Macaroni and cheese must be one of the most popular foods around and it is easy to understand why. Mac and cheese is pure comfort food with the creamy and cheesy sauce coating tube-shaped pasta. I can’t decide which type of macaroni and cheese I like more, stove-top mac and cheese or baked, as both have their merits. For this blog post, I decided to go with baked mac and cheese because I love the layer of crispy breadcrumbs over this cheesy casserole. They add welcome textural contrast to the smooth and creamy macaroni. In my opinion, this classic baked mac and cheese is the ultimate mac and cheese because it is creamy and gooey in a good way, with lots of cheese and extra flavor from the herb-infused sauce.
What is Mac and Cheese?
What is the foundation ingredient in Mac and Cheese? Other than the macaroni, it is the Mornay sauce made with cheddar cheese. A Mornay sauce is a béchamel sauce, (white sauce made from a roux and milk ) with melted cheese. These two sauces are two of the five mother sauces from French cuisine and are the backbone to a lot of American food.
Traditionally, a Mornay sauce is made with Gruyère cheese, so for this recipe, I decided to stay with tradition and use Gruyère cheese. Because mac and cheese would not be mac and cheese without the sharp taste of good cheddar, I combined a blend of two kinds of cheese for a full-flavored cheese sauce. Most mac and cheese recipes call for using all cheddar cheese, but the texture of a sauce made with only cheddar cheese is gritty. There is nothing wrong with it as it is the nature of the cheese, but it is just not that pleasant to eat.
Extra Cheese Flavor
I discovered to make a smooth cheese sauce with cheddar cheese, using two types of cheeses is essential. Plus the proportion of cheddar must be less than the second cheese in the sauce. Making cheddar cheese the less prominent cheese diminishes the gritty texture and makes a velvety smooth sauce. I recommend two cheese combinations, one with 12 oz (350 g) of Gruyère and 8 oz (225 g) of extra sharp cheddar. Or, for a more economical meal substitute the Gruyère with 12 oz (350 g) of Colby jack cheese and 8 oz (225 g) of extra sharp cheddar cheese. Either combination produces a silky and cheese forward sauce perfect for mac and cheese.
This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten’s Mac and Cheese and where I got the idea of combining Gruyère cheese with cheddar cheese. After my disappointing mac and cheese with 100% cheddar, I sought out more inspiration to fix the gritty texture and her recipe did just that. There is a lot of cheese in this recipe and it is very rich. Yet the combination of Gruyère with its’ aged and nutty flavor with sharp-tasting cheddar give this sauce extra body and flavor. The cheese flavor comes through and is not mild which is a common complaint about a lot of macaroni and cheese recipes.
If Gruyère cheese is too expensive you can use a combination of Gruyère and Swiss cheese or substitute the Gruyère with Colby jack. Colby jack is a milder tasting cheese and usually a favorite with younger children. These two options give you two mac and cheese recipes, one for adults and one for children. Although the recipe has so much cheese in the sauce I believe children will like both versions.
My Extra Step
What makes my recipe different from The Barefoot Contessa’s is I steep the milk with garlic and herbs before I make the Mornay sauce. This extra step really makes a difference in flavor. Fortunately, it does not add extra time because you can easily steep the milk while you wait for the pasta to cook. Unfortunately, it does give you one more pot to clean, but I promise you it is worth it. Dried bay leaves, fresh sage and garlic steep in warm milk and change the sauce from ok to distinctive. Steeping herbs is one of my favorite ways of adding extra flavor without changing the look of the sauce. The sage flavor in this sauce is not too herby or assertive and comfortably rounds out the cheese and cream flavors like putting on a brand new pair of socks. Its soft, comfortable and invigorating.
And Then Some
There are countless ways to change-up mac and cheese. Listed below are just a few examples.
- If you want to have cheesy strands in your creamy sauce add a 4 – 8 oz (125 – 225 g) of cheese cut into ½ inch cubes after you mix the sauce with the macaroni. Personally, I believe this recipe has more than enough cheese in it, but people love the extra cheese.
- If you use the Colby jack and cheddar cheese combination, add about a half cup (125 ml)of Romano or Parmesan Reggiano to the macaroni after you mix the cheese sauce and pasta. The Romano or Parmesan will add some extra flavor to this mild cheese sauce.
- Caramelize two onions then add to the mac and cheese before baking.
- Add blanched broccoli flowerettes or cauliflower to the mac and cheese before baking.
- Cook 6 slices of bacon, not thick bacon, until crispy. Chop up into half inch pieces. Add the crispy bacon to the mac and cheese before baking and proceed as directed. Fried prosciutto is also delicious. Tear pieces of prosciutto and cook them up in a skillet with extra-virgin olive oil until crispy.
- Add frozen peas to the stock pot with the pasta 2 minutes before you stop cooking the macaroni. Drain the peas with the macaroni and set aside to cool.
- For pure decadence, add 1 ½ lb (750 g) cooked lobster meat to the macaroni and cheese. (Ina Garten’s Lobster Mac and Cheese recipe).
- Use Ina Garten’s recommendation and add sliced tomatoes over the top of the casserole, then add the breadcrumbs before baking.
- Season the cheese sauce with nutmeg instead of hot sauce. Add ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg.
Serve Mac and Cheese with Rolled Stuffed Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
Classic Mac and Cheese and Then Some
A classic macaroni and cheese recipe with a smooth creamy-cheesy macaroni filling. I added an extra step of infusing the milk with fresh herbs and garlic to develop extra flavor in the sauce and complement the cheeses. Sprinkle toasted breadcrumbs seasoned with parmesan cheese, ground garlic and dried herds over the macaroni and cheese before baking in the oven. The breadcrumbs add a welcome crunch and textural contrast to the delicious and gooey macaroni.
Make macaroni and cheese with any tubular shape pasta like elbows, shells cavatappi or a small penne or ziti shapes are nice. But it is important to undercook the pasta before you add it to the sauce. The pasta will continue to cook while baking in the oven so undercooking it beforehand prevents the macaroni from getting soggy and limp.
Macaroni is a great make ahead casserole and you can make it two days in advance. Store in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap. Make the casserole up to the point before putting on the breadcrumb topping. You can also freeze it for up to 2 months. Make sure you freeze it in a freezer-to-oven safe baking dish.
If refrigerated, take the casserole out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking to bring up to room temperature. Remove the plastic wrap then add the breadcrumbs. Bake covered in foil for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking until hot and bubbly.
If frozen, remove the plastic wrap and cover the casserole with foil bake for one hour, then remove the foil and bake until hot and bubbly.
Best eaten hot on the day it is made.
Store leftover macaroni and cheese covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The sauce gets drier, but it heats up well in a microwave.
Macaroni and Cheese
- 4 cups (1 L) whole milk
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- 1 sprig fresh sage
- 1 lb. tubular shaped pasta like elbows shells, or cavatappi
- 6 TBS Butter
- 6 TBS all-purpose flour
- 12 oz grated Gruyère cheese or Colby Jack
- 8 oz grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
- 1-2 tsp Dried herbs like parsley oregano, or sage or Italian seasoning
- 1-2 tsp ground mustard
- 1-2 tsp hot sauce like Frank’s Red Hot
- Several rounds of freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs, or use 2-3 slices of whole grain bread
- 2 TB melted butter
- ¼ cup (60 ml) Parmesan Cheese
- ½ tsp granulated garlic
- 1-2 tsp of dried herbs like parsley, oregano, sage or basil
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190 °C / Gas Mark 5) with the rack in the middle position. Butter a 9 x 13 inch (23 x 33 cm) baking dish.
Cook the pasta and Flavor the Milk
Heat a large stock pot filled with water until boiling. Season with salt and cook the pasta for half the amount of recommended time. Drain the pasta. Shake out any excess water from the colander then drizzle about 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over the pasta and toss to coat. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat up the milk and cream with the sage, bay leaves, and smashed garlic clove in a saucepan to just shy of boiling. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for 5 minutes, making sure the milk does not boil. Turn off the heat then let the milk and herbs steep for 15-20 minutes.
Make the Topping
While you are waiting for the pasta to cook, make the topping. If making fresh breadcrumbs, take the bread slices and rip each slice into four pieces then place in a bowl of a food processor. Process the bread until it becomes crumbly but not gummy. Add the melted butter, parmesan cheese, and dried herbs if using, and process until combined. Pour the breadcrumbs into a small bowl and set aside.
If you are using panko breadcrumbs, pour the melted butter into a small bowl with the breadcrumbs and mix together. Add the parmesan cheese and dried herbs if using. Mix together and set aside.
Make the Sauce
Melt the butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven, over medium heat. Once the butter has melted and stopped sizzling, add the flour and whisk to blend. Continue to whisk the butter and flour to make a roux for about 5 minutes. You want to remove the flour taste and smell. Be careful not to brown the roux.
Remove the herbs from the milk and add the milk into the roux a little at a time. Whisk the milk and roux continuously to thoroughly mix them together between each addition. Make sure you get into the crevasses of the pan to mix in all the milk and flour. Cook the sauce for about 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens. You know it is done when you dip a wooden spoon in the sauce then run your finger across the back of the spoon. If the sauce does not run and break the line, the sauce is done.
Once you have a thick sauce with a smooth texture, add the ground mustard, and hot sauce (if using), and a few rounds of freshly ground black pepper. Whisk them into the sauce and taste. Add the grated cheese in increments whisking the cheese and sauce thoroughly between each addition. Wait until the cheese has melted between each addition as well. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings as needed.
Assemble and Bake
Scrape the cooked macaroni into a bowl with the cheese sauce then stir to mix. If you are adding add-ins like crispy bacon or broccoli, add them now. Pour the mixture into a buttered baking dish.
Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top of the macaroni in an even layer.
Place the macaroni filled baking dish on a rimmed sheet pan to collect any sauce that bubbles over while baking. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the topping is brown and crispy and the macaroni is bubbly. The internal temperature should register 165°F (74°C) Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
And then some:
If you want to have cheesy strands in your creamy mac and cheese, add up to a half pound ((225 g) of cheese cut into ½ inch cubes to the macaroni mixture and stir to combine.
Add a half cup (125 ml)of grated Parmesan Reggiano to the Macaroni and cheese sauce before scraping it into the baking dish.
Caramelize two onions, then add them to the mac and cheese before baking.
Add blanched broccoli or cauliflower flowerettes to the mac and cheese before baking.
Cook 6 slices of bacon, not thick bacon, until crispy. Chop up into half-inch pieces. Add the crispy bacon to the mac and cheese before baking and proceed as directed. Or try fried pieces of prosciutto.
Add frozen peas to the boiling pasta water 2 minutes before you stop cooking the macaroni. Drain the peas with the macaroni and set aside to cool.
Add 1½ lbs (750 g) cooked lobster meat to the macaroni and cheese. Season the cheese sauce with nutmeg instead of hot sauce. Add ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg.
Add sliced tomatoes over the top of the mac and cheese then sprinkle with breadcrumbs before baking. (Ina Garten's recipe)
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
It is time to take advantage of the remaining warm summer nights and enjoy an evening with friends, sparkling wine, and charcuterie. Entertaining does not get any easier than this. There is no cooking unless you want to make the pâté or a spread. Just assemble and relax. What you place on your charcuterie platter is up to you, but you want to keep in mind how many people you are entertaining, variety in texture and flavor, plus add your personal stamp to the meal. A charcuterie platter is a perfect meal for hot summer nights when it is too hot to cook, or just enjoying a sunset from your deck with friends.
But what is a charcuterie platter? By definition, charcuterie is a French name for a deli, or market, that sells cured meats, especially pork. Charcuterie also means the products that are sold in a charcuterie. With that understanding, a charcuterie platter is a platter or tray layered with smoked and cured meats and other specialty food items, like cheese and pickles.
Traditionally, a charcuterie platter is very meat focused and consists of a variety of cured meats like prosciutto, soppressata, and pâtés, with add-ins like pickles, spicy mustard, bread, or crackers. However, for my platter, and because I believe it is still in the realm of the definition of a charcuterie platter, I added cheeses, fruits, and vegetables.
How to Build a Charcuterie Platter
How does one put together all those different foods so that it looks appealing and covers all the bases of complementary tastes and contrasting textures? First, organize all your ingredients in groups, then arrange all of the ingredients in a decorative yet easy to reach manner.
Start with the meats. A good rule to follow is 2 oz of meat per person. Charcuterie platters contain very rich foods, so you do not want to overdo it. Pick three types of cured meat with different flavors and textures. The meats pictured on my charcuterie platter are soppressata, prosciutto, and bresaola. These three types of cured meats offer a variety in texture and flavor, although a subtle one. A common rule is, have meat that you slice like the soppressata, one meat that comes sliced, like prosciutto, and meat that you spread like pâté.
Other meats you buy sliced are Guanciale or Mortadella.
Meats for spreading are smooth or chunky pâtés or terrines.
What is missing on my charcuterie board is pâté because my family does not care for it. Smoked fish or gravlax is also a nice alternative and an option for people who do not like pork or beef. Keep in mind you want to make something that you know you and your guests will enjoy.
Similar to the cured meats, it is nice to have 3 different types of cheese on your charcuterie board as well. Although, if you want this to be charcuterie platter that is more meat-focused, one selection of cheese is fine.
Like the meats, your cheeses should have different textures and flavors. I usually follow this rule for building a cheese board, one soft rind triple cream cheese, one hard or sharp-tasting cheese, and one blue cheese. The possibilities are endless. If you do not like blue cheese swap in a soft goat cheese.
Other cheese selections are:
This is where you can get creative and add your personal spin to a charcuterie platter. Yet, keep in mind the additional accoutrements have a purpose other than tasting great and looking pretty. The add-ins provide a break from the rich meats and cheeses, provide textural contrast, and clear the palate.
Fill your platter with a wide selection of any of these foods.
Fruits like figs, grapes, berries or dried fruits like apricots or figs are nice selections.
Pickles like cornichons are a must, but you can use other pickled vegetables like carrots, fennel, and chilies.
Briny olives like Kalamata or good green olives.
Fresh vegetables like fennel, cucumber, radishes, or carrots add an important textural contrast with their crisp crunch and are very refreshing.
Mustard is also an important ingredient to a charcuterie platter as they complement the cured meat wonderfully.
Spreads like hummus and tapenade taste great with charcuterie.
Nuts. Any nut like walnuts, almonds or pistachios you can’t go wrong. Just make sure there are no nut allergies before you add them to your platter.
The list is long, but choose a selection of three fruits and/or vegetables, with a couple of specialty items. Don’t be redundant. If you have olive tapenade, do not put out olives. If you have fig jam don’t put out fresh figs, pick another fruit instead. Although, when in season fresh figs are delicious with charcuterie.
Just remember one thing, do not forget the mustard, sweet or spicy or both, it doesn’t matter. In France, it is sacrilegious to serve charcuterie without mustard.
It is nice to arrange everything on one platter and serve with bread or crispy crackers. You can also arrange your charcuterie selection on more than one platter. This is especially important if some of your guests eat a plant-based diet. They might not want their selections mixed in with the meats or cheeses. By the middle of the evening, the charcuterie platter will get messy, so it is thoughtful of you to keep the foods separate. Serving the charcuterie selections on multiple platters works well for larger parties when you will have more meats to arrange on your board.
Toasted French baguette makes a more substantial selection and looks nice when sliced thin on the diagonal. I especially like to serve charcuterie with bread when I want my charcuterie platter to be a meal. Thin crispy plain crackers work well with the cheese and meats too. Also, I found people really enjoy breadsticks as well.
Serve your charcuterie platter at room temperature. You will need to slice the meats and cheeses when they are cold, but everything tastes better when they are at room temperature.
Chilled sparkling wines like a Spanish Cava or an Italian Prosecco, Lambrusco, or a dry rosé are perfect for this type of meal, especially on hot summer nights. Some dry reds that are not too heavy pair nicely as well. Dry sparkling wines help cut the richness of the cheese and meats and clear the palate so you can keep on sampling.
Beer is another good beverage of choice, but I would not do anything too rich. I really enjoyed the pairing of a red ale with my Irish Cheese Platter, so I imagine it works with charcuterie as well.
My son Andrew recommends Saisons because they are dry and spicy, or a good Pilsner. These types of beer will help clear the palate. He also loves Lambic, a Belgium Sour, with charcuterie. Low alcohol beers work nicely because they do not fill you up and you can easily snack on your charcuterie.
For a non-alcohol beverage, seltzer is perfect. Mixed in with lime, or lemon and/or cucumber is very refreshing and helps clear the palate. Anything bubbly that is not sweet. Stay away from soda. You won’t taste the charcuterie if you are drinking a coke.
I hope you enjoy the remains of summer and the ease of the season with charcuterie and friends.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Creamy tomato and mozzarella salad is a nice alternative to the more traditional Caprese Salad. Both have their place as an exceptional first course or appetizer and both feature ripe tomatoes and fresh mozzarella nicely as the star ingredients. Yet creamy tomato and mozzarella salad have an element of surprise with heat from the jalapeño chilies, a slight brininess from the capers, and a bright lemony creaminess from the dressing.
To make this mozzarella salad sing like the opening act of an all-star concert, be very particular about the ingredients you use.
First and foremost, only use perfectly ripe tomatoes and locally grown tomatoes if you can get them. This mozzarella salad is at its best when the tomatoes are in season and bursting with sweet sun-ripened flavor. Out of season tomatoes just won’t do the salad justice. The juices from ripe tomatoes will blend into the dressing creating a sauce perfect for soaking up with good crusty bread. If you must make this salad before or after tomato season, use cherry or grape tomatoes as you can get a good tasting and ripe, hydroponically grown grape tomatoes during the year.
Also, use any variety of tomato, as long as the tomatoes are ripe. If you like to mix things up, use a variety of tomatoes with different shapes, sizes, and color. Yellow tomatoes are especially nice in this mozzarella salad as they have less acid than the red variety.
Second, use only fresh mozzarella. The vacuum sealed mozzarella you find in the dairy section of the store is no substitute. Even the brand that looks like it is fresh mozzarella. If it is vacuumed sealed it is not fresh. Don’t even think about it. That cheese works nicely on a pizza but not in a salad. Fortunately, several markets make their own mozzarella, so it is not hard to come by. Often the mozzarella is kept in water, or just freshly wrapped in plastic wrap and sold the day it is made. Buffalo mozzarella is another alternative if you can find it.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Third, use the best tasting extra virgin olive oil you can afford. Don’t use the generic extra virgin olive oil that is really a blend of oils, but real extra virgin olive oil with a fruity and peppery note and body. You do not need to buy the most expensive one, just a good one that you like.
More tomato recipes
By using the best quality ingredients, this mozzarella salad is hard to resist. It is immensely satisfying as only food made with fresh quality ingredients is. Both tomatoes and fresh mozzarella taste best when they are at room temperature, so serve the mozzarella salad at room temperature. Though, it is easier to slice mozzarella when it is cold and right out of the refrigerator. I recommend making the salad no more than an hour before you want to serve it. Unfortunately, mozzarella salad is not a make-ahead meal.
Additionally, I recommend slicing the mozzarella and tomatoes into reasonable size slices. My yellow tomato was very large, so I cut each slice into quarters. It was a lot more manageable that way. Also, I cut each mozzarella slice in half, especially the middle slices.
If you wish, you can rip large bite-size pieces of the mozzarella and scatter the pieces over the tomatoes instead of layering each slice. This looks especially nice when you have different varieties of tomatoes in your salad and you arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella in a random pattern.
Mozzarella Salad makes a delicious first course or an appetizer with slices of grilled crusty bread like a baguette. You are going to want something to soak up the delicious juices from the tomatoes and dressing. Either way, this tomato and mozzarella salad is a fine addition to your salad repertoire.
August and September are the best months to enjoy ripe tomatoes so go get some before they are gone.
This recipe is adapted from Marinated Mozzarella with Crème Fraîche and Lemon and Marjoram by Jamie Oliver’s cookbook, Happy Days with the Naked Chef, and Lemon Cream from Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden.
My Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad recipe is part of a social media collaborative project featuring tomatoes. Below the recipe is a list of all the talented Instagramers and food bloggers who are participating in the #wesaytomatoes collaboration. Please check out their tomato recipes for more tomato inspiration
Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad
Creamy tomato and mozzarella salad is a wonderful change from the traditional Caprese Salad. Like a Caprese salad, creamy tomato and mozzarella salad showcase both the tomatoes and mozzarella as the stars of the meal. Yet in this salad, the fresh mozzarella and sun-ripened tomatoes get a subtle yet complimentary embellishment from the lemon cream, minced jalapeño chilis, and fresh herbs. The layer of heat from the chili pairs nicely with the fresh cheese and creamy dressing and adds a crisp bite within this yielding salad. I like adding a subtle but briny tang to the salad, so I added capers for some extra lift.
This is one of those salads that you don't really need to follow the recipe ingredients amounts exactly. Use this recipe as a guideline and adjust the ingredients to suit your taste. The food pairings are lovely, but how much jalapeño, fresh herbs, capers, and dressing is best determined by your taste. If you use the best quality ingredients, this mozzarella salad is a winner no matter how much jalapeño you add. When adjusting the ingredients to your taste, remember to start with less as you can always add more. It is much harder to take away.
If you can find fresh marjoram substitute it for the oregano. This dish benefits from the flavor of fresh herbs, so do not use dried herbs. If you are not a fan of oregano, substitute it with fresh thyme, lemon thyme or rosemary.
This recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Marinated Mozzarella in Crème Fraiche with Lemon and Marjoram from his book, Happy Days. The Creamy dressing is adapted from Joshua McFadden’s Lemon Cream, in his book, Six Seasons
Best eaten at room temperature and the day it is made.
- 2 lbs (1 kg) ripe tomatoes any variety or color
- 1 lb (500 g) fresh mozzarella or buffalo mozzarella
- Kosher Salt and Fresh Black pepper to taste
- Lemon Dressing
- 1 lemon
- ½ - 1 jalapeño chili
- 1 TB capers
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Fresh oregano or marjoram to taste about 2 teaspoons or more
- ¼ cup (60 ml) heavy cream
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and smashed remove green germ
- Pinch Kosher Salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- ½ tsp of lemon zest
- 1 TB (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
- 1 TB (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil
Make the lemon dressing
In a small bowl add the garlic and heavy cream and allow to infuse for a couple of hours in the refrigerator. This gives you a nice garlic flavor without the bracing bite from garlic.
After 2 hours, fish out the garlic cloves from the heavy cream and add the Kosher salt and several rounds of freshly ground black pepper, and lemon zest.
Using a wire whisk, whisk the cream by hand until the cream just starts to thicken. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and whisk until airy but pourable. This won’t get thick like fully whipped cream. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Cover the bowl and keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Best if used the same day it is made.
Assemble the Salad
Slice the tomatoes a shy 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick and spread out in a single layer on a tray or cutting board. Lightly sprinkle the slices with flaky sea salt and fresh black pepper. Slice the mozzarella in ¼ inch (.5cm) slices.
Arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella slices around a platter by alternating slices of tomatoes with slices of mozzarella.
Slice the jalapeño pepper in half and remove the stem, white pith and seeds. The white pith and seeds carry most of the heat in the chili so if you want it a little spicier, leave some of the white pith intact. However, make sure you remove all of the seeds as they would look unappealing in this dish. Mince the jalapeño chili and sprinkle it over the tomatoes and mozzarella. You may only need about half of the jalapeño chili, but use as much as you want.
Sprinkle some of the fresh oregano, and capers over the salad. Pretend like you are Jackson Pollock and paint the tomatoes and mozzarella arrangement with the lemon cream. Depending on how thick the lemon cream is, I find it works best if you wave a spoon back and forth, filled with the dressing above the salad. You will get a random pattern of the creamy dressing but not a heavy and gloppy looking one. You will not use all the dressing. Serve extra dressing on the side for those who want more.
Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil over the salad and extra herbs, capers and minced jalapeño, flaky sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.
Serve room temperature as a salad or first course. Or serve as an appetizer with crusty bread or grilled bread.
This is best eaten the day it is made. If you have some leftovers, store in the refrigerator and eat up the next day.
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© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Out of curiosity I wanted to know just how much pizza Americans eat. The information is a couple of years old, but according to an article in Food Network Dish, Americans eat over 6,000 slices of pizza over the course of their lifetime (Reiter, Amy FN Dish, News, 2015). 6,000 slices of pizza is difficult to imagine, but for some odd reason I thought it was more, Yet the other surprise is, according to The Pizza Joint, a pizza trivia website, pepperoni is America’s favorite pizza. I would have put money down that the Americans favorite pizza is cheese pizza, especially with extra cheese.
Four Cheese Pizza
In our household, if I bought pepperoni, my sons would devour every crumb of pepperoni pizza, so I should not be surprised at that statistic. Their next favorite is cheese pizza, especially our homemade Four Cheese Pizza. Globs of melted cheese oozing off pizza slices appeals to everyone’s inner cravings. I can just see the scramble to grab the first slice of cheese pizza hot out of the oven with the strings of melted cheese stretching away from the pizza pie. Ah, don’t you just want to scoop up all those stings of melted cheese and layer it on top of your slice?
I made this recipe with a blend of mozzarella cheese, Italian Fontina cheese, Asiago Cheese, and Romano Cheese. It is a nice blend of creamy good melting cheeses with harder sharp tasting cheeses for contrast. The mozzarella and fontina cheese get mixed together, then sprinkle a layer of grated Asiago over the top so it stands out. Once the pizza is done baking, I sprinkle finely grated Romano cheese over the top and watch it melt as it hits the hot cheesy surface.
The reason I add the Romano cheese after the pizza is done, is to prevent the Romano cheese from burning. Those crispy burnt layers of cheese taste great in a lasagna, but people like crispy pizza crust, not crispy cheese with their slice.
Putting it together
Just like my post for Pesto Shrimp Pizza, I did not include a pizza dough recipe. If you want to try your hand at making pizza dough, try Jim Lahey’s No Kneed Pizza Dough. Or, try this pizza dough recipe from The Kitchn. I have yet to test this recipe so please let me know how you like it.
The down side to making pizza dough is, it requires advance planning in order for it to get done in time. Yet there is a reasonable alternative, buy a store made pizza dough. This makes Friday night pizza more doable.
The cheese pizza recipe has a quick tomato sauce with lots of garlic and fresh basil. It is easy to make while you are waiting for the oven to preheat and the dough to come up to room temperature. All that is left to do is grate the cheese. For more detailed information about making pizza and special equipment please read my post for Pesto Shrimp Pizza, (linked above).
Four Cheese Pizza
A delicious cheese pizza made with a blend of mozzarella, Italian Fontina, Asiago, and Romano cheeses. The mozzarella and Fontina cheeses have a creamy base and are good melting cheeses, while the Asiago and Romano cheese provide a sharp contrast and make all the cheeses pop.
Garnish with fresh basil and red pepper flakes.
Makes one 10-inch (25.5 cm) pizza. For a larger pizza adjust the ingredient proportions as needed.
- 1 14.5 oz (411 g) can whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 TB olive oil
- 2-3 cloves garlic minced
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- Pinch of Kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp of granulated sugar
- 6 leaves basil chiffonade sliced
- 1 7 oz (200 g) Pizza Dough
- 3 TB (45 ml) Tomato Sauce
- 3 oz (75 g) grated low moisture mozzarella
- 2 oz (50 g) grated Italian Fontina cheese
- 1 oz (25 g) grated Asiago cheese
- ½ oz (15 g) grated Romano cheese
- Fresh Basil leaves for garnish
One hour before you want to bake the pizza, preheat the oven to 500°F 250°C/ Gas mark 8
If you are using a pizza steel or stone, place it on a rack according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Place the pizza dough on the counter and rest for one hour before baking.
Mix together the grated mozzarella and Fontina cheese and set aside. Keep the Asiago and Romano cheeses separate.
Make the tomato sauce
Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds and remove the core over the strainer. Place the tomato halves into another bowl. Press out the juices from the seeds and core pieces in the strainer. Pour the tomato juice in the bowl with the tomatoes and blend with an immersion blender or add to a blender. Process until smooth.
In a 2 quart sauce pan over medium high heat, add the olive oil and heat until shy of smoking. Add the minced garlic to the sauce pan, aiming away from the hot spot in your pan. Cook for a minute then add the puréed tomatoes. Turn down the heat to medium low and simmer for one two minutes. Add the salt sugar and half the basil then simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the remaining fresh basil. This can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container for two days.
Assemble the pizza
When it is time to bake your pizza, sprinkle some flour over a pizza peel and set aside. Or, place a piece of parchment paper over a rimmed sheet pan large enough to hold a 10-inch (25.5 cm) pizza. Lightly spay with cooking oil on the parchment paper.
Flour your work surface and your hands and pour the pizza dough onto your surface. Press down on the dough with your fingertips and shape into a circle. Drape the dough over the tops of both hands, shaped in a loose fist. Let gravity and your thumbs stretch out the pizza dough to a 10-inch (25.5 cm) circle. Use your thumbs to stretch out the edge and rotate the dough around. Do not pull out from the center of the dough.
Place the dough on the prepared pizza peel or sheet pan. Check to make sure the pizza is not sticking to the peel by shaking the peel back and forth. If it is sticking add more flour to the peel. If you have any holes, patch them up so the topping does not ooze out while baking.
Spread the tomato sauce in an even layer over the pizza dough, leaving an inch border around the pizza. Check to make sure the pizza is not sticking to the peel. Sprinkle all the cheeses, except the Romano cheese, over the tomato sauce in an even layer. Shake the peel back and forth to make sure it is not sticking to the peel.
Bring the pizza on the peel over to the oven and aim toward the back of the baking stone or steel. (If you are using a sheet pan, just place it on the rack and bake). Slide the peel towards you and shake off the pizza so it slides onto the baking stone or steel.
Bake for 6 minutes, or until the pizza is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly. Half way through baking, turn the pizza from front to back for even baking.
Remove the pizza from the oven by using a spatula to slide it onto a pizza peel. Slide the pizza onto a cutting board or pizza pan. Sprinkle the Romano cheese and remaining fresh basil leaves over the pizza and serve immediately.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
For the past few months, my ideas and inspiration for making new meals gravitated towards baking. Either sweet or savory, it did not matter as long as my hands are touching dough or mixing batter. My excuse is the winter weather and the need to feel warmth even if it comes from a 350-degree oven. But the truth is I love to bake. I can’t lay it all on the winter chill. Whether it is savory, like my beef empanadas, or something sweet like lemon syrup saffron cake, I get immense satisfaction stirring, whipping, kneading and baking. Now, all I want to do is bake bread and make this irresistible onion tart.
For the past month or so, I put this savory tart on the back burner. Actually, I waffled between making French onion soup, a classic French flatbread Pissialadière, and a creamy onion tart. Every time I saw a photo of caramelized onions topping a savory crust or custard on social media my hunger resurfaced. Clearly, I craved the taste of slowly browned and fragrant onions. It was time to give in.
I have Mom’s recipe for Quiche Loraine that I have made for years, but I wanted to try something a little different. With the premise of testing a new recipe from Deborah Madison’s cookbook, Vegetable Literacy, I forged ahead. It is a big tease looking through a vegetable cookbook in the middle of February. All these tantalizing photos of bright spring and summer vegetables dancing off the pages as I look out my window and feel the chill of the snow-covered landscape. Yet, in between my daydreams of freshly harvested greens and succulent sweet tomatoes, I kept returning to the chapter on onions and this fragrant onion tart made quite an impression.
Pastry Crust for an Onion Tart
There were two things that caught my attention, the first one being she makes a 100% whole wheat pastry crust. Often, I add some whole wheat pastry flour to my flour mix when I make pie dough. It adds a nutty flavor and more texture. It is my experience, a pie crust made with nothing but whole wheat flour is often dry and heavy. In all my years of testing Deborah Madison’s recipes, I never experienced a heavy or dry recipe. Her cooking is not the vegetarian cooking of the 70’s, it is much more refined. Though I am sure her whole wheat pie crust is a good one, I did change the recipe slightly by substituting some whole wheat pastry flour with the whole wheat flour. There is less gluten in pastry flour, so I knew it would help create a lighter crust.
Fillings in Onion Tart
Additionally, I was surprised that she uses white onions in the tart not sweet onions like Vidalia onions. The only times I see white onions in a recipe is for Mexican food. White onions are less sharp than yellow onions, therefore your eyes will not sting as much when you mince them. That makes a big difference when you must dice 3 large onions. A good sharp knife helps as well because it makes a cleaner cut.
The onions are diced and cooked in butter until light brown. This process takes some time but be patient. It won’t take as long as caramelizing onions. The subtle difference between browned and caramelized onions is noticeable here with a light onion flavor that is delightfully sweet. I love caramelized onions, but I have never tasted onions so sweet before. Also, the sweet browned onions are very fragrant which compliments the onion tart nicely.
Instead of bacon, I quickly fried sliced prosciutto and added it to the filling. The smokiness of bacon tastes great with cheese and eggs, but I wanted to keep the flavor on the delicate side to compliment the sweet onion flavor of the tart. If you ever have more prosciutto than you need, this is the perfect recipe to help use up a couple of slices.
Onion Tart for Days
After making this onion tart I still crave that luscious sweetness and fragrance of slowly cooked browned onions. It is just too good to eat once in a while. Fragrant, sweet, and irresistible onion tart is perfect for a light supper, luncheon, brunch or appetizer. Additionally, it is a great choice for cocktail party food when portioned into small bites. This is a meal for any season or any time of day and a real crowd pleaser.
Irresistible Onion Tart
Fragrant and sweet browned onions are the foundation of this savory custard tart. It may have rich ingredients, but it won't make you feel heavy. I love how aged or smoked Gouda adds some extra depth of flavor to the tart, but Gruyère or Comte are good substitutes. If you do not have whole wheat pastry flour you can use all whole wheat flour instead. You can make the pastry dough and cook the onions a day ahead. The pastry dough will keep in the refrigerator covered in plastic wrap for 3 days. Or, freeze it for up to 3 months. The onions are best eaten within 24 hours of making them. Onion tart is perfect for brunch, lunch, a light supper or as an appetizer for a cocktail party. It is a very versatile food you can make all year long. Special equipment: 9-inch (23 cm) tart pan with removable bottom. You can use any shape, square, circle or an 11 x 8.5-inch ( 28.5 x 20 cm) rectangle tart pan. Stand mixer (optional) Rimmed sheet pan large enough to hold your tart pan. This recipe is slightly adapted from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison.
- ¾ cup plus 2 Tb (123 g) Whole wheat flour
- ¼ cup (38 g) whole wheat pastry flour
- 6 TB (106 g) cold butter, cut into small pieces
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- 3 TB ice water
Onion Tart filling
- 1 TB olive oil for frying the prosciutto
- 2 thin slices of prosciutto or 2 pieces of bacon (optional)
- 2 TB (7 g) butter
- 1½ lbs (725 g) white onions, diced
- 2 tsp fresh thyme or rosemary minced
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup (125 ml) milk
- ½ cup (125 ml) crème fraîche or heavy cream
- 1 cup (70 g) aged or smoked Gouda cheese, grated using the large holes on a box grater
Make the pie dough
Make the dough by hand or use a stand mixer.
By hand: Add the two types of flour and Kosher salt to a large bowl. Add the butter and mix the butter and flour with your hands. Press down on the butter between your thumbs and fingers to break up the pieces and press into the flour. Continue to do this until the butter and flour are mixed together and looks like pebbles.
Add the water and mix together with your hands. Add more water if it looks and feels dry, about a teaspoon at a time.
Gather the dough and turn it out onto the counter. Press together and form a flat disc in the shape of your tart pan, about an inch (2.5 cm) thick. A circle, square or rectangle shape.
Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour or more. The tart dough can be made 3 days in advance and kept wrapped in the refrigerator.
By stand mixer: Add the flour to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the pieces of butter and mix the butter and flour on low until the flour looks like pebbles. Add the water and stir on low speed until just mixed together. Add more water if the pastry dough looks dry. Be careful not to over-mix the dough. Turn the dough onto a counter and shape into a flat disc into the shape of your tart pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour or more.
Make the tart filling
Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. If you have a baking stone place it in your oven on the middle rack. For a crispy bottom crust, you want to heat the stone in the oven for an hour before baking.
If using the prosciutto, add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to a skillet and turn the heat to medium-high. Slice the prosciutto into strips, about a 1/2-inch (1 cm) wide and not longer than 2-inches (5 cm) long. When the skillet is hot, add the sliced prosciutto and cook until the strips are brown and crispy. Stir occasionally to prevent the strips from sticking and burning. About 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and spoon the prosciutto slices on a plate. Set aside.
If you are using bacon add the two pieces of bacon to a hot and dry skillet and cook the bacon until they are brown and crisp. Turn the pieces over every now and then for even browning. Remove the bacon from the pan onto a plate lined with paper towels and pat dry. When the bacon is cool, crumble them into bite-size pieces. Set aside.
Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. Turn the heat to medium and add the butter. When the butter is melted and stops sizzling, add the diced onions. Stir to coat the onions with butter. Add the thyme, a pinch of Kosher salt and a couple of grounds of fresh black pepper. Stir to mix.
Cook the onions on medium to medium-low until they are very soft and lightly browned, not caramelized, but starting to go in that direction. This is a slow process, about 25 minutes. The onions will be very soft and translucent with an even light brown color. While cooking, occasionally stir the onions for even browning and prevent them from sticking and burning. Taste for seasoning and add more thyme, Kosher salt or black pepper if needed. Turn off the heat and cool.
Remove the tart dough from the refrigerator and let it rest on a lightly floured work surface for 10 minutes. Pound the dough with your rolling pin a few times to relax and shape the dough. Roll the dough in the shape of your tart pan to about a ¼-inch (.5 cm) thickness, and large enough to fit the shape of your tart pan with a slight overhang. For a 9-inch (23 cm) round tart pan the diameter should be around 12-inches (30 cm).
Drape the dough into your tart pan and trim the edges to an inch (2.5 cm) overhang. Fold the edge of the dough inward and press along the sides and bottom of the pastry to fit the dough into the pan. The height of the tart is equal to the height of the pan. Place the tart pan on a rimmed sheet pan and loosely cover the tart with plastic wrap. Chill the tart in the refrigerator for 15 - 20 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and crème fraîche.
When the onions are cool and just before you want to assemble the tart, add the grated cheese, onions, and prosciutto if using, to the egg mixture. Stir to mix.
Remove the tart from the refrigerator and add the egg mixture. Even out the filling and place in the oven. Bake until the tart is golden brown and set in the middle, about 45-50 minutes.
Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. Remove the side of the tart pan by resting the tart on top of a large can, (like canned tomatoes), and slide the side rim down. Make sure the crust is not sticking anywhere along the rim before you slide it off.
Serve warm or room temperature.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.