That's SO Cheesy!
article & photos by renata haidle
Do you love cheese? I love cheese! From the humble mozzarella to pungent Roquefort, from spicy Pepper Jack to mild Manchego, from salty feta to silky smooth mascarpone, I have not met a cheese I did not like. Cheese fills essential spaces on an appetizer board, it livens up dishes that could otherwise fall slightly bland, it enriches desserts, and it wraps up meals, French-style, leaving us with a sense of delight and satisfaction that only the other, highly-addictive, fellow sugar can bring to the table.
There is cheese so mild and delicate that you wouldn't know its presence were it not for the velvety quality it adds to the dish it is mixed in. Then there is strong and decisive cheese that leaves no room for interpretation. It boldly asserts, "I am here to be enjoyed, and you better not ignore me!" And of course, there is cheese that plays well with others, obviously present but not aggressive. Whatever your pleasure, there is a cheese for that.
Take, for example, potatoes. They're good, aren't they? Fried, mashed, baked, they hold their own pretty well. However, have you thought of adding cheese to them? A humble side of mashed potatoes is rarely the star of the show, being there as an extra rather than the main character. Add some savory cheese, and the plot changes, as all of a sudden, they can hold their own beautifully. The French even have a name for that type of dish: purée aligot, which is a wonderful concoction of mashed potatoes stirred with a cheese that melts well, such as Comté, Emmental, Gruyère, or mozzarella. The consistency is smooth and stretchy, like a match made in heaven between mashed potatoes and buttery, rich fondue. Ski chalet optional.
How about rice? Not that exciting on its own, is it? Like most starchy staples, what makes it interesting is the ingredients it partners with. Yes, mushrooms, beans, fish, or meat can all improve the lowly grain. Cheese, however, will take it to a whole new level. Try a creamy risotto laced with Asiago or Gorgonzola, or better yet, attempt to make the chubby balls of happiness called arancini. Born on the sunny shores of Sicily, these are scoops of risotto that are stuffed traditionally with caciocavallo cheese. It is difficult to find outside of Italy. It can be replaced successfully with a combination of Parmigiano Reggiano (called parmesan on this side of the Atlantic) and Pecorino Romano. If you wish to be extra naughty, you can add a bit of meaty ragù to the cheese filling for added umami benefit.
And seafood? Pretty good as it is, you might say, and that is true. Until you happen to travel to the South of France and see, for example, Camembert mussels on the menu, it is really hard to look back after that and be content with the ubiquitous marinières. The melted Camembert sinks through the half-opened shells and coats the mollusks, imparting a voluptuousness to the dish that lingers long after the meal is over.
Are you tempted yet to try a couple of easy cheesy recipes? We chose simple dishes that come together in 30 minutes or less that even the most inexperienced cooks can recreate perfectly.
Mashed Potatoes Aligot with Boursin Cheese
- 2 pounds russet potatoes
- 1 wheel of Boursin cheese (chives and shallots or garlic and herbs are two varieties that work well in this recipe)
- ½ stick butter
- 1 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Chives or green onion, optional
Peel, cube, and boil the potatoes in salty water until soft. Drain and mash them with a potato masher or a fork. Add the butter, crushed garlic, and Boursin cheese and stir until the purée becomes creamy and stretchy. Top with chopped chives and serve hot.
Baked Sweet Potatoes with Stilton
- 2 large sweet potatoes
- 4 oz Stilton
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon Maldon salt
- 1 small handful of parsley for garnishing
Preheat the oven to 425 F.
Wash the potatoes thoroughly. Slice them in halves and coat them with coconut oil. Bake at 425 F for 30-45 min (oven temperatures might vary). When soft and slightly brown, remove from the oven and add the cayenne pepper. Top generously with Stilton and return to the oven for another minute or two, unless the cheese has melted. Garnish with flaky Maldon salt and roughly chopped parsley, and enjoy immediately.
Steamed Mussels with Camembert
- 4 pounds mussels, scrubbed and thoroughly washed
- 8 oz dry white wine
- 1 large yellow onion, sliced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 1 small bunch of parsley
- 2 cloves of garlic, diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 8 oz Camembert
- 2 oz cream
Start by cleaning the mussels carefully, removing any beards and traces of sand.
In a large skillet, add the sliced onion, celery, garlic, wine, and bay leaves . Sauté until the onion becomes translucent. Add the mussels and cover with a lid. Cook for about 5 minutes, on high heat, until the shells open up. Discard any unopened mussels and set aside.
Preparing the sauce:
Dice the Camembert into small pieces. Add the cheese and the cream to a small saucepan and cook on low heat until it becomes homogenized. Pour the sauce over the mussels and return to heat for a few more minutes, making sure to coat the mussels uniformly with the sauce. Add chopped parsley for garnish and serve immediately with french fries or warm rustic bread.