The Cheesiest Way to Say “I Love You”

Some people boycott Valentine’s Day, denouncing it as “too cheesy.” Yes, too cheesy–like that’s a bad thing. But, taken literally, I say, “Amen, and pass the pressed curds.”

display of French goat's cheese camembert, mini log and fresh French chèvre

French goat’s cheese camembert, mini log and fresh French chèvre

That’s right, people. I’m suggesting eschewing bouquets of wilting red roses and giving the gift of cheese for V-Day. After all, who can resist a hearty hunk of fromage? Unless, of course, your lover is lactose intolerant–because, let’s face it, nothing kills the mood like stomach pains and flatulence.

Now, I’d never recommend that you simply sling a block of shrink-wrapped cheddar in a plastic sack at your sweetheart’s feet, and if a bit of canoodling is on the menu, by all means bypass the blue. (Although it’s one of my favourites, I think we can all agree that it smells a bit like unwashed feet).

No, I’m talking about preparing a romantic meal–wine, candlelight, cloth napkins, the works–with French goat cheese, better known as chèvre. Why chèvre? Because it’s mild, versatile, and your lips kind of pucker when you say it.

Admittedly, ever since I set my kitchen on fire, I rarely attempt anything more challenging than uncorking a bottle of wine. Fortunately, my better half, the Silver Fox, is a culinary wizard, and he’s perfected three recipes, using three different types of chèvre, to accommodate varying levels of ability. (Or inability, in my case.)  

Chevre Log with Fresh Pesto

This recipe is so simple, even I could make it. It’s also so delicious that I’m convinced it’s one of the main reasons we’re invited to parties. (Most invitations we receive contain some variation of, “Oh, and can the Fox bring that pesto cheese appetizer?”)

goat's cheese mini-log served with pesto, crackers and grapesIngredients

pesto ingredients in a food processor2 cups fresh basil leaves (with stems removed)

1/4 cup pine nuts

2 cloves of garlic

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 grated Parmesan cheese

biscuits/crackers

grapes

Chuck everything (except the chèvre, parmesan, biscuits and grapes) into a food processor or blender, and whizz it for about two minutes. Stir in the parmesan. Drizzle over the chèvre cheese log on a plate. Add a few red grapes on the side as a garnish, if desired, and accompany with crisp biscuits. That’s it! You are DONE.

Pizza with French Goat’s Cheese Camembert

Okay, here’s where things might start to get a bit more complicated, if you choose to go the extra mile and make the pizza dough yourself. Alternatively, you could buy a ready-to-bake pizza crust from the grocery store, in which case, this is easy as pie. Literally.

freshly baked pizza topped with camembert, bacon, red onion, garlic, spinach

Camembert pizza

Pizza dough ingredients

**Note: This recipe, from Patricia Wells’ Trattoria, will make enough dough for two large pizzas.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1.5 cups lukewarm water

3.75 cups bread flour

Combine the yeast, sugar and water in a large bowl and stir to blend. Let it sit for about five minutes, until it becomes foamy. Then stir in the oil and salt. Now add the flour, little by little, stirring until most of the flour is absorbed and you can form the dough into a ball.

Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a floured work surface. Knead it for about 4 or 5 minutes until it’s soft but still firm, adding more flour if needed to prevent it sticking.

Place the dough back into a bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 8 to 12 hours to allow it to rise.

Making the pizza crust

Preheat oven to 250 degrees Celsius for one hour, with a pizza stone in place.

A big meaty handful of pizza dough should suffice for one pie.

A big meaty handful of pizza dough should suffice for one pie.

You’ll only need half of the recipe for each pizza, so divide dough into two and roll each half into a ball on a floured surface.

Note: You can store the rest in the fridge for about two to three days.

Next, use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to desire thickness (about 1/8 inch or 1/3 centimeter).

Transfer to a perforated pizza pan.

 

Pizza toppings

Begin by drizzling the pizza dough with olive oil. You can then add any ingredients you desire, but Mr. Fox used:

4 strips bacon, fried and then crumbled

1/2 red onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

about a cup of de-stemmed fresh spinach

1/4 cup grated cheddar

one round of French goat’s cheese camembert, sliced and fanned across the dough

unbaked pizza topped with camembert slices, crumbled bacon, minced red onion and garlic, spinach

Unbaked pizza

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes. Slice, and eat!

Ravioli with Butternut Squash & Fresh Chèvre

Right. Those were just the warm-ups. For the piece de resistance, here’s your graduate-level chèvre dish: homemade ravioli with butternut squash and fresh goat cheese filling.

ravioli filled with fresh French goat's cheese and baked butternut squashPasta filling ingredients

1/2 butternut squash, sliced lengthwise, with seeds removed

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 onion, minced

1 tablespoon of butter to sauté filling (plus another tablespoon for sauce)

1 tablespoon of chopped thyme for filling (plus 1/2 tablespoon for sauce)

2 tablespoons chopped almonds or walnuts

salt and pepper to taste

150-200 grams fresh, soft French goat’s cheese

Making the pasta filling

Bake the butternut squash, skin side up, for 40 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius.

baked butternut squash ravioli fillingSauté the minced garlic, minced onion, chopped nuts and a tablespoon of chopped thyme in a pan with about a tablespoon of butter, then add to a large bowl and mash in the baked butternut squash.

Stir until well-mixed.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Set the goat cheese aside, as this will be spooned on top of the butternut squash mixture when you’ve rolled out the pasta.

Pasta dough ingredients

19 ounces (590 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for kneading

a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

a pinch of salt

Making the pasta dough

Mound the flour on your work surface, creating a well in the middle of the flour. Break the eggs into the well, followed by a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt.

Beat the eggs, olive and salt mixture with a fork, gradually pulling the flour into the mixture until you have a stiff ball of dough.

Clean the work surface and sprinkle it with flour. Place the ball of dough on the floured surface and start to knead and stretch the dough, pushing it down and away from you.

Fold the dough in half and keep pushing it down and away, repeating this step until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky. (You can add more flour if it does feel sticky).

This process should take about 15 minutes.

rolling out pasta with Kitchen Aid mixer attachmentWhen the dough feels smooth, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes…while you relax with a glass of wine.

After half an hour, cut the dough into four pieces to make it easier to roll out. You can roll it out with a rolling pin, but the Silver Fox prefers to use his Kitchen Aid pasta roller attachment. Keep rolling it thinner and thinner until it’s about as thick as that soft cotton T-shirt you like to sleep in. (That would be setting number 6 on the Kitchen Aid pasta roller).

Putting it all together

Lay out each strip of pasta dough on a floured work surface. Spoon on evenly spaced dollops of butternut squash mixture on one side of the pasta strip, topping each portion of squash mixture with about a teaspoon of soft chèvre.

baked butternut squash and fresh chèvre filling on sheet of pasta Then fold pasta strip over to cover the dollops, and cut into squares.

dividing ravioli into squares_9359Dampen and flour the edges of each ravioli, and transfer to a sheet of waxed paper. This should make about 12 to 16 raviolis.

ravioli on waxed paperRemoving the pasta from the waxed paper, place your desired number of raviolis into boiling water, and cook for 2 or 3 minutes.

While the pasta is boiling, sauté about 1/2 tablespoon of fresh minced thyme in 1 tablespoon of butter.

Drain ravioli and add to saucepan, lightly coating with thyme and butter mixture.

ravioli in pan_9377Plate and serve. (You’ll want to lick that plate clean while your honey isn’t looking).

*Note: In lieu of the sautéed thyme, you could also top this with the pesto from the first recipe. There is very little, aside from peanut butter and possibly chocolate, which isn’t improved with pesto, I’ve found.

Bon appetit, mes chers!

Want more cooking tips? Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck reveals his secret for making the perfect omelette…and I explain how I set my kitchen aflame…here.

For more cheesy ideas, check out http://www.frenchgoatscheese.com.

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