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From ricotta dumplings to cheddar risotto: Nicholas Balfe’s recipes for cheesy winter comfort food


I’ve always strived to source ingredients as locally as possible, so late last year, when we finally opened our first out-of-town restaurant, Holm, in south Somerset, it gave me the ideal opportunity to take that commitment to a whole new level. So, for today’s cheesy dishes, I use good West Country cheeses that are made nearby: Westcombe ricotta for the gnudi, Montgomery cheddar for the risotto and Bath Blue in the sauce for the onions. Feel free to follow suit, or ask your local deli (or cheesemonger, if you’re lucky enough to have one) for advice about sourcing from cheesemakers close to wherever you live.

Cheddar and potato risotto

Apart from some knife skills, there’s little technique required to make this. What’s more important are some humble but good-quality ingredients and a daringly liberal hand with the butter.

Prep 15 min
Cook 30 min
Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a starter

2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots
, peeled and very finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and very finely chopped
1 stick celery, very finely chopped
A few thyme sprigs, leaves picked and very finely chopped
2 bay leaves
Sea salt and black pepper
2 large floury potatoes
(800g; maris piper or king edwards), peeled and cut into very fine 5mm dice
1 x 175ml glass white wine
About 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
100g butter
, diced
200g cheddar – I use Montgomery
A squeeze of lemon
juice

Put the oil in a large pan on a medium heat, add the shallots, garlic, celery, herbs and a pinch of salt, and cook very gently, stirring often, for eight to 10 minutes, until soft but not coloured. Add the potatoes, stir to combine, then pour in the wine and cook, stirring, until it’s all but evaporated. Add a ladle of the stock, cook until most of it evaporates, then repeat for 10-12 minutes, until the potatoes are tender (ie, a bit like when making risotto). Stir in the butter piece by piece, until you have a thick, viscous liquid.

Take off the heat, grate in two-thirds of the cheddar, then season with lemon juice, salt and plenty of black pepper (if you like, stir in a drop or two of truffle oil, too). Transfer to plates, top with the remaining cheese and a few more twists of pepper, then serve (I like this topped with a few fresh black shavings).

Ricotta gnudi with cider-braised cabbage and pangrattato

Prep 15 min
Chill Overnight
Cook 1 hr
Serves 4 as a main course

For the gnudi
250g ricotta – I use Westcombe
85g parmesan
, finely grated, plus extra to serve
20g semolina flour, plus 200g extra for rolling
Nutmeg
Zest of ½ lemon

For the cabbage
1 leek, trimmed and finely sliced
1 shallot, peeled and finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
Sea salt and black pepper
1 tsp caraway seeds
(optional)
2 bay leaves
75ml olive oil
1 medium green cabbage
, quartered, cored and shredded
300ml dry cider
50g butter
1 dash cider vinegar
150g creme fraiche
1 handful chopped flat-leaf parsley

For the pangrattato
4 slices stale sourdough, torn into chunks
2 tbsp olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove
, peeled and finely grated

Put all the gnudi ingredients in a medium bowl and gently fold together – don’t overmix, or the gnudi will be too dense. Put the 200g semolina flour in an oven tray. Form the gnudi mix into 20 x 20g balls, then roll them in the semolina so they’re all completely coated and semi-submerged. Chill overnight, turning once or twice in the semolina.

In a large saucepan for which you have a lid, gently sweat the leek, shallot, garlic, a pinch of salt and the caraway, if using, in the olive oil for about 12 minutes, until soft. Stir in the cabbage, then leave to sizzle for a while so the leaves take on some colour, but be careful it doesn’t catch. Add the cider and butter, bring to a simmer, cover with greaseproof paper and the lid, turn down the heat and cook for 15-20 minutes, until very tender. Off the heat, stir in the vinegar, creme fraiche and parsley, check the seasoning and keep warm.

Meanwhile, make the pangrattato. Generously coat the bread in the oil, then bake in a 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4 oven for 12-15 minutes, until crisp and lightly golden. Remove from the oven, season with the lemon zest, garlic, salt and pepper, then blitz to a coarse crumb.

Now to finish off. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, drop in a third of the gnudi and cook for a couple of minutes, until they float to the surface. Lift out with a slotted spoon and repeat with the remaining gnudi.

Spoon a pile of warm braised cabbage on each plate, top with five gnudi per portion and serve with a scattering of pangrattato, more parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.

Baked onions, and walnuts

Prep 10 min
Cook 45 min
Serves 4 as a starter/side

For the onions
1 tbsp olive oil
4
red onions, unpeeled, cut in half through the root
Sea salt and black pepper
200ml vegetable stock
75g muscovado sugar
50ml sherry
or balsamic vinegar
A few thyme sprigs
4 toasted walnuts
, to finish

For the cheese sauce
200g creamy blue cheese – I use Bath Blue
100ml milk
100ml cream
1 garlic clove
, peeled and bashed
2 thyme sprigs
½ tsp dijon mustard
30ml pickled walnut vinegar
(ie from the jar)

For the dressing
½ tsp dijon mustard
4 pickled walnuts
, chopped
75ml pickled walnut vinegar
150ml olive oil
1 tsp fine capers
, rinsed and chopped
1 handful finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
A few chervil sprigs
, optional

Put the oil in a large ovenproof skillet on a medium heat. Season the cut side of the onions, lay them flat in the hot pan and press down. Don’t move them for three to five minutes, until they are nice and charred.

Add the stock, sugar, vinegar and thyme, cover with greaseproof paper and a lid, then transfer to a 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6 oven and bake for eight to 12 minutes, until tender. Lift out the onions and keep warm, then reduce the liquid to a light caramel glaze.

Put all the sauce ingredients in a medium pan on a low-medium heat and leave to infuse and melt very gently for at least 20 minutes – don’t let it boil or the sauce will split. Fish out and discard the garlic and thyme, then blitz the rest and set aside.

Meanwhile, whisk all the dressing ingredients in a bowl, season to taste and set aside.

Separate the onion layers into “cups”, then dress in the reduced cooking liquor glaze. Pour a pool of the warm cheese sauce into four bowls, arrange some onions to one side, top with dressing and grate over the toasted walnuts using a microplane.





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