Category Archives: The best cheese recipes

Summer canapes

A few months ago I published a blog on “entertaining a crowd” which focused on a variety of dips for canapes / appetisers. I’ve decided to revisit this subject – this time focusing on something a bit different.

What comes to mind when you think of “Canape” ?

For me, it brings to mind large prissy platters at fancy parties that quite simply overdo things – like thinly sliced carpaccio of beef with quail’s eggs or weird shot glasses filled with foam – who has the time for that?

Well, I like to keep things simple.

The Recipes

These recipes are great for appetisers, breakfast, brunch, lunch or just as a snack or appetizer. All you need is any type of crisp bread, flat bread (e.g. pitta), oatcake, sliced baguette, crackers or you could use a pizza base, sliced into bite-sized portions, toasted, fried or grilled until crispy and topped with the ingredients.

Once assembled all that’s required is a quick drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Flaked salmon crisp breads

I’ve used Peter’s Yard rye flour crisp breads for this recipe. Utterly delicious.

Salmon

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 200g hot smoked salmon, flaked
  • 4 – 6 Peter’s Yard crisp breads
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
  • extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • Arrange the crisp breads into “half moon” shapes and top with the salmon.
  • Drizzle over the lemon juice/zest, olive oil.
  • Serve on a plate in the sunshine!

“Tricolour crisp breads” of tomato, basil and mozzarella

You can grill these crisp breads for a couple of minutes to warm and soften tomatoes and mozzarella.

Tri colour crisp breads

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 100g mozzarella cheese, sliced into small chunks
  • a handful of fresh basil, torn
  • 4 – 6 crisp breads
  • extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • Brush the tops of each crisp bread with olive oil.
  • In a medium bowl, toss tomatoes, olive oil and mozzarella cheese, salt and pepper together until combined.
  • Drizzle each crisp bread with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped basil. Serve.

(For grilling)

  • Heat the grill to a medium-high heat and grill the crisp breads, on a heat-proof tray, for 2-3 minutes . Serve.

Crackers and Camembert

An old classic. Slightly less colourful than the previous recipes but just as appealing.

Crackers and Camembert

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 round of Camembert (you can also use Brie), sliced into chunks
  • 6-8 crackers
  • Butter, for spreading

Directions

  • Spread each cracker with butter and top with cheese.

Pesto verde

According to various news outlets, output of olive oil across Italy and Spain has decreased dramatically due to a poor harvest in 2014.

As a result, the wholesale price is increasing, having a knock on effect for shoppers, who are now stocking up on supplies. In many cases, a 500ml bottle of good extra-virgin olive oil will cost about the same amount as a cheap bottle of supermarket wine; coming in at around the £5 mark.

With this in mind, I thought I’d do an olive oil blog post before things turn too sour, and turn my attention to one Italian dish famous for it’s use of extra-virgin olive oil: Pesto verde, or green pesto.

Basil pesto leaves

Fragrant basil leaves

Pesto is very much a household name in the UK now. As well as its use as a pasta sauce, you’ll also find it to be a great sauce to have with grilled meat, white fish or salmon (see my pesto topped salmon recipe).

It also goes well in a salad of mushrooms, artichokes, tomatoes and crunchy greens and you’ll often find that “chicken and pesto sandwiches” are a dime a dozen these days.

This vibrant green Italian sauce/paste is traditionally derived from basil leaves, but you can easily adapt it to work with parsley, rocket, coriander or even spinach. Whatever the choice, once the leaves are combined with fresh lemon and extra-virgin olive oil, the end result always has a nice zip to it.

Pine nuts

Pine nuts

There is a slight conundrum over the type of nuts used, however; toasted pine nuts (pictured right) being the traditional choice. These small, pebbly nuts are like little tear drops, and have a richer flavour than, say, hazelnuts or almonds. When combined with basil, not only do the nuts give pesto it’s body and substance but also a lovely creaminess and a nutritional source of fats and protein.

I remember the first time I tried green pesto; it was around eight years ago, in an Italian restaurant named Est Est Est on Edinburgh’s George Street. Regrettably this eatery is now closed down but the pesto itself left a lasting impression on me – and not in a positive way. It was a simple dish of linguine and pesto verde (green pesto) but I found the taste very acerbic, overpowering and even sour. I needed some sort of protein, like grilled chicken, to absorb some of the intense flavours.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve tried to adapt my own recipe for pesto, and have found that it goes best with meat or fish, rather than just pasta on it’s own.

With pesto, it’s always a case of experimentation. For instance, adding a bit more cheese or oil until you are happy with the taste and consistency. Adding a squeeze of lemon juice at the end to give it a little twang it sometimes nice, but it’s not essential. My advice is to keep “tasting as you go”, to avoid one ingredient overpowering the rest.

Let’s get cracking.

Penne with pesto verde (green pesto)

Penne pasta with pesto

Ingredients:

Basil pesto ingredients

ingredients – (clockwise from left) grated parmesan cheese, pine nuts, lemon, extra-virgin olive oil, basil, garlic

  • 350g penne pasta
  • 60g parmesan cheese, grated
  • 50g pine nuts,
  • 1/2 lemon, juice only
  • 150ml extra-virgin olive oil,
  • A handful of basil leaves,
  • 1 garlic clove,
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Rocket leaves, to garnish (optional)

Directions:

  • Cook the penne pasta according to packet instructions.
  • Heat a small pan over a medium heat and carefully dry fry the pine nuts for about 10 minutes.
  • Pound the garlic, salt and basil leaves in a pestle and mortar, or pulse in a food processor, to make into a paste.
  • Add the pine nuts to the mixture and pound again.
  • Turn out into a bowl and add half the Parmesan.
  • Next, whisk in the olive oil and lemon juice until you have an oozy consistency.
  • Finally, as the rest of the parmesan cheese along with the seasoning.
  • Mix with the cooked penne and serve.

The best cheese recipes… Welsh Rarebit

Don’t let the name confuse you. We’re all familiar with the various parings of cheese and bread: cheese on toast, Croque Monsieur or the American grilled cheese sandwich – now meet their Welsh cousin: the Rarebit.

Welsh rarebit on ciabatta closeup

Welsh rarebit on ciabatta

This inspired and luxurious dish goes down a treat as a lovely supper, featuring an unctuous bechamel cheese sauce spread over thickly sliced crusty bread, with a keen dash of Worcester sauce.

So what are the components of the ideal Welsh Rarebit?

For cooking, the best method would be blasting it under a hot grill for an oozing, golden finish.

The ingredients are an all-important aspect, so don’t skimp on cheaply bought own brand cheese or simple sliced white bread.

The ideal bread would be a simple slice of wholemeal or a crusty ciabatta, its up to you, but I would say the ciabatta wins out on this occasion; the soft, porous structure absorbs the rich and gooey mixture quite magnificently. Alternatively I would go for a wholegrain/multi-seed loaf (malted) for more savoury depth.

The white sauce:

For the perfect bechamel, first melting the butter in a pan, letting it sizzle and brown slighty, then adding equal parts flour to make the ‘roux’ or paste. Important to note: before adding the milk make sure you ‘cook out’ the flour for a couple of minutes, stirring the roux gently, until the butter/flour combination resembles a sort of ‘golden honeycomb’ look. This is vital, as you don’t want the eventual bechamel to taste of uncooked flour.

Adding the milk slowly and incorporating it into the paste is fairly straightforward. Just don’t be tempted to add the milk all at once, otherwise you will have a clumpy sauce!

If you follow the steps below it should bind together really well.

After bringing it to a simmer with the milk, the mixture will gradually thicken before adding the cheese. A good quality Cheddar, Lancashire or Wensleydale will do. Generally, the higher the fat content, the better it will grill.

Finishing touches require a dollop of mustard; it really has to be Dijon in my view!

Any left over bechamel can also be used for lasagne, macaroni or casseroles. I hope you enjoy the recipe and remember that

Serves 1 – 2

Ingredients

  • 175g cheddar cheese, grated
  • 50ml full-fat milk
  • 25g butter
  • 25g plain flour
  • A dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of cayenne or chilli powder
  • 2 slices thick crusty ciabatta

Directions

Preheat the grill to high and grill the bread for 2 minutes. Remove from under the grill and keep warm.

The first step is to make a cheese sauce (bechamel):

Heat the butter in a saucepan, stirring regularly, until melted and bubbling.

Melting butter

Add the flour and and cook for a further 2-3 minutes stirring continuously.

Welsh rarebit Making the roux (3)

The ‘honeycomb’ look

Once the roux mixture has come together add about 1/3 of the milk and stir.

Welsh rarebit white sauce (2)

Add the remaining milk, stir for a few minutes until it starts to blip, but do not boil.

Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. Whisk in the egg yolk, mustard and grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread the cheese sauce mixture onto the bread and grill for 2 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and golden-brown.

Welsh rarebit under the grill

Serve with a few drops of Worcester Sauce and sprinkle on the cayenne/chilli powder.

Welsh rarebit on two slices of crusty ciabatta