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