Monday, December 29, 2008

Stilton and leek quiche

One of the best ways to use up odd bits of cheese is a quiche and over Christmas that's as likely as not to be Stilton. As I also just discovered two unused leeks I thought I'd combine the two along with half a pot of leftover crème fraiche that was nearing its use-by date. The bliss of cooking on an AGA, which we took over with our current flat, is that you don't have to pre-bake the pastry case which makes the whole process incredibly easy but I've given instructions for a conventional oven here. If you don’t have any blue cheese you could easily substitute Cheddar, Gouda or any other full-flavoured hard cheese.

Serves 4-6
40g butter
2 large or 3 smaller leeks (about 350g-400g untrimmed weight)
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme
3 large eggs
100ml creme fraiche or double cream mixed with 100ml milk
3-4 tbsp grated parmesan (depending on strength)
100g Stilton or other medium-strong blue cheese, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the pastry
225g plain flour (or a 50/50 mix of plain and wholemeal flour)
110g chilled butter, cut into small cubes
4-5 tbsp cold water
You will need a deep 23cm loose-bottomed quiche tin

First make the pastry. Put the flour and a pinch of salt in a food processor and pulse once or twice again to mix. Add the cubed butter and pulse to incorporate then add just enough water to bring the mixture together (about 3-4 tbsp). Shape the pastry into a disc, wrap in cling film and rest for half an hour.

Trim the bases and coarse outer leaves off the leeks, slice finely and rinse thoroughly to get rid of any dirt or grit that has accumulated between the leaves. Heat the butter in a large frying pan and fry the leeks for 5-6 minutes until beginning to soften. Add the chopped thyme, season well with salt and pepper and set aside to cool

Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll it out in a circle big enough to fit a 23cm/9in diameter flan tin. Carefully lower the pastry into the tin pressing it into the edges and lightly prick the base with the prongs of a fork. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes then line the pastry case with a piece of greaseproof paper or foil weighed down with baking beans and bake the pastry shell for about 12 minutes.

Separate one of the eggs, reserve the white and beat the yolk and the other two eggs together. Measure the cream and milk into a jug, mix well, add the beaten eggs and parmesan, season with freshly ground black pepper and beat again.

Remove the paper and beans from the pastry case and brush lightly with the beaten egg white. Return to the oven for another 5 minutes then remove the flan case from the oven and turn the oven down to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Trim the overhanging edges of pastry with a sharp knife.

Scatter half the blue cheese over the base of the tart, spoon over the leeks then cover with the remaining blue cheese. Carefully pour the egg and cream mixture over the top making sure that it is distributed evenly*. Bake the quiche for about 35-40 minutes until the top is puffed up and lightly browned. Cool for about 20 minutes before serving. (I personally think it’s nicest at room temperature.)

*If there is too much egg mixture bake the tart for 7-8 minutes then half pull out the shelf and carefully pour the remainder over the top.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cutting your cheese bill

If you're a fellow cheeselover you won't have failed to notice that it's an expensive habit to indulge. But as someone who is habitually watching my household budget (as you'll see if you visit my other blog The Frugal Cook) let me tell you that it is possible to have your cake - or rather cheese - and eat it.

You can buy the best cheeses around - just buy a lot less of them. Forgive me if this sounds blindingly obvious, but if you're like me you probably automatically buy too many cheeses and too much of each, particularly difficult if you're in a cheese shop and they've got the cheese wire hovering over a nice big slice. It seems mean, doesn't it, not to buy more? Well, no it doesn't because it means that you can go on buying cheese from that nice shop and don't have to end up buying block cheddar from the supermarket.

Here's a slice of Picos Blue I bought the other day for £1.20. Just 100g but it's a strong cheese so it was plenty for the two of us. No waste, either. For those of you who haven't come across it before it's a Spanish cheese from the Asturias that tastes a bit like Roquefort - only not quite as salty and a bit creamier (it's a cows' milk rather than a sheeps' milk cheese) I found myself wishing as I was tasting it that I had a bottle of sweet oloroso sherry open. No doubt I will next time.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The ultimate cheese and ham 'sandwich'

Well, not really a sandwich but it tasted like the best cheese and ham sandwich you can imagine! It was a dish in a great new Italian restaurant in Soho called Bocca di Lupo (which literally translates as 'the wolf's mouth' but probably means something like the ravenous eater) and was described as Crescentini with finocchiona, speck and squacquerone cheese.

What arrived was a little deep fried pillow of bread topped with finely sliced fennel sausage and a gorgeous pool of creamy fondue-like melted cheese. Unbelievably delicious!

Squacquerone, which probably isn't pronounced to rhyme with macaroni but looks as if it should be, is apparently a fresh Italian cream cheese that's popular in Emilia Romagna and the Marche region of Italy. And Soho now, too

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Afuega'l pitu

Another cheese discovery - surprisingly in my local deli.

It's a rich, soft Spanish unpasteurised cows' milk cheese with the exotic name of Afuega'l pitu (because of its tendency to stick to the palate, according to Wikipedia which has an impressively detailed entry on the cheese, and is made in the Asturias region of Northern Spain.

At £9.38 it was pricey but having never seen it before I couldn't resist trying it. It had a wonderful texture and taste. Creamy without being cloying, slightly floral, not 'cow-y' at all. We served it with a very good Fourme d'Ambert and some 18 month old parmesan but it really deserved solo billing

Extraordinarily you can buy it on Amazon in the States as well as on a site that imports Spanish products called La Tienda from which you can see that the brand name is Temia, not Emia as the photo suggests.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A model modern cheeseboard

I came across this attractively presented cheeseboard in a restaurant called Le Bistro d'Hervé in Agde the other day and thought I'd share it with you. It's a model of what a modern cheeseboard should be - attractive, limited in scope (so not too expensive!) and very wine-friendly (largely because the cheeses weren't overmatured and the accompaniments were skilfully chosen to build a bridge to any accompanying wine*).

The cheeses were Reblochon (left) Comté (back) Roquefort (front) and Cantal in a rectangular piece underneath, propping up the other cheeses. The two jellies were griottine (wild cherry) at the back and piment d'Espelette (an AOC chile from the Basque Country) in the front. I haven't seen these in England but there are other products, for example chilli-flavoured jelly that should work equally well.

I also liked the fact that the board was rough and unvarnished, an attractive contrast to the smoothness of the cheese.

*For more on cheese and wine pairing see my website