Melt away: From artisan British blue to a cow's variety from the Irish mountains, Mark Hix celebrates the versatility of cheese
Melted, crumbled, deep-fried or simply sliced, the wonderful thing about cheese is its versatility. It's such an easy ingredient to incorporate into all sorts of dinner-party dishes; and cheese can transform the humblest of vegetable dishes into something quite special.
British Cheese Week begins today – so I thought I would celebrate by devoting this week's column to our delicious cheeses, as well as others from around Europe. If you want to find out more, visit thecheeseweb.com.
In some countries, cheese is more of a starter than an after-the-meal course and in Italy a big hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano often makes a welcome appearance as a delicious, simple pre-dinner nibble – can you imagine the same thing with a chunk of cheddar?
Slow-baked tomatoes with Blue Monday
Serves 4 as a starter
Slow-baking is a good way of using up an excess of tomatoes you have grown, or cheap ones you have bought from the market. Once they are cooked you can preserve them in sterilised Kilner-type jars with a rubber seal, in olive oil with thyme, oregano or basil. Then use them chopped or blended into pasta sauces
I've used Alex James's famous Blue Monday here, but any soft blue cheese would also be fine. As a starter you can serve it with a few leaves of rocket or a similar salad. I've used a few different varieties of tomato here to add colour.
10 medium-sized mixed tomatoes
1tbsp olive oil </br>2tsp chopped thyme leaves
1tsp sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
150g Blue Monday or another soft blue cheese
3tbsp extra virgin olive oil
tbsp good-quality red wine or balsamic vinegar
A few herb leaves like bush or Greek basil
Preheat the oven to 120C/gas mark 1-2 (preferably fan oven). Halve the tomatoes, cutting through the core. Lay them, cut-side up, on a baking tray lined with lightly oiled greaseproof paper. Lightly brush over the olive oil and scatter the thyme, sea salt and black pepper.
Cook in the oven for about 2-3 hours until the tomatoes have reduced in size by about half. Some ovens may take longer. Leave to cool a little.
To serve, arrange the tomatoes on serving plates, break up the Blue Monday and scatter on top with the basil leaves, then mix the oil and vinegar together and spoon over.
Wild mushrooms with Parmesan crust
This is a nice, simple, tasty dish that you can make with one variety or a selection of wild mushrooms. The Parmesan crust can be made in advance and scattered on all sorts of pasta or vegetable dishes.
400-500g wild mushrooms, cleaned
1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the crust:
40g fresh white breadcrumbs
40g freshly grated Parmesan
2tbsp chopped parsley
First make the crust. Melt the butter in a frying pan and brown the crumbs, stirring them so they get an even colour. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool, then stir in the Parmesan and parsley and season.
Heat the olive oil and garlic in a frying pan and cook the mushrooms on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes, seasoning them and turning them as they are cooking, adding the butter towards the end of cooking. To serve, spoon the mushrooms on to warmed serving plates and scatter the crust over.
I had something like this in Barbados some years ago which was delicious .
200-250g shortcrust pastry, rolled to one-third of a cm thick
150g macaroni, cooked
300g mascarpone cheese
150g grated cheddar plus another 20g to scatter on top
150ml double cream
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5.
Grease and line an approximately 25cm x 3cm-deep flan tin with a removable base with the shortcrust pastry and trim the edges. Line with foil or greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans, bake for about 15 minutes then remove the greaseproof paper and beans and return to the oven for another 6-7 minutes, then remove from the oven and turn the oven up to 220C/gas mark 7.
Meanwhile, melt the mascarpone in a thick-bottomed pan with the Cheddar and bring it to the boil. Add the double cream, season with salt and pepper and simmer for a couple of minutes until it thickens. Whisk the sauce well and mix with the cooked pasta.
Put the macaroni mixture into the flan case and scatter the extra Cheddar on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes until browned.
Leeks on toast with shaved coolea
Coolea is a lovely Irish cheese that has the characteristics of a Dutch cheese.
4-5 medium-sized leeks
4 slices of sourdough
2-3tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cook the leeks in boiling salted water for 10-12 minutes until tender, then remove and leave to cool. Cut the leeks into -1cm lozenges. Toast the bread, arrange the leeks on top, season and spoon over the oil. Shave the coolea or Parmesan with a sharp knife; arrange on the leeks.
Join Mark Hix, Alex James, beer expert Rupert Ponsonby and Patricia Michelson of La Fromagerie for a British cheese and beer masterclass at Mark's bar, Hix, 66-70 Brewer Street, London W1 on 3 October at 7pm. Tickets £50; contact email@example.com
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