Curds the Word

It was my buddy Keith’s birthday this past Sunday (also Groundhog’s Day & Super Bowl Sunday), so there were plenty of reasons to celebrate. For my part, I made my first batch of homemade cheese curds the day before… and oh, were they good!

Fresh cheese curds

I won’t bore you with the tedious details. Suffice to say, it was a marathon 8-hour procedure which I further complicated by throwing in a sous vide for temperature control, but well worth it. If you happen to be a curd lover, you might want to check out the thorough directions at New England Cheese Making Supply Co.

Mild cheese curds are at their best when eaten fresh, while their prized squeakiness is at its peak (within a day or so of making). Keith got his lovely curds on time and I had enough left for a very tasty riff on a pizza Margherita. I realize I am past due for a [Friday] pizza blog, so here we go!

I was curious to see what the curds would do on the pizza. Would they melt or turn rubbery? I would keep ingredients on the tame side as to not overwhelm the curds. All that was left was to assemble a few ingredients and give it a quick bake in a hot oven.

I started with a pre-baked crust made earlier in the day. To get my quota of garlic in, I opt for a gentle smear of garlic confit. I like to keep a jar of it in the fridge for occasions such as this, as it gives a mellow garlic flavor that blends well but does not dominate. For a substitute, see the recipe for easy alternative.

Pizza with Curds and Tomatoes

In rapid succession, it’s layered with sliced onion and spicy pasilla pepper; then a bit of salt and pepper and a sprinkle of fresh rosemary and thyme. Our featured sliced tomatoes and cheese curds get dotted about; if you don’t have curds, use any fresh cheese, such as mozzarella. It’s finished with a light dusting of Asiago or Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil, and popped into a hot oven until the top is bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Once baked, fresh basil is scattered across the top and it’s served.

Final curd outcome: the curds melt slightly, brown on top, and become creamy. Once cooled, they firm up and go back to their original texture, albeit a tad drier. Pretty much what you would expect. No rubbery cheese here!

Pizza with Cheese Curds and Tomatoes

Ingredients
½ recipe pizza dough, or medium purchased
1 Tbsp garlic confit, or 1 Tbsp olive oil heated with 2 cloves garlic, smash
½ onion, slice
½ pasilla or other pepper, slice
salt and pepper
1 tsp fresh rosemary and/or thyme
3 Roma tomatoes, slice
1 cup fresh cheese curds, cut bite-size
½ cup Asiago or Parmesan cheese, grate
2 tsp olive oil
5-6 fresh basil leaves, tear smaller if large

Instructions

  1. Prepare one 9-10” crust. Preheat oven to 425-450°F.
  2. On fresh or pre-baked crust, evenly spread garlic confit over the surface, coating edges.
  3. Add a layer of sliced onion and pepper. Season lightly with salt, fresh ground pepper, and fresh herbs.
  4. Top with sliced tomatoes and dot with fresh cheese curds. Sprinkle with aged Asiago or Parmesan cheese and drizzle the top with olive oil.
  5. Bake 15-20 minutes, until bubbly on top and crust is golden brown. Scatter with fresh basil leaves. Makes 1 medium pizza.

One-Pot Pasta: No Sauce Required

Here’s a one-pot pasta dish that creates its own remarkable sauce in less than 20 minutes―while the pasta and its cohorts burble away.   Serious pasta lovers may scoff at the unconventional approach, but it actually works.

This clever Martha Stewart recipe is quite similar to Pesto Soup, a popular vegetable soup I have made for years.  It starts with fresh vegetables like green beans, potatoes, and either fresh or canned tomatoes.  All of this is simmered in a large amount of salted boiling water until nearly tender; pasta is then added and cooked until al dente. The bland mess is poured into a large bowl where it is miraculously transformed by plenty of pesto sauce and freshly grated cheese. No stock required; still delicious.

In this case, no sauce is required to make this easy satisfying pasta dish.  Cherry tomatoes, sliced onion, a generous amount of garlic, fresh basil, a healthy drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper, and linguine are all brought to a boil with 4 ½ cups of water.  In about 9 minutes most of the water has evaporated, and it is done.  To serve, it is spooned into bowls and finished with more fresh basil, a bit more olive oil, and a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Since I am bad at following directions, mine took a slight turn. I had vermicelli on hand, which cooks much quicker (4 minutes).  I decided to make this a real one-pot-meal and ramp up the vegetable factor by including zucchini and a pepper. I sautéed them ahead, along with the onion and garlic, and set it aside, reasoning a quick sauté would seal in their flavors and further enhance their sweetness.

The primary ingredients were placed in the pot, when it reached a boil  the sautéed vegetables were included, and then the pasta worked its own magic by emitting just enough starch to thicken the liquid. The quick sauté may add an extra step or two, but the lively flavors brought out in the process make it well worth the effort.  On the finish, I stirred in a handful of grated cheese just before pulling the pan off the stove.one pot pasta pot

Granted, the 4 minute vermicelli threw off my timing factor with the necessary water reduction―which could have been rectified by using a little less water, perhaps 4 cups. In spite of cooking longer than necessary to reduce the sauce, the pasta was neither flabby nor gummy.  I’d  recommend tossing a small handful of cheese into the pot’s sauce while it’s still on the stove. The additional nutty creaminess brings everything together in one happy mouthful!

one pot pastaMy revised version follows, which includes the quick vegetable sauté step and extra cheese addition.

If you are thinking about a salad, consider lining the bowls with young spinach or other hearty field greens, top them with the hot pasta, and let everyone toss away.

At the table, be sure and have extra virgin olive and a good quality grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  Add a rustic, crusty bread and you have all the makings for a fun and relaxed meal.

One-Pot Pasta

Inspired by Linguine with Tomato and Basil in One Pot, From the Kitchens of Martha Stewart Living

Ingredients

1 tbsp      olive oil
1              onion, thinly sliced
4              cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1              pepper of choice: red, Hungarian, Anaheim, etc.
1              zucchini, cut up
12 oz       linguine
12 oz       cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
1/2 tsp     red pepper flakes
2 sprigs    basil, fresh
1 tbsp      olive oil
2 tsps      salt
1/4 tsp     pepper
4 ½ cups  water
1/2 cup     grated Parmigiano Reggiano
For garnish:  fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Method

  1. In a large pot, heat 1 tbsp olive oil, add the onion, garlic, zucchini, and pepper; briefly sauté. When softened, remove from pan.
  2. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to the pot, break the pasta in half and add it briefly tossing to coat and color slightly.  Add all remaining ingredients through the water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook, stirring pasta frequently, until al dente and the water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes. Add ½ cup cheese, stirring to combine well. Taste for seasoning, add more salt or pepper as needed.
  3. To serve, garnish with more basil, olive oil and cheese. Serves 4