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Baked Ricotta and Goat Cheese with Candied Tomatoes

On a recent trip to Italy I visited a beautiful village in Greve in Chianti named Panzano. This small town with 12 restaurants is a picturesque postcard of Tuscany.

The best restaurant in town, in my American opinion that may not matter too much, is the family owned Cantinetta Sassolini. Apparently all of the locals agree with my #1 rating because it was packed each night I dined. On my first visit for dinner, I ordered a starter of baked cheese with a fava bean sauce. The ricotta & goat cheese was slightly caramelized on the top with that lovely chewy dark cheese flavor. I knew I had to recreate this and found this recipe on Food52.com. The sweet candied tomatoes over the savory cheese are ridiculously good.

More inspiration to come from this lovely restaurant at the top of the hill on the way to the church (after the butcher shop).

INGREDIENTS

For the baked cheese:

  • 15 ounces whole milk ricotta
  • 4 ounces log goat cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons fresh marjoram leaves, or leafy herb of your choice
  • generous grinding of black pepper
  • generous sprinkling of kosher salt

For the candied tomatoes:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 12 ounces cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup vermouth
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 sprigs marjoram, or leafy herb of your choice
  • sea salt

DIRECTIONS

  1. For the baked cheese: Place the ricotta in a colander lined with cheese cloth and leave to drain for about 30 minutes, pressing down to help extract liquid.
  2. Preheat the oven 375 degrees. Brush the inside of a 2 cup baking dish with olive oil.
  3. In the small bowl of a stand mixer, beat the ricotta, goat cheese and egg until smooth. Beat in the herbs (chopped if the leaves are large), a generous amount of pepper and salt. Taste your goat cheese first, saltier cheeses require less additional salt.
  4. Spoon the cheese mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake for 40 minutes, or until puffed in the center and browning.
  5. Let the cheese cool slightly, then invert it out onto a plate.
  6. For the tomatoes: While the cheese is baking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then drop in the tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the skins on the tomatoes start to split. Pull the pan off the flame, add the vermouth and return to the heat. Add the brown sugar and herbs and stir until the sugar is melted. Add a generous pinch of salt. Lower the heat and cook gently until the liquid is reduced to a syrupy coating for the tomatoes. The tomatoes will collapse and some may disintegrate. That’s fine.
  7. When ready to serve, spoon the candied tomatoes over the warm baked cheese and serve with sliced baguette or crostini.
  8. The baked cheese can be prepared a few hours in advance and then baked before serving. It is best served warm, but not necessarily right out of the oven. The tomatoes can be prepared ahead too and gently reheated before serving.

Tarte Flambée: Alsatian Bacon & Onion Tart

It’s impossible to go wrong with a crispy pizza like crust layered with cheese, caramelized onions & bacon. The Tarte Flambée is a regional specialty of Alsace, France and when done the right way can take some time. Making the dough, waiting for it to rise and caramelizing the onions is a slow process. However, it can all be done a day ahead at the least (cook the bacon, caramelize the onions and proof the dough and store in the fridge).

I was easily able to find the authentic ingredients but if you have trouble you can substitute as follows:

Fromage Blanc – substitute cream cheese
Creme Fraiche – substitute sour cream

It was worth every minute – absolutely delicious!

INGREDIENTS

Crust:

  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 3/4 teaspoon dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus a little more for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch salt

Topping:

  • 1/2 pound slab bacon, cut into lardons
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 large Spanish onions, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche
  • 1/2 cup fromage blanc or high quality ricotta
  • 1 bunch fresh chives, finely chopped
  • Parmesan Cheese, freshly grated

DIRECTIONS

For the dough: Activate the yeast by combining the lukewarm water, yeast and sugar. Stir together and let sit until the mixture becomes frothy and foamy and smells very yeasty, about 10 minutes.

Put the flour in a mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Add the olive oil, salt and the activated yeast mixture. Stir until the dough comes together and forms a ball.

Dust a clean work surface with flour and knead the dough until it is tight and firm, 5 to 7 minutes. Place the dough back in the mixing bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

For the topping: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the bacon in a large, wide pan and give it a couple drops of olive oil. Bring the pan to a medium heat and cook the bacon until it is brown and crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and reserve on paper towels.

Add the onions to the pan, season with salt, cover and cook until the onions have wilted and are very soft, about 10 minutes. Remove the lid and cook the onions until they are very soft and caramelized. This will take awhile, maybe up to 45 minutes. Stir the onions occasionally paying attention not to let them burn, but don’t rush it! When the onions are really brown and sweet, remove them from the heat and reserve.

Combine the creme fraiche and fromage blanc.

Divide the dough into 4 even balls and roll them out until they are 1/8 to 1/16-inch thick. Place them on a sheet tray and bake them in the oven for 4 minutes.

Remove the dough from the oven. Smear each dough evenly with the cheese mixture, place an even layer of the caramelized onions on the cheese and sprinkle the bacon on top of the onions. Top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Return the dough to the oven until the dough is crisp on the bottom and the toppings are bubbly, 6 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle with chives and serve.

Insalata Caprese – Tomato, Mozzarella & Basil Salad

In April I planted 5 tomato and a 3 sweet basil plants with this exact picture and post in mind. I’ve cared for these plants like children… and it was worth every bit of work to taste this dish that came from my backyard.

Some of the best meals have few ingredients but top-rate ingredients are essential. All you need is a knife, beautiful vine-ripened summer tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and great olive oil to have this “salad in the style of Capri” on your table in 3 minutes or less.

Serve alone or with crostini.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes (about 4 large), sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh basil (about 20 leaves)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, optional
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

On a platter arrange tomato and mozzarella slices and basil leaves, alternating and overlapping them. Season salad with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Roasted Beet Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce & Toasted Walnuts

This is only the second time I have ever made gnocchi. The first attempt was at Christmas a few years ago. My sister and I were trying to recreate the gnocchi we devoured at The Spotted Pig in NYC. It wasn’t successful. But I’ve been watching, researching and getting a better grasp on the art of making gnocchi since that disaster. The secret: don’t overwork the dough and start with room temperature ingredients.

This dish is a show stopper and a total make-ahead meal. It’s absolutely stunning with the magenta morsels nestled in the creamy sea of white. I served this for a girl’s dinner on a weeknight and all of the pieces were made days before. The gnocchi were prepared a week before and popped in the freezer (thaw the day of in the refrigerator). The cream sauce was made 2 days ahead and kept in the refrigerator and reheated. Assembly was quick. Impress your people. Feed them this.

INGREDIENTS

For the gnocchi:

  • 3 small red beets, roasted and pureed
  • 1 pound whole milk fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup flour

For the cream sauce:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 12 ounces of Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

For the garnishes:

  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts
  • 10 fresh basil leaves – chiffonade (long thin strips)
  • Parmesan Cheese – for garnish
  • Gorgonzola crumbles – for garnish

DIRECTIONS

To roast beets: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse and dry beets. On a large sheet of foil, drizzle beats with olive oil & season with salt. Fold into foil pouch (or bake in a baking dish covered with foil) and bake for 30min -1 hour, depending on the size of the beets. They should be fork tender. Place into food processor and puree. Set aside.

To make the gnocchi: Place beet puree in a large bowl. Stir in ricotta, eggs, cheese, salt and pepper. Mix in 1 cup of the flour. (Dough can be made one day ahead, cover and refrigerate).

Sprinkle some flour on your countertop or board. Take a handful of the “dough” and place on counter or board. Lightly shape & roll the dough into a log. Cut into 1-inch pieces and shape into balls. Then transfer to baking sheet. Do this in batches. (Gnocchi can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate). Be careful to not overwork the dough – this will make it tough.

To make the sauce: In a saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in flour to create a roux and cook for 2 minutes. Slowly add in milk, whisking to keep lumps from forming. Continue to stir while sauce starts to thicken. Once the sauce has thickened and will coat the back of a spoon, blend in crumbled Gorgonzola and Parmesan until the cheese has melted. Season with salt & pepper to taste.

Preheat the broiler. Working in batches, cook gnocchi in large pot of simmering salted water until gnocchi float to the surface, about 3-4 minutes (depending on the size of the gnocchi). Using a slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to the skillet with cream sauce.

Place skillet under the broiler until the cheese sauce has started to brown. Remove from oven and top gnocchi with toasted walnuts, fresh basil, Parmesan cheese & Gorgonzola crumbles. Drizzle with a little olive oil and serve!

Truffle Brie Macaroni & Cheese

I’m not a huge fan of the traditional comfort foods… mashed potatoes & gravy, pot roast and meatloaf are easy to resist. For me, comfort food is creamy lemon & pea risotto, beef bourguignon and cannelloni!

When my sweet friend (also fabulous baker & fierce soccer player), Marisa, was recovering from ACL surgery she requested comfort food. So I made what has to be the #1 Comfort Food: Macaroni & Cheese. I’ve since changed my mind about this favorite dish – add some truffle brie to macaroni and cheese and I’ll eat it. Happily.

If you can’t find the truffle brie substitute regular brie and add some truffle oil.

INGREDIENTS

For the breadcrumbs:

  • 1/2 loaf ciabatta bread (or any bread you have on hand)
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

For the cheese & pasta:

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 2 ounces Marscapone cheese (or cream cheese)
  • 1 pound grated Sharp Cheddar
  • 1 pound grated Monterrey Jack
  • 4 ounces Black Truffle Brie OR 4 ounces plain Brie + 3 T truffle oil
  • 1 pound cavatappi pasta (or elbow)

DIRECTIONS

For the breadcrumbs: Cube your bread into medium size squares and put it in the food processor for a couple pulses. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tbsp oil in large skillet overt medium heat. Add garlic and saute for about 1 minute. Add bread crumbs to skillet an stir until crumbs are slightly toasted – about 5 minuets. Set aside.

For the cheese & pasta: Cook the pasta 2 minutes LESS than the al dente package directions. Please salt your water very well so the pasta has flavor. Drain and set aside.

In a large saucepan heat butter and olive oil until melted over medium high heat. Next, whisk your flour into the butter and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Slowly add cream and milk whisking in between to make sure there are no lumps. Bring mixture to a simmer and whisk until desired thickness (close to pancake batter). Remove from heat. Add grated cheese & marscapone and mix until melted. Season with salt & pepper. If using truffle oil – add this to the cheese mixture.

Stir in drained, cooked pasta to the cheese mixture. Transfer to a baking dish and top with sliced brie cheese & then sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Goat Cheese, Pesto & Sun-Dried Tomato Terrine

This is a staple at most of my shindigs. You can make it a day ahead and it is such a beautiful presentation. If you aren’t a fan of goat cheese then just use cream cheese. When processing the sun-dried tomatoes it is much easier to cut them up before adding to the food processor.

Serve with crostini and crackers.

Photo source: finecooking.com

INGREDIENTS

  • 16 oz. cream cheese
  • 4 oz. goat cheese
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup milk or half & half
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup basil pesto (homemade or store-bought)
  • ½ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained & chopped in food processor (or store-bought)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

DIRECTIONS

Bring cream cheese and goat cheese to room temperature. With a mixer beat the cheeses and milk until smooth and spreadable. Add more milk if needed to loosen the mixture. Add lemon zest, 1 glove minced garlic and season with 1/4 tsp. salt and a few grinds of pepper. Mix well and set aside.

Line the inside of a 3-cup sharply sloping bowl with plastic; let the ends extend over the sides a few inches.

Spoon about one-third of the cheese into the lined bowl and pack it into an even layer. Spread the pesto almost completely to the sides of the first layer of cheese. Top with another third of the cheese, the sun-dried tomatoes, and all but 1/2 Tbs. of the pine nuts. Top with the remaining cheese. Pack down, fold the plastic over, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Half an hour before serving, take the bowl out of the refrigerator. Pull on the edges of the plastic to loosen the terrine from the bowl. Invert the terrine onto a plate, drizzle with a little olive oil, and let sit for 1/2 hour to warm up. Sprinkle with the remaining pine nuts, season liberally with pepper, and serve.

 

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