Warm La Tur, Chocolate-Olive Oil Sauce w/ Black-Pepper-Torn Bread

La Grand Tur. | Cucina Italiana, November 2012, orignal photograph by Kelly Campbell

La Tur, the Italian cheese from the Piemonte region, it is one of those cheeses to try when you are out to learn about fermented milk.  A perfectly balanced blend of pasteurized sheep’s, cow’s and goat’s milk. During the cheese making process the curds are drained in to small molds with the finished rounds at about 3 inches in diameter and 11/2 inches tall.  The final product is then matured for only 10 days at the dairy. You don’t want to have these cheese go beyond 35 days.  To begin with it has a bold personality for a young cheese yet it is very approachable.  It has a bit of a funky smell on the nose but really if you love cheese this is but a hallmark of what’s ahead. One of the better profile notes comes from Murray’s Cheese:

Tasting this cheese “… is like ice cream served from a warm scoop: decadent and melting from the outside in.”

The center is light and airy, and gradually becomes creamier towards the edges. La Tur carries a  lemon note and with a tang much like a goat cheese, a mild nutty note as in a sheep’s cheese, and finishes rich and buttery as you commonly find in a cow’s cheese. Do also be warned that once the cheese is removed from it’s casing from the market notice that the cheese itself is wrapped in a thin paper wrapper. It is precious cargo to be sure.

Pictured above is a recipe to serve as dessert or for a Sunday afternoon post-long walk with the dogs and friends.  Serve it up with sparking waters with lime or if you are feeling decadent a sparkler such as prosseco.

Warm La Tur, Chocolate-Olive Oil Sauce w/ Black-Pepper-Torn Bread

Adapted from a Del Posto recipe appearing in La Cucina Italiana.

  • 1 wheel La Tur cheese
  • 1 ounce  (about 32 pieces) very good quality semisweet or dark chocolate chips (62% to 66%) chips
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons good-quality fruity extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
  • 1 small baguette, torn roughly
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Special equipment: parchment paper

Instructions

Remove wrapping and label from cheese. Using parchment paper, wrap cheese like a present, folding paper to fully enclose cheese. Set packet seam-side down in a  cast iron skillet or small rimmed baking sheet, let stand at room temperature until softened, at least 2 hours or up to 4 hours.

When cheese is softened, fill a small teacup or with the chips and salt.  Place in microwave until nearly melted about 40 seconds. Remove and stir with fork.  Set aside.

Heat oven to broil with rack about 5 inches from heat. Place torn  bread into 9″ square pan lightly drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with cracked black pepper.  Broil until both parchment and bread are charred, 3 to 4 minutes. Be careful, don’t walk away or start doing anything else–eyes on the prize here!

Transfer baking pan to a wire rack; let stand 3 minutes, then transfer warm cheese packet to a large serving platter or wooden board. Arrange toasted bread around packet. Tear open top of packet, then drizzle chocolate sauce over warm cheese and onto platter. Serve immediately. Swoon.

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A Passion for Charcuterie

Short video on how to make Lonzino, (air-dried pork loin).

Charcuterie: (noun) cold cooked meats; 2. a shop selling cold meats

The word charcuterie is derived from the French language ‘chair cuit’, which translates as ‘cooked meat’. Simply, it is the preserving of meat, usually pork with salt. You know what I’m talking about— bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, pâtés, and cured meats such as prosciutto or salami.

As of late, charcuterie is experiencing a bit of a renaissance as many of us take on DIY kitchen projects large and small. Once you start to demystify the process of say making homemade sausage, American bacon or Italy’s bacon–pancetta you will be hooked. For those that prefer to spend more time eating than creating there is more than likely a small producer in your area. Start by your local farmers market. And next time you are asked to bring an appetizer to a dinner party choose an assortment of cured meats, a cheese or two, a bit of country paté, nuts and dried apricots. Your friends will be impressed with your originality and boldness.

Other helpful links for those that crave more:

Recipe: Lonzino from Hank Shaw

5@5 – The Bare-Bones Basics of Charcuterie

Charcuterie The Craft Of Salting, Smoking, And Curing by Michael Rhulman & Brian Polcyn

Queso Fresco

Queso fresco, or queso blanco as it’s called in Spain, sounds a lot more than what it is–fresh cheese. A Mexican cheese, it is light, crumbly, somewhat spongy  and acidic in flavor.  It’s a terrific everyday cheese–sprinkle it on beans, garden salads or use it in quesadillas.  Many taco trucks, stands and restaurants dust the crumbled bits over a snack or entree before serving. Commonly found just about everywhere throughout Mexico it is easily found just about everywhere in Northern and Southern California.  While traveling in Mexico I’ve seen the cheese curds being ground on a metate before they are pressed, by hand into round baskets.  Introduced to Mexico from Burgos, Spain,  it is typically made with a combination of cow and goat milk. A very mild French feta can often be used as a substitute if need be. It’s fairly easy to get your hands on if you are in a major metro area.
In fact, it was the Spaniards who introduced cows and goats, as sources of meat and milk, to the Mexicans, changing their diet forever. From my research:

This is strikingly evident in the realm of cheesemaking which, though introduced by conquerors from another continent, evolved into a regional occupation, producing distinctly Mexican cheeses. In many parts of Mexico, this trade has become a family tradition, its secrets and techniques passed on from one generation to the next.

In the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, where cattle descended from animals brought from Europe provide a major means of sustenance, the production of cheese is an important and respected industry, and one which is still frequently carried out in the home. Ranchers arise early each day to milk the cows, initiate the curdling, and begin the process of making queso ranchero, the ubiquitous appellation for many different types of cheese, including the ricotta-like requeson,the smooth, moist panela, and the pale yellow queso chihuahua.


Sugar-Dusted Emapnadas With Queso Fresco

Yield: 12 servings

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

1 large egg yolk

1/2 cup cold water

4 ounces queso fresco cheese, grated (about 2 cups; see note)

2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying

Peach or strawberry jam, optional

1. Sift flour, salt and 2 tablespoons sugar into a large bowl. With a pastry blender, cut the shortening into the dry ingredients until it is fully incorporated. Add egg yolk and mix well. Knead in the water, 2 or 3 tablespoons at a time, until a smooth dough forms. (Alternatively, make the dough in a food processor using the pulse function.)

2. Pat the dough into a round, flatten into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

3. Divide the chilled dough into a dozen 1-inch balls. Using a manual tortilla press, a rolling pin or the heel of your hand, press each ball into a circle about 1/8 inch thick and about 6 inches in diameter.

4. Mound about 2 tablespoons cheese in the center of each round; fold the dough to form a half-moon. Use a dinner fork to crimp together the outer edges. Make sure the edges are well sealed so they don’t leak while frying. You can roll and crimp the edges a few times to help ensure that they’re closed tightly. (Alternatively, use a plastic empanada press from a Latin market.)

5. Pour the oil into a large stockpot over medium-high. Heat until it reaches 350 degrees (use a candy or deep-fry thermometer to monitor the temperature). Line a baking sheet with paper towels.

6. Working in batches to avoid crowding the pan, fry the empanadas until they are golden brown and crispy, about 3 to 4 minutes, turning once. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the empanadas to the baking sheet to drain excess oil. Using the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar to dust the empanadas as they drain.

7. Serve, topping if desired with a dollop of jam.

Per serving: 260 calories; 19g fat; 3.5g saturated fat; 20mg cholesterol; 4g protein; 18g carbohydrate; 1g fiber; 170mg sodium.

Notes: If queso fresco isn’t available try substituting with ricotta salata. After assembly, uncooked empanadas can be wrapped tightly in plastic and foil and frozen for up to two months. Thaw in the refrigerator before frying.

Adapted from “The Latin Road Home,” by Jose Garces (to be published in October by Lake Isle Press)

Spring Fava Bean Spread

Perfectly perfect for a picnic…because sometimes we need our veggies along with our cheese.

Spring Fava Bean Spread

1 1/2 cups fully shelled, blanched fava beans*

1/4 cup olive oil

1 spring onion, chopped

1 stalk green garlic, chopped

1/3 cup Pecornio Romano, grated (or other dry, easily grated cheese)

6 large mint leaves, chopped

1/4 cup lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

*note:  3 pounds raw, whole fava pods will roughly equal 1 1/2 cups fully shelled, cooked

Prepare fava beans (remove outer pod, blanche for 5-6 mins, remove outer shell).  New to fava bean prep–check out this video.

Add beans and other ingredients to food processor, blend well.  Add more mint, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, as needed.  Blend until smooth and creamy.  Garnish with a few mint springs.  This spread can be served warm as a side dish or as a condiment on lamb burgers.  For picnics, indoors or out, serve cold with fresh vegetables, pita chips or fresh baugette.

Recipe courtesy of Oak Hill Farm, Glen Ellen, CA

asparagus, thyme & parmesan bread pudding

This dish could be served for a spring brunch with sausages as an accompaniment.  I prepared this for a book club dinner potluck and it went over well.  I ended up having to revise the method that Joanne Chang, of Flour Bakery in Bostonm suggests because I simply didn’t read nor understand the instructions properly.  All worked out well and the bonus was that it cut back on preparation time.

adapted from Best of the Best Cookbook recipes published by Food & Wine.

asparagus, thyme & parmesan bread pudding

2 large eggs

6 large egg yolks

1/4 cup AP flour

1 quart half & half

1 tspn chopped fresh thyme

1 cup feshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Kosher slt, freshly ground pepper

12 oz. baguette, torn into 1/2″ bits (about 6 cups)

1 pound asparagus

1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 400F.

Place asparagus in the 9″ x 13″ dish you’ll be baking the bread pudding in.  Pour olive oil over stems and toss together so that it is more or less distributed evenly. Sprinkle a bit of salt and peper over asparagus.  Roast for 10 minutes. Let cool in pan. When cool cut into 1 1/2″ pieces. Set aside. Do not remove oil from pan.

Reduce oven temperature to 250F.  Place torn bread pieces on a cookie sheet.  Place in oven for about 8-10 minutes.  You want the bread pieces to be almost like croutons but not that dry.  You shouldn’t be able to squish them–they should hold their form but feel a bit of density. Remove from oven. Let cool. Place bread in a large bowl.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, flour, half-and-half, thyme, 3/4 cup of Parmiginao-Reggiano, 1 1/2 teaspoons of slat and /2 teaspoon of pepper.  Pour mixed liquid over the bread bits.  Let sit a bit, then toss with a wooden spoon to ensure all the bread is wet.

Let sit for 1 hour.

The liquid should be more or less absorbed by the bread, if there’s a bit left that’s ok.  Place all of this into the baking pan.  Let sit for 20 minutes so the remaining bit of liquid is absorbed.  Distribute asparagus over the top of the bread pudding along with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 35 minutes, so that pudding rises and sets.