Whether added to an omelette, melted on meat, stirred into a sauce or folded into a soufflé, a little cheese can add a lot of flavour to a savoury dish. If you’re a fan of cheese, here are some things to consider when cooking with cheese.
How much to buy
You will see recipes that call for a measurement of grated — or shredded — cheese, such as one cup, and not list the weight. Because of that, when purchasing that cheese, whether it’s cheddar, mozzarella or Swiss, it’s handy to know that most sources say about 100 to 125 grams of cheese, when grated using the largest holes on your grater, will yield about one cup of grated cheese. About 170 grams of softer cheeses, such as blue or feta, when crumbled, will yield about 1 cup.
Making grating easier
Before attempting to grate softer cheeses, such as Monterey jack, mozzarella and mild cheddar or Gouda, set them in the freezer 10 minutes or so to firm up. Doing this will make them easier and much quicker to grate.
Why grate your own cheese?
It’s tempting to buy those bags of pre-grated cheese, and many do because it saves time and you don’t have to clean a grater afterward. No doubt they are convenient, and I’ve used them, but their taste is pretty boring and the texture often on the dry side, not surprising considering the factory-like way they are produced.
When you grate your own cheese, such as a bold-tasting aged cheddar cheese from a reputable source, or aromatic Parmesan direct from Italy, you control the quality of ingredient that goes into the dish you are making. Doing that can only add extra flavour and richness — a very good thing.
Incorporating cheese into sauces, soups and other dishes
Grated firmer cheeses, such as cheddar or Swiss, will melt evenly and quickly when incorporated into sauces, soups and other dishes. Cubes of firmer cheese, on the other hand, will take longer to melt, won’t do so evenly and can cause such things as sauces to not have the desired smooth texture.
Add grated cheese to sauces or soups at the end of cooking and use just enough heat to melt and mix it in. If heated too long, the cheese could curdle and separate and create an unappealing oily surface.
Go easy on the salt
Many cheeses have a fairly high salt content, so factor that in when deciding how much additional salt you add to a recipe. For example, in today’s biscuit recipe, because of the saltiness of the cheese I didn’t add any additional salt.
Cauliflower Soup with Cheddar and Walnuts
This is a comforting cauliflower soup rich with cheese and walnuts.
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: About 30 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium cauliflower, core and leaves removed, head cut into very small (1/2-inch) florets
1/2 medium onion, sliced
1 medium garlic clove, chopped
1/2 tsp herbes de Provence (see Note)
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 medium yellow-fleshed potato, peeled and cubed
1/4 cup light cream or milk
1/2 cup grated old cheddar, plus a little for garnish (about 60 grams)
• salt and white pepper, to taste
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted (see Note)
1 green onion, thinly sliced
Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the two-thirds of the cauliflower florets, onion and garlic and cook three to four minutes. Mix in the herbes de Provence and flour and cook two minutes more.
Slowly, while stirring steadily, mix in the stock. Add the potatoes. Bring soup to a simmer, and cook 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cauliflower and potato is quite tender.
Purée the soup in a food processor or blender, or in the pot with a hand (immersion) blender. Thin the soup with a bit more stock if you find it too thick.
Return the soup to a simmer, add the remaining cauliflower florets and simmer until they are tender, about five minutes. Mix in the 1/2 cup grated cheese and cream or milk. Cook and stir just until the cheese melts. Season the soup with salt and pepper.
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top each with a few toasted walnuts. Garnish soup with a little grated cheese and sliced green onion and serve.
Note: Herbes de Provence is a fine blend of several herbs available at most supermarkets in the bottled herb and spice aisle. To toast walnuts, place in a non-stick skillet and warm over medium heat a few minutes, until lightly toasted.
Flaky Biscuits with Blue Cheese and Rosemary
Serve these blue-cheese-rich biscuits accented with fresh rosemary with soups, stews, roasts or any other savoury creation you think they would go well with.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 12 to 14 minutes
Makes: 10 to 12 biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1⁄2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1⁄4 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup 2 per cent milk
100 grams fairly firm blue cheese, crumbled or pulled into small nuggets
1 large egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda and rosemary in a bowl and whisk to combine. With your fingers, two forks or a pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour mixture until thoroughly distributed. Gently mix in the milk and cheese until a loose dough forms, then turn it onto a floured surface. With floured hands, shape the dough into a ball, and then flatten it into a 1-inch thick disk. Use a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter to cut the dough into rounds and place them on the baking sheet. (Gather up the scraps of dough, and press and cut into biscuits as well.) Brush the top of each biscuit lightly with beaten egg. (Save leftover egg for another use.) Bake biscuits in the middle of the oven for 12 to 14 minutes, or until puffed and golden.
Italian-style veal sealed in a golden breadcrumb crust, topped with melted cheese, and served on rich red marinara sauce. Serve with pasta or rice and your favourite vegetable.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: About 16 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
4 (5 oz.) veal cutlets (see Note)
• salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup dried breadcrumbs
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (not the dried powdered stuff)
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground sage
1/4 tsp paprika
2 large eggs, beaten
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/3 cups grated mozzarella cheese, or to taste (about 150 grams)
1 1/4 cups marinara sauce, heated
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Place one of the veal cutlets on a cutting board and cover with plastic wrap. Use a kitchen hammer to pound the veal until 1/8-inch in thickness. Set veal on a plate. Pound the other three veal cutlets in this fashion. Season the veal with salt and pepper.
Combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, herbs and paprika in a shallow dish. Place the eggs and flour in their own separate, shallow dishes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Coat one piece of the veal in the flour, shaking off excess. Dip and completely coat the veal with egg. Now coat the veal in the breadcrumbs, gently pressing them on to help them adhere. Set the veal on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pieces of veal.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Divide the oil between two large skillets set over medium to medium-high heat. When hot, set two pieces of veal in each skillet and cook three minutes per side, until crisp and golden. Set veal back on the baking sheet.
Top each piece of veal with 1/3 cup of grated mozzarella, or to taste. Bake in the oven 10 minutes, or just until the cheese is melted.
Spoon some marinara sauce on each of the four plates. Set a piece of veal on each plate and serve, sprinkled with chopped parsley, if desired.
Note: Veal cutlets are sold in the meat counter of many supermarkets. If you can’t find it or wish to use another meat, pork cutlets or small, boneless, skinless chicken breasts would also work in this recipe. Pound them as described for the veal.
Eric Akis is the author of the just-published hardcover book Everyone Can Cook Everything.
© Copyright 2013