Al Forno’s Penne with Tomato Sauce, Cream and Five Cheeses

You can, of course, make this ridiculously simple entree without goat cheese…but would you want to? It’s perfect for that collection of cheese leftovers that hang around so many of our fridges. So easy you won’t believe it. Genius, in fact! Thank you to Food52!

Al Forno’s Penne with Tomato, Cream & Five Cheeses

Adapted very slightly from Cucina Simpatica: Robust Trattoria Cooking by Johanne Killeen & George Germon (Harper Collins, 1991)

Serves 4, or 6 to 8 as an appetizer

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes in heavy puree
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano (or aged hard goat) cheese (1 1/2 ounces)
1/2 cup coarsely shredded Fontina (or young goat Gouda) cheese (1 1/2 ounces)
1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (1 1/2 ounces)
2 tablespoons fresh goat cheese
1/4 pound thinly sliced fresh mozzarella cheese
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for pasta water
6 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1 pound penne rigate or conchiglie rigate
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, sliced thinly

Instructions

You won’t meet a speedier baked pasta, not one this good.

The recipe comes from a couple of former artists who, on the eve of opening their first restaurant in 1980, felt inspired to add baked pasta to their menu after seeing one in a smoky photo in an old Gourmet magazine.

It’s time to get acquainted with oven-baked pasta, because once you know about it, you’ll never shy away from inviting company for dinner; never wonder what to make to cheer someone up; never go out seeking solace in shoddy takeout, when comfort is right in your pantry (and cheese drawer).

 

Here’s how it comes together: gather your cheeses; mix them into a slurry with canned tomatoes, basil, and a pint of cream in a big bowl. Boil a pound of pasta briefly (four minutes only), then drain and add that in too.

 

Portion the whole mess into whatever shallow baking vessels you have, scatter some butter shavings across the top, and roast in a 500 degree oven for oh, about 10 minutes.

 

The first time you make it, you won’t trust it. The sauce, at first, looks thin and sketchy. It seems your poor penne will be undercooked (it’s only boiled for 4 minutes out of an alleged 13). You will wonder if eating all that cream and cheese is wise, and why five different cheeses needed to get involved.

 

Don’t worry. During that brief time in the hot oven, the cream will bubble up to just barely finish cooking the pasta, travelling up the tubes and into the crevices, to be trapped until you pick up a forkful and hot cream spurts out under your teeth. Al Forno uses penne and conchiglie rigate interchangeably — both are good vehicles for cream delivery.

 

Meanwhile, the uppermost noodles poke up like periscopes. They’ll stay a little chewy and the tips will singe to a crisp. You wouldn’t want to eat a whole pan full of burnt pasta ends, but here they’re the most precious, sought-after bits.
All those cheeses you questioned melt into a rich but nuanced sauce — except for the slices of fresh mozzarella. They stay behind in little patches of molten goo that, once disturbed, leave behind stringy trails as you twirl them up. Full of surprises, this pasta.

You could swap tomato puree for the diced ones, but it’s nice to keep the cream barely tinted with tomato. And left whole, the bright clumps of tomato are points of relief that renew your hunger for more cream.

 

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Gouda Sweet Potato Souffle

Thanks again to Culture Magazine and to the Comté Association for this exquisite soufflé, which features (with my slight variation) two of my very favorites, Goat Gouda and baked sweet potatoes.

Forget the stress of a traditional soufflé; this simplified version provides all of the elegance and flavor with only a quarter of the work! Sweet potatoes get whipped together with spices, eggs, cream and Gouda right in the food processor, then baked with a sprinkling of extra Gouda and pecans on top.

Serves 6

Ingredients
3 pounds sweet potatoes (2-3 large potatoes), baked, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 large eggs
4 ounces Goat Gouda, shredded (2 scant cups shredded)
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Butter a 2-quart casserole dish.

Put the potato chunks into a food processor with the butter. Process until smooth. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, pepper and heavy cream, along with 1 teaspoon salt. Pulse until mixed. Add the eggs and process until light and fluffy. Add half of the Gouda and pulse until combined.

Transfer the mixture into the prepared casserole dish; smooth out the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the remaining Gouda over the top, followed by the chopped pecans.Bake 20 minutes, or until puffed and light golden around the edges.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Comté Cheese Association, Nicki Sizemore

Fall Breakfast Cake

So I’m surfing around this morning, grazing on Laura Werlin’s blog, CheeseChickChat, Madame Fromage and the like, and I stumbled upon a blog I’d forgotten about, “It’s not you, it’s Brie.” From there, I got to Know Whey, and look what I found there:

Praline Squash Applesauce Breakfast Cake

YUM! Just what I needed to use up a bunch of surplus ingredients, and just perfect for a 5-day party coming up next weekend. My mom turns 80, and we kids are gathering to throw her a party. Breakfast noshes are always needed whenever the family gets together, and this one looks divine. No cheese in it, though. Sorry.

In Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350F
Spray a 9″ square pan (mine is the classic round tart pan with removable bottom) with cooking spray.
Ingredients
For the cake:
Wet ingredients:
2 eggs plus 2 additional egg whites
1/3 cup brown sugar (light or dark), packed
1/3 cup sugar
(Optional)1 Tablespoon Vermont maple Syrup, grade B
1/4 cup Thick Cinnamon Applesauce (or use finely chopped apples and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon)
1/2 cup cooked squash, scooped out of the skin
1/4 cup light cream (or milk)
Shortening:
2 ounces unsalted butter (1/2 stick), melted
Dry Ingredients:
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 and 1/4 cups flour
Nuts and Fruit:
1/4 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
(Optional) 1/4 cup currants or golden raisins
For the topping:
2 ounces unsalted butter (1/2 stick), softened
1/3 cup brown sugar (light or dark), packed
1/3 cup pecans, chopped
5 Tablespoons flour
(Optional) 1 Tablespoon Toasted Hazelnut Flour
Process
  1. Make the Topping: In food processor bowl with blade attached, combine all topping ingredients and pulse until crumbly.  Remove this to a covered bowl while preparing the cake.
  2. Make the Cake: In the food processor, combine Wet Ingredients, pulsing to combine after each addition.
  3. Add the shortening, pulsing to combine well
  4. Add the Dry Ingedients, pulsing to just combine (do not overwork).
  5. With a spoon, Stir in the Nuts and Fruit.    Batter is now ready to use.
  6. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes at 350F, then open oven door and sprinkle topping on the cake.  Resume baking and continue for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the cake is browned and slightly puffed.  Check for doneness in the center of the cake with a toothpick, which should come out clean.
  8. When done, remove cake to rack to cool for 15 minutes, then remove the outer pan, if using a removable-bottom pan.
Thanks to Sue of Know Whey for the recipe and pix. We are going to have a blast!

Leek and Potato Gratin, with Goat Gruyere

Melissa Clark at the New York Times must be my long-lost soul-twin (at least kitchen-wise). She has a great sense of what goes together and what ingredients enhance each other. Here, her latest incarnation of tasty goodness:

Ingredients

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, more for greasing the pan

2 large leeks, trimmed and halved lengthwise

1 1/2 pounds peeled Yukon Gold potatoes

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 thyme sprigs

1 cup heavy cream

1 fat garlic clove, finely chopped

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

3/4 cup Gruyère (goat Gruyere, if you can get it!), grated.

Directions

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 2-quart gratin dish. Wash the leeks to remove any grit and slice thinly crosswise.

2. Using a mandoline or sharp knife, slice the potatoes into rounds, 1/8-inch thick. Toss with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Layer the rounds in the gratin dish.

3. Melt the 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks, remaining salt and pepper, and thyme. Cook, stirring, until leeks are tender and golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Discard thyme and scatter the leeks over the potatoes.

4. Add cream, garlic and bay leaf to the skillet, scraping up browned bits of leeks from the bottom of the pan. Simmer gently for 5 minutes. Stir in nutmeg.

5. Pour the cream over the leeks and potatoes and top with the Gruyère. Cover with aluminum foil and transfer to the oven. Bake for 40 minutes, uncover and bake until the cheese is bubbling and golden, 15 to 20 minutes longer. Let cool slightly before serving.

Yield: 6 servings.

Meyer Lemon Pots de Creme

We are in a state of impending gloom, as our chevre season is almost over. The dairy does really are shifting their attention to the breeding season, love is in the air, and their production is dropping. So one more fresh cheese batch this week, and then we’re done. Except for the lovely frozen packages we’ve squirreled away, we have one more chance to make a recipe like the one that follows. It’s a nice way to rout ourselves out of mourning for fresh milk and cheese!

Smooth, creamy, lemony and slightly sweet. What could be better?

Recipe source: Tartelette, adapted by Delicious Days

Prep time: 20 min., baking: ~20-25 min.
Ingredients (serves 6-8, depending on ramekin size):
*375 g heavy cream, or half cream, half fresh goat cheese
*1/2 vanilla bean, cut lengthwise, seeds scraped out
*2-3 Meyer lemons (zest of one lemon & 60 ml juice)
*6 egg yolks (L) *100 g white sugar *a pinch of fine sea salt

Preparation

1 Preheat your oven to 160°C (~315°F)and position a rack in the center.
2 Combine heavy cream, vanilla (bean and scraped out seeds) and lemon zest in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, then turn off the heat and let steep for about 10 minutes.
3 Whisk together egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl until it become pale in color (at least 4 minutes on medium level with my KitchenAid), then add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt until thoroughly combined.
4 Strain the heavy cream though a fine mesh sieve and discard the lemon zest. Slowly pour the heavy cream over the egg yolk mixture and whisk well, but slowly – otherwise you will end up with too much foam on top of your custard base. In case the final mixture is too foamy, you should wait a couple of minutes (the foam will rise to the top) and then skim it off. (I find this step very important, as any foam left will produce an unpleasant, slightly grainy texture on top of the final Pots de Creme.)
5 Place small ramekins in a large enough casserole or other deep baking dish (I like to place a paper towel beneath, as it prevents the ramekins from sliding) and divide the custard mixture among the ramekins. Fill the baking dish up with hot water until it reaches about halfway up the ramekins’ sides.
6 Bake the Pots de Creme for 20 to 25 minutes (mine took no longer than 20 minutes) until the top is set, but the custard as a whole still jiggles when tapped. Remove the pan from the oven, carefully lift the ramekins from the hot water and let cool on the counter before chilling them for a couple of hours in the fridge (cover them with foil to prevent the custard from adopting any fridge odors).

Goat Cheese Custards with Strawberries in Red Wine Syrup

What a light and creamy end to a great meal!

Makes 4 servings, thanks to David Lebovitz for such a wonderful recipe!
I tried various permutations; milk, cream, and half-and-half, and either works fine. I bake these in small portions, and since the bulk of dessert is fruit, I feel little guilt indulging in the richness of cream, which, of course, yields the smoothest result. If you use milk, they’ll cook somewhat faster, so keep an eye on them. See note at the end for advice on ensuring a smooth end result.

5 ounces (140g) fresh goat cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup (50g) sugar
1/2 cup (120ml) milk, cream, or half-and-half
2 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste, or 1/8 teaspoon extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (175C).
2. Place four custard cups or ramekins in a deep baking dish or pan.
3. Blend together the goat cheese, sugar, milk (or cream), egg yolks, and vanilla for 30 seconds until very smooth.
4. Divide the mixture into the custard cups; each should be a bit more than half full.
5. Add warm tap water to the baking pan, to make a water bath for baking the custards. The water should reach to about halfway up the side of each custard cup.
6. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 15 to 20-minutes.
7. When done, remove the custards from the water bath and cool completely.

Storage & serving: Custards are best served at room temperature. They can be chilled up to two days in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, then brought to room temperature prior to serving. Top them with sliced berries and drizzle with the red wine syrup that follows below.
Note: Bake the custards until they just stop quivering loosely when you jiggle the pan. Don’t overbake them; if you’re unsure, remove them from the oven before you think they’re done and let them rest covered with foil. That usually does the trick, and they’ll glide gently into baked-custard perfection.

Red Wine Syrup
Makes 4 servings
You could add a speck of cinnamon, black pepper or some seeds from a vanilla bean to this reduction. Just remember that it’s going to cook down, so add a very small amount at the beginning, if you do. This is also a good way to use up leftover poaching liquid from fruit.

1/2 cup (125ml) red wine
3 tablespoons (50g) sugar
1/2 to 1 small basket of strawberries (about 4 ounces, 100g)

1. In a non-reactive skillet, cook the red wine and sugar until the bubbles get thick. Once the syrup is reduced to half its original quantity (1/4 cup, 60ml), remove from heat and scrape into a bowl to cool completely.
2. Rinse, hull, and slice strawberries. Toss in syrup, let stand for a minute to two, then spoon onto custards.

UPDATE: You can add almost any flavoring to this custard and have it turn out well. We tried Bolthouse mango puree yesterday, just tossed in an additional egg yolk to help firm up the added liquid. Fantastic. It’s also good with chocolate, caramel, Frangelico, lemon, strawberry jam….I could go on and on!