as they demonstrate it on their PBS show. Their magazine also makes a good read, but I confess that I haven’t really used many of their recipes. This same friend had, however, strongly recommended their Fall 2007 issue very highly so I decided to buy it.


Among the recipes included in the magazine was one that has been my nemesis in the past: Goat’s Cheese Salad. While I think I followed the instructions to the letter, I’m not sure that my results came out as well as those of the testers. Still, I think that it was a good first try.

When the goat’s cheese rounds came out of the oven and were gently laid upon a nest of fresh Greenmarket lettuces, they didn’t look so bad. The melba toast crust and baking them in an oven made a huge difference from my previous attempts at a similar recipe in which I coated them in breadcrumbs and pan fried them. These held their shape and, upon the first bite, they were delicately creamy and not at all chalky. This recipe is going to go in my “keeper” file.

Buon appetito!