Cheese dishes


ricotta-coffee-dessert-with-biscotti

This traditional, elegant Italian dessert – ricotta al caffe – is so amazingly simple that I’m almost embarrassed to give you a recipe for it. However, it’s useful to have one on hand for days when you’ve spent hours slaving over a hot stove and are looking for an easy, fuss-free, but still satisfyingly indulgent dessert.

For best results, buy top quality, freshest ingredients you can find. Buy the ricotta from a speciality cheese shop, Italian deli or the supermarket fresh cheese counter – you really will be able to taste the difference. The coffee beans – or freshly ground coffee – could come from your local coffee shop. Serves 4.

10 oz/ 250g very fresh ricotta cheese
4 oz/ 100g white or light golden brown caster sugar
2 tablespoons finely ground fresh espresso coffee beans
2 tablespoons dark rum or brandy (optional)
A few drops natural vanilla extract
2 tablespoons toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped (optional)

To serve:
Double or whipped cream
Italian biscotti

1.    Remove any excess water from the ricotta. Sieve in a colander or through a piece of muslin (cheesecloth) if necessary.
2.    Add the sugar, ground coffee, rum/ brandy, and vanilla extract. Mix well.
3.    Refrigerate for at least 3 hours for the flavours to develop. The longer you leave it, the stronger will be the flavour.
4.    Sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts, if using. Serve with cream and biscotti in little coffee cups. See, I told you it was simple!

potato-croquettes-in-a-pan

This is comfort food, plain and simple. And anyway, when is the last time you made croquettes? Potato croquettes are found all over Italy (and other parts of Europe), but the addition of chilli flakes is a typical Sicilian touch. These flavourful specimens are a fry cry from the bland, greasy abominations that go in the name of ‘vegetarian croquettes’ in supermarket chiller cabinets.

Don’t use your best extra virgin olive oil for this recipe – use a combination of light olive oil (which is more suitable for frying) and a mild vegetable oil, such as sunflower. Use a good quality potato variety with floury (rather than waxy) texture.

Serve with salad for a simple lunch or supper; or with plain steamed spinach, buttered sweetcorn, and grilled tomatoes for a more substantial dinner. Makes 8 croquettes/ serves 2 (for main meal) to 4 (as appetiser).

1 lb/ 500g large potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 oz/ 100g parmesan, pecorino, or locatelli cheese, grated
1 oz/ 25g mozzarella cheese, grated
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
4 oz/ 100g plain white flour or semolina
5 oz/ 125g fresh or dried unflavoured breadcrumbs
Mixture of olive oil and sunflower oil for frying

1.    Boil or steam the potatoes until very tender. Drain in a colander, and cool a little.
2.    Mash the potatoes until they are creamy, making sure that there are no lumps. Cool thoroughly.
3.    Beat one egg and add it to the mashed potato, along with parsley, garlic, the cheeses, chilli flakes, nutmeg and seasoning. Mix thoroughly with lightly greased palms, and divide the mixture into 8 pieces. Roll the mixture into cylindrical croquette shapes.
4.    Sift the flour onto a large plate. Roll the croquettes in the flour so that each side is coated evenly.
5.    Beat the second egg and pour it into another plate. In a third plate, spread the breadcrumbs. Lightly roll each flour-coated croquette in turn in the beaten egg, and then in the breadcrumbs.
6.    Pour the oils in a frying pan so that they cover about ¼ inch of the base. Heat on medium heat until the oil is hot but not smoking. Fry the croquettes in batches of 2 or 3, turning them from time to time so that they are evenly browned on all sides.
7.    Drain on kitchen paper. Serve hot.

roquefort-souffle

I love soufflés. I love the fact that they’re light and fluffy, yet have a distinctly ‘special occasion’ feel to them. For someone to make an effort to make you soufflé, they must really love you. Which is why my advice is: don’t be nervous of making soufflé. So what if it sinks? Your friends and family will adore you all the same.

The secret of a successful soufflé lies in folding in the egg whites correctly – with long and semi-circular movements with a palette knife – and in not stirring the mixture too much, certainly not in heavy-handed way.

This recipe is very French in its influence – though the cranberry sauce is a non-French festive touch. You can leave it out if you wish, and simply serve the soufflé with steamed baby vegetables, or a crisp salad made from sliced apples, rocket (arugula), chicory and red radicchio.

This recipe is dedicated to those vegetarians who are looking for something light yet indulgent, and would never go near a hale and hearty nut roast! Serves 6.

For the cranberry sauce:
7 oz/ 175g cranberries
5 oz/ 125g white caster sugar
Juice and finely grated zest of ½ orange
1 teaspoon allspice berries, finely crushed in a mortar

For the soufflé:
2 oz/ 50g hazelnuts
2 oz/ 50g unsalted butter + extra for greasing
2 oz/ 50g plain white flour
8 fl oz/ ½ pint whole milk (not low fat)
2 dried bay leaves
4 oz/ 100g roquefort cheese, crumbled
3 eggs, separated
4 oz/ 100g celeriac (celery root), peeled and finely grated
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper

1. Start by making the cranberry sauce. Wash the cranberries and, with just the amount of water clinging to them, heat them in a saucepan on gentle heat for 10 minutes until they are soft.
2. Add the sugar, orange juice and zest, and ground allspice. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes until the sauce acquires a jelly-like consistency. Set aside to cool.
3. To make the soufflé, pre-heat the oven to 375 C/ 190 C/ gas mark 5.
4. Grease 6 individual ramekins. Toast the hazelnuts in a small frying pan without any oil or butter. Cool, and coarsely grind in a small mixer. Lightly coat the base and sides of the ramekins with half of the ground hazelnuts.
5. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and cook for a minute, stirring continuously.
6. Pour in the milk and bay leaves and cook until the sauce thickens. (You will need to stir the mixture frequently to make sure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan, and also to avoid lumps from forming). Cook for a couple of minutes, then cool slightly.
7. Add the roquefort, egg yolks, grated celeriac, thyme leaves, seasoning, and the remaining hazelnuts, and stir gently.
8. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Fold them into the celeriac mixture.
9. Remove the bay leaves, and pour the soufflé mixture into the prepared ramekins. Place the ramekins into a roasting pan and add enough boiling water to reach two-thirds of the way up the sides of the dishes.
10. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes until well risen and golden. Serve immediately with a little of the cranberry sauce.

Paneer is Indian cheese that is widely available in supermarket cheese sections. Besan or chickpea flour is also now available in the larger supermarkets. Both can, of course, be bought from Indian grocers – and, in fact, you might also find chickpea flour in Italian and French delis. This hot spicy snack is ideal served with chilled beer on a cold evening. Serves 4.

200g/ 8 oz block of paneer, cut into 8 large cubes
½ teaspoon red chilli powder
½ teaspoon salt

For the spice paste:
½-inch piece ginger, peeled
2 cloves garlic, peeled
4 black peppercorns
2 cloves
Seeds of 2 green cardamoms
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, lightly roasted in a pan
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, lightly roasted in a pan
½-inch piece cinnamon
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon white poppy seeds
2 tablespoons water

For the flour coating:
4 tablespoons besan (chickpea flour)
2 tablespoons plain yoghurt
1 tablespoon fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
½ teaspoon black onion seeds

Groundnut or corn oil for deep-frying

1. Sprinkle the paneer with salt and chilli powder, mix gently so that the paneer doesn’t crumble and set aside.
2. Grind all the spices into a paste in a mixer or coffee grinder.
3. Marinate the paneer pieces in the spice paste, cover and refrigerate for at least half an hour.
4. Heat the oil in a frying pan until hot but not smoking.
5. Mix together the ingredients for the flour coating. Sprinkle on the marinated paneer, and rub the flour mixture in gently, making sure that the paneer pieces are evenly coated.
6. Deep fry 2 paneer cubes at a time until golden brown, and drain on kitchen paper.
7. Serve with Indian coriander and mint dip, some plain yoghurt or tomato ketchup, accompanied by onion rings, lemon wedges and green salad.

This rich Georgian cheese bread – known as khachapuri – is offered to guests as a snack or eaten as fast food in Georgia. It is always served straight from the oven. It is made in a variety of shapes and can be stuffed with different types of cheeses – but sheep’s milk cheese and fermented yoghurt is one of the most common combinations. Serve with pickled vegetables and chilled vodka. Makes 8 individual breads.

500 ml/ 18 fl oz plain unset yoghurt or fermented yoghurt
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon salt
600g/ 1 lb 5 oz plain flour
2 level tablespoons baking powder
500g/ 1lb 2 oz cheese (such as cream cheese, feta, Danish Havarti, Port Salut, Emmenthal, Edam, Cheddar, etc), crumbled or grated
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper
100g/ 5 oz butter, melted

1. Place yoghurt, egg yolk, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl, and mix well.
2. Add the flour and baking powder and knead together into soft dough, adding more flour if the dough is sticky. In a warm spot in your kitchen, leave to rise for at least 1 hour.
3. In another bowl, combine the cheese with the egg and seasoning, and mix well.
4. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/ 400F/ gas mark 6.
5. Divide the dough into 8 portions. Roll out each portion in turn on lightly floured surface into 5 inch/ 12 cm rounds.
6. Put a couple of tablespoons of the cheese mixture into the centre of each round, then bunch up the sides and twist the tops to seal, flattening them slightly.
7. Roll each dumpling-shaped stuffed dough into 6 inch/ 15 cm rounds on a floured surface. Repeat with all 8 portions. Place on a greased baking tray and bake for 15 minutes.
8. Brush the hot bread liberally with melted butter before serving.

The piquancy of salty Greek feta marries well with the earthiness of black turtle beans which are widely used in Latin American cooking. Serves 4.

8 oz feta cheese, diced
2 cups cooked black turtle beans
1 small, ripe but firm mango, diced
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
1 red and 1 green pepper, diced
1 oz/ 25g mint leaves, torn or shredded by hand
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
Salt and pepper

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Chill for a couple of hours before serving with warm, crusty bread.