Tag Archives: Asiago

FOUR-CHEESE-STUFFED PHYLLO TORTE

Our six-months probationary period is up, and I think we now qualify as Angelinos. We drive, relatively terror-free, on the 405 and think nothing of an hour+ cross-town odyssey for a 15 minute appointment. The very best part of our transplant has been getting more involved with our children and their families. As part of that, the Sunday dinner has become a firmly entrenched tradition that we all anticipate each week.

I have written a number of times about our family dinner. The guidelines are fairly straightforward: the venue alternates between our home and Carol’s family home; whoever hosts is responsible for the main dish and sides; the other is responsible for appetizer and dessert; both bring a bottle of wine that is interesting; cleanup is sort of a joint effort except that the home team winds up finishing the dishes. These guidelines have remained intact except that the appetizer has been dropped from the menu. That is because even without it, there is a lot of food. Everyone is on a diet, and I have gained 10 pounds since moving to Los Angeles. Of course, this dish is not responsible for all of my weight gain, but it certainly helped push us to dropping the appetizer rule.

The recipe is an adaptation of one from Melissa Clark of New York Times fame by way of Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift in their cookbook, The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Weekends. If you choose to make it, I guarantee that there will be gasps of amazement when you bring the finished torte to the table. Then there will be complete quiet as folks sit around wolfing down the whole thing. At the same time, it is easier to make than you might think. I know that Carol saves it for special occasions. You might want to do that, too.

 

RECIPE

Four-Cheese-Stuffed Phyllo Torte

Ingredients

  • 2 cups feta cheese, drained, dried, and crumbled
  • 1½ cups cottage cheese, drained
  • 1½ cups Asiago cheese
  • 1½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 2/3 cup chopped fresh dill fronds
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • zest from ½ lemon
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 package frozen phyllo dough, thawed according to instructions on the carton
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, melted
  • honey

Method

  1. In a large bowl, prepare the filling by combining the four cheeses, onion, dill, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, and salt. Stir in the eggs, and set aside.
  2. Unfold the stack of phyllo leaves on a work surface covered with plastic wrap. Cover the stack with another layer of plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel. Keep unused sheets of dough from drying out while you work with individual sheets.
  3. Brush the inside of a 12-inch Bundt pan with some of the melted butter. Lay a sheet of phyllo across the pan, pushing it down against the sides of the pan and breaking a hole around the center tube of the pan. Repeat in a crisscross fashion with additional sheets of phyllo until the inside of the pan is completely covered with many layers of the dough.
  4. Fill the lined Bundt pan with the cheese filling, folding the free ends of the phyllo sheets over the filling and pressing it together gently. With a sharp knife, pierce the assembled torte all the way through to the bottom of the pan in many places – 2 or 3 dozen. Pour the remaining melted butter over the torte.
  5. Place on a baking sheet and bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 375°F for 75 minutes or until the torte is browned and puffy.
  6. Cool in the pan for 1 to 2 hours.
  7. When ready to serve, unmold the tart by flipping it onto an inverted plate. Remove the baking pan, garnish the torte as you please, and serve. Pass honey to be drizzled over individual slices as desired.

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LEEK AND MUSHROOM SALAD IN THE STYLE OF THE CAMBRIDGE CLUB

Many years ago I did a lot of executive recruiting for my organization in Shreveport, Louisiana. Whenever someone –  especially a recruit– comes to Louisiana, he or she expects to eat well. Shreveport, like most cities in Louisiana, has a number of excellent restaurants specializing in a variety of cuisines, many with a Southern or Creole emphasis.

In my recruiting days, the Cambridge Club was the best of the best. It was actually a private dinner club run by two cousins from Italy, Vincent Campanella  ran the front of the house, and Giuseppe Brucia commanded (my choice of words) the kitchen. They were both trained at a famous Swiss hotel and restaurant school in Lucerne. How they got to Shreveport was anyone’s guess, but nobody cared because the setting, service, and food were so good.

On special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and celebrations I would take the family to dinner. They loved to go, first stopping at the front door of a beautiful house that evoked the Cotswolds to be greeted by a doorman who came out of a bright red English telephone booth and then escorted into a candlelit room with attentive waiters and delicious food.

Unfortunately, the Cambridge Club is long gone. Vincent retired years ago and Giuseppe opened his own place with a gigantic kitchen and dining rooms filled with patrons wolfing down huge plates of spaghetti and meatballs. Vincent and Giuseppe sold the Cambridge Club, and after only a few years it folded. That seems to be the story of so many legendary restaurants.

One of our family favorites on the Cambridge Club menu was a mushroom salad topped with a dab of red caviar. We talked Chef Brucia into giving us the recipe, and it was copied into our family recipe file in the teenage hand of our older daughter. Susan’s favorite salad was a leek and mushroom salad, but since our daughter runs from anything that remotely smells or tastes like an Allium, she did not copy that recipe.

What follows is a synthesis of the two recipes, minus the red caviar. But you should feel free to add that if you wish. The only other guidance is that the mushrooms absolutely must be peeled, not washed. That is much easier than it sounds. Just place the sharp point of a paring knife under the edge of the mushroom cap next to the gills, lift up and the thin covering strips away. Continue around the edge of the mushroom until it is completely peeled. That should take much less than a minute.  It is amazing how much more delicate peeled mushrooms become, how thin you can slice them, and how much more receptive they are to fresh lemon juice and the best EVOO (That’s what Sarah, Evan, and their cooks call extra virgin olive oil.)

RECIPE

Leek and Mushroom Salad in the Style of the Cambridge Club

Ingredients

  • white part of 1-2 large leeks
  • 2-3 large white mushrooms per serving
  • mesclun
  • juice of ½ lemon for each serving
  • 3 tablespoons of the best extra virgin olive oil for each serving
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago of good quality
  • red caviar (optional)

Method

  1. With a very sharp knife, slice the leeks crosswise as thinly as possible. Rinse in a colander to remove any bits of sand and dirt. Refrigerate in ice water until ready to use.
  2. With a paring knife, peel the mushrooms. Slice crosswise as thinly as possible. Save the peelings for vegetable stock if you wish.
  3. Assemble the salad by placing a nest of mesclun on individual serving plates.  Drain the leeks. Divide the sliced leeks and mushrooms among the plates.
  4. Dress each plate with lemon juice and olive oil. Use salt and pepper if needed
  5. Top with slivers of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago shaved as thinly as possible with a vegetable peeler.
  6. If you are feeling flush, add a dab of red caviar to the top of each serving. Remember, this is purely optional.

 

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FRICO – CHEESE CRISPS

Cheese crisps, those incredibly lacy, crisp, and tasty wafers that some restaurants tuck into a bread basket, use to decorate a salad, or sit beside a bowl of soup look so hard to make, but are actually simple.

The hard part is figuring out what to call them and what their origin might be. Some people call them frico, and some people call them parmesan crisps.  Some sources say that “frico” comes from the Friulian language spoken in Friuli Venezia Giulia, an autonomous region in northeast Italy. Its capital is Trieste, and it stretches from the sea to some of the most beautiful mountains in Italy.  It is the part of Italy where Italian, Slavic, and Austrian cultures have bumped against one another for centuries. Some say that “frico” means little trifle in Italian, but there is no such entry in my Italian-English dictionary.

Some sources say that frico is similar to the Swiss rösti, a crisp, savory dish made of potatoes and cheese. In particular the cheese is supposed to be Montasio or Asiago cheese. Lidia Bastianich has a recipe on her website, lidiasitaly.com.

There are several recipes for frico/parmesan crisp on the web by various celebrity cooks, and Martha Stewart has one for cheddar crisps. Some cooks add chopped herbs, seeds, and other flavorings, so you can do just about whatever you want to and still call it a frico (Shouldn’t the plural be frici? That is more fun to say.)

To add to the complication, Montasio may be hard to find where you live. Our cheese monger didn’t have any. And even then you have to make a decision because Montasio comes in three versions depending upon its age. The cheese is made from raw cow’s milk, and that  may explain why it is hard to find in this country. Younger cheeses have a soft paste that doesn’t lend itself to crisping. The middle-aged cheese is firmer and might work, but you really want the fully aged cheese.

Undoubtedly availability is one of the reasons that most American recipes call for freshly grated Parmesan. At first, I was a bit dismayed by Martha Stewart’s suggestion to use cheddar. Then I started to play around with various cheeses in my stocks. I had some leftover Mexican cheese that I had used for my green chicken chilaquiles. I was surprised and pleased to learn that it made a very acceptable frico.

Another source of disagreement is whether to mix the grated cheese with a little bit of flour. Some think the flour makes the crisp too doughy and soft. I think it helps to absorb the fat that is released when the cheese melts. Do whatever you want.

Finally, there is the bake-them-in-the-oven school of thought and the cook-them-on-a-hot-skillet persuasion. I favor the latter because I think it gives me more control of the process, but again, choose your own pathway.

In view of the short list of ingredients and the even shorter process, all of this is probably a lot more than you want to know about fricos (Or is it frici?) Whatever, you are bound to enjoy these crispy trifles; guaranteed they will disappear quickly from a buffet table.

RECIPE

Frico

Ingredients

  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (coarse or fine depending on the texture you desire)
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Method

  1. Combine the grated cheese and flour
  2. If you are making the fricos on a skillet, heat a dry, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Spread about one tablespoonful of the cheese mixture in a circle about 3-4 inches across. Press down. Heat until the frico is lightly browned on the bottom. Turn over and brown the other side. Remove to paper towelling to cool.
  3. If you are baking the fricos in the oven, preheat the oven to 400°F. Spread tablespoonful-sized circles of the cheese mixture on a silicone-lined baking sheet. Do not crown. Press down. Bake for 3 to 5 minutes or until the fricos are lightly browned and crisp. Cool on paper towelling.

 

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