Today's choice for the French Fridays with Dorie group is Lyonnaise Garlic and Herb Cheese (Cervelle de Canut) a simple and fresh dish that is a breeze to prepare.
Dorie states in her cookbook that this Herb Cheese is part dip, part spread, part salad dressing and can be considered as the inspiration for Boursin. That particular well-known French Cheesespread was part of my childhood - ever present when sandwiches were prepared at our house. I never really cared much for it - back then I did not appreciate that garlicky taste all that much. But times have changed and I am glad that Dorie's recipe has a much more appealing taste than the Boursin has. Before I prepared the Herb Cheese according to Dorie's recipe, I started out by making fresh homemade ricotta. I chose to use ricotta instead of the "fromage blanc". I love making ricotta, whenever a recipe calls for it, I make my own. I always use the same wonderful recipe from Gourmet (April 2006 edition).
Fresh Homemade Ricotta
(Gourmet April 2009)
• 2 quarts whole milk
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• Special equipment: large sieve, fine-mesh cheesecloth
1. Line a large sieve with a layer of heavy-duty (fine-mesh) cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl.
2. Bring milk, cream, and salt to a rolling boil in a 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.
3. Add lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles, about 2 minutes.
4. Pour the mixture into the lined sieve and let it drain 1 hour. After discarding the liquid, chill the ricotta, covered; it will keep in the refrigerator 2 days.
This recipe yields the right amount of ricotta required for the preparatiom of the Herb Cheese.
After the ricotta had drained, I added some of the remaining ingredients to the Herb Cheese, namely very finely minced shallot, garlic (after mincing a garlic clove, I always mash it with the back of a knive) and finely cut chives.
Then I added finely cut tarragon - Dorie says that the Fench use mostly chervil for this kind of recipe but that tarragon is a fine alternative, I agree. Personally, I definitely prefer tarragon.
And as a third herb, I added finely cut parsley, I used Italian parsley. Then some French sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, not white, I prefer to use black pepper even in this "white" cheese. One of my favorite cooks once mentioned that "white pepper always tastes a bit musty" - be that as it may, my family and I just love the taste of freshly ground black pepper.
And the final touch was the addition of some extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. All done!
I put the Herb Cheese in the fridge for a few hours which gives the different flavors a chance to intensify.
I decided not to stuff any tomatoes or peppers or other suitable vegetable with the Herb Cheese, instead, I served it in a terrine so everyone could just serve themselves. The Herb Cheese was a nice addition to our mediterranean style al fresco mid-week dinner. While the ricotta was draining I baked some grissini using a recipe from the wonderful SoNo Baking Company Cookbook by John Barricelli (last recipe in the book - it can be found on page 262). For the Italian breadsticks I used whole wheat flour, black olives and sun- dried tomatoes.
We also had some green asparagus salad.
Then we had a platter with grilled veggetables including baby portabellas, white as well as green zucchinis and eggplant.
And some grilled chicken breasts.
And a bowl full of fresh cherry tomatoes.
This recipe is definitely a keeper - it is very nice as an accompaniment to a mediterranean meal or simply on its own, as a spread. We did not find the flavors to be bland, just right, maybe it was the homemade ricotta or the black pepper or the kind of sea salt or because I added a bit more of those chopped herbs than the recipe calls for but we did not find this Herb Cheese to be lacking in flavor.
It is simple to prepare, keeps in the fridge for a few days and lets you experiment with different herbs. It is an enjoyable recipe and everyone tasted it, liked it and ate quite a bit of it!
To see how the other Doristas prepared the Herb Cheese, please click here.