Goat Cheese: A Love Story

 My love affair with goat cheese began at an early age, much earlier than people should really be developing tastes for things that are gamey, funky, and just plain goaty…but it still happened. If it could be considered a condiment, it might be my second favorite, behind maple syrup, and I am partial to eating it on toast with cherry jam for breakfast probably more often than I really ought to.

When I was home for Easter my mom and I took a short drive to Georges Mill Cheese, a start-up goat cheese business in my hometown, that has quickly been making a name for itself. We picked up some bloomy rind goat cheese and some chevre and while we were there were able to see the young goats. They ranged in age from about 2 weeks to 24 hours old. The newborns took a while to get to us because they were too scared to come down the hill to where we were standing and when they finally did I could see just how wobbly they still were on their little legs.

And the cheese was as amazing as the baby goats were adorable. The chevre was really mild and buttery and the aged goat cheese had a good tangy funk to it, in the best way possible. I polished it off in about 2 days and was left craving more and more goat cheese. I went for yet another recipe from River Cottage Veg, this time a Kale Farrotto (risotto made with farro) with soft-rind goat cheese to fulfill that craving. I’ve really come to like these risottos made out of grains instead of rice. The grains give a nuttier flavor and hold their shape much better so it has a little more chew rather than turning into mush. I’ve also tried this grain method before with barley with good results. This risotto, however, gets a lot of richness from leeks sautéed in loads of butter and a good dose of pecorino cheese, which lends a creaminess that grain risottos have and harder time achieving. Rounds of the soft-rind goat cheese sit overtop and turn slightly melty from the heat. All-in-all it’s rich, warming, tangy and creamy, perfect for these rainy, cool spring days.

Kale “Farrotto” with Goat Cheese
Serves 4
Adapted from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg

If you can’t find pearled farro, pearled spelt or barley would be suitable substitutes. This recipe is great for using up some new spring greens too; Swiss chard would be a great alternative for the kale.

1 quart vegetable stock
3½ Tbs butter
2 Tbs olive oil
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
a few sprigs of thyme, leaves chopped
2 medium leeks, trimmed to the bottom lighter parts only
4 oz. kale, torn in to medium-sized pieces
10 oz. pearled farro
½ cup dry white wine
2 oz. pecorino romano, grated, plus more for serving
a soft-rind goat cheese round (I used one with a vegetable ash coating)
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the stock over medium until it comes to a low simmer. Set aside, covered, to keep warm. Cut your leeks in half and cut each half on a diagonal into ½ inch wide strips. Rinse well under cold water and let drain in a colander. Heat half the butter and 1 Tbs of the oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and a bit of salt and gently cook, stirring occasionally, until tender with just a bit of bite left, 5-7 minutes.

Transfer to a bowl and set aside. In the same pan, add a little bit of water and the kale. Cook over medium, covered, until the kale is wilted, 3 minutes. Drain and also set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat the remaining butter and oil over medium. Add the shallots, garlic, thyme, and a good pinch of salt and cook gently for about 10 minutes until soft and very lightly browned. Stir in the farro and cook, stirring for another minute or two. Add the wine and cook until absorbed.

Add the stock, a quarter at a time, and stir often, adding more stock as it gets absorbed completely.  This should take about 25 minutes. Once the stock is used up, taste the farro. If it’s still a bit too chewy for you add about another ½ cup to a cup of water and keep stirring until absorbed. Stir in the leeks and kale and cook for a few more minutes. Add in the grated pecorino and some cracked black pepper and mix throughout. Taste and add more salt if needed.

To serve, dollop the risotto into a bowl. Top with a drizzle of olive oil, more grated cheese, a few rounds of your soft-rind goat cheese, and more salt and pepper, if desired.

Welsh Rarebit Risotto

Excuse me if I seem a little distracted lately. It’s just that there’s been quite a bit going on. The weather has been nice, therefore inspiring serious bouts of lounging and laziness. I’ve been busy thinking about what I’m going to make for a Superbowl party this weekend (I think its going to be deviled eggs…let me know if you have any good recipes). And I guess the main reason for the distraction is the fact that I‘m here at school but wish more than anything that I was at home playing with this little guy all day.

Meet Ozzie, the newest addition to the household. And no, he is not named after Ozzy Osborne but more so after Ozzy from Survivor. See the similarities? He is a dark brown miniature poodle from Dimarnique's Poodles in Delaware but part of me thinks he is part brown bear. He is composed almost entirely out of fluff and looks like this waddling little feather duster scooting around the floor. But he does have these huge feet that our even bigger that our 5-year old poodle’s that look just like baby bear paws and a sweet, fat tummy. He spends either half of his time going nuts and running around like a maniac or knocked out asleep. He likes to be around people at all times so he has fallen into slumber wherever we happen to be; under the coffee table while we watched TV, right next to the stove as we were cooking… Man I miss this little guy.

But I will not see him for at least two weeks longer. I’ll be hanging around school this weekend for a Superbowl party on Sunday and boy am I excited. Not necessarily because I actually like football but I cannot wait to gorge on some chicken wings. And as I said, I’ve been looking up a snack to make for the game and after spending some time browsing amongst “game-day” food lists of all things meaty, greasy, and tasty, I got an urge for something along those lines…imagine that. So I took classic football flavors and turned it into a filling and moderately healthy dinner. Now for the second big introduction in this post…meet Welsh rarebit risotto.

The best way I can describe this is that classic risotto met a hardcore football fan, one that paints his face with team colors, bears foam fingers, and may or may not have a bit of a beer belly, and birthed something entirely new...and brilliant. It’s a cacophony of all things masculine with a deep sweet bitterness of porter beer and all balanced out with tangy Dijon mustard and extra sharp cheddar cheese and a dash of Worcestershire. Made with a mixture of barley for even more malty flavor and risotto rice, it has heft and integrity from the chewy barley but the rice lends a silky creaminess. And if that is not game day enough for you, I topped it with a smoked bratwurst, cooked until tight and charred and bursting with sweet meaty flavor. And finally, to retain the elegancy or risotto, I scattered diced tomatoes and fresh green broccoli overtop to cut through the richness of the salty and tangy flavors. Like I said before, total dude food. I mean, beer, cheese, mustard, meat…it speaks for itself.

Though I won’t be making this to bring to my game-day potluck, I imagine it would be a winner if you served this at a small get-together this Sunday. Just set it up DIY style. Keep the risotto warm on the stove and set the brats, tomatoes, and broccoli to the side so everyone can heft up one whichever add-ons they please. If you thought risotto was a feminine, fancy dish, just wait until you see the manic football guy (the one who hoots and hollers and runs around the room at every touchdown, only leaving his recliner to get another beer) missing part of the game to chow down on this. I can almost guarantee it will happen.

Now how did I go from talking about our puppy to Superbowl food? See, I told you I was distracted.

Welsh Rarebit Risotto
serves 4-6
If you have leftover risotto, like I did, you can use it to make a quick lunch. Just heat it up and top it with some brussels en papillote and a sprinkling of parmesan (pictured below). It's very filling and warming and a great way to mix things up with the remaining risotto (which is much needed after I've been eating with twith the brats for four days straight). 

1 quart vegetable or chicken broth
1 Tbs. olive oil
½ onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 cup pearled barley
½ cup Arborio rice
12 oz dark beer (I used a porter and to be honest, only about 10 oz made it into the risotto. The rest was snack)
2 tsp. Worcestershire
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1.5 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
3 cups broccoli florets, steamed
1 tomato, diced
4 fully cooked smoked bratwursts (I used these)
salt and pepper

In a small saucepan, heat the stock until boiling. Turn the heat to low and allow to simmer lightly until you are ready to use it. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook about 3 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and continue to cook 1 more minute. Add the barley and the rice and a little salt and pepper and stir to coat. Cook for a minute while stirring to lightly toast the grains.

Add the beer and the Worcestershire and stir until the liquid had completely absorbed. Then, add in the hot stock, one cup at a time, stirring occasionally. As the risotto absorbs the liquid and starts to look dry, continue adding one for cup of stock until it is gone.

While the risotto is cooking, prepare the tomato, steam the broccoli, and start crisping up the sausage in a pan with a little olive oil over a medium heat.

Once you have added all of the stock and the risotto has absorbed most of it, add the Dijon and the cheese and stir until completely incorporated. Add a little more liquid if it looks too thick and if it seems to thin, continue to cook. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, dollop a mound of risotto on a plate and top with a sliced brat, some steamed broccoli, and a scattering of the tomatoes. 

Beet and Barley Risotto

Waking up Saturday morning, my heavy eyes flickering open to the new day’s light, I saw a glow through my window. No, it wasn’t the brightening orange of crisp autumn like a warm filter in my windowpane. It was something a little more…unexpected. I woke up to a blinding whiteness that casts iridescent glimmers across my walls. A frosty fogginess not much unlike the way heaven might feel. It was the morning light reflecting off a fresh 5 inches of snow. Yes, in Virginia we had snow in October, a sight I have never seen in 21 years of my life.

It ruined the Halloween plans of many yet caused a sudden bout of holiday spirit and I embarrassingly found myself humming Christmas music throughout the day. It was a day to wrap up in a blanket, sip a warm cup of tea, and cuddle up with the heater vent like it’s our last day on earth together. But above all it was a day where baking cookies was absolutely necessary and long, slow comfort food a must. It would have been a good day for something like this beet and barley risotto.

I like to think of this dish as the perfect way to celebrate the first frost. It uses up the very last of late summer beets and incorporates that fresh flavor before winter comes along and we are stuck in the long days of meat, beans, and potatoes. Yet its warmth, richness, and creaminess are comforting enough to take off a serious chill.

It’s as simple as any other risotto. While the beets idly cook away in the oven, the barley and onions take a nice bubbling bath in wine and stock, slowly soaking up the liquid until swelled and tender. The natural starches lend silkiness without a single addition of cream necessary.  But or course, a fine grating of parmesan cheese, folded and melted within, just adds that little extra touch of gooeyness. And finally, the beets are diced and stirred in, transforming the dish into mass if brilliant rubies. It’s topped with crumbled goat cheese, which melts into the risotto in pockets of tangy, cheesy sauce, and balsamic reduction syrup for a sweet-tart kick.

It’s one of those dishes where I couldn’t wait for leftovers the next day, and the day after that. It has this special way of filling up the heart with love and comfort yet its deceivingly healthy and full of vitamins and protein. It slowly heats you from the outside as you stand over the pot stirring away, loving each and every piece of barley in sight and then from the inside as the warm grains slide down the throat. A first-snow dish for sure.

Beet and Barley Risotto
adapted from imagalicious
serves 4

I know that some people are a little iffy about beets so this could also work with butternut squash. The same goes for the barley; if you prefer risotto with traditional Arborio rice, it’s perfectly fine to use that. My big tip for this dish is to start the beets way ahead of time. You never know how long they’ll take and if they are big like mine were, it could take up to two hours.

2 medium sized beets
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
1 sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
1 quart vegetable or organic chicken stock
½ cup grated Parmesan
salt and pepper

to serve
balsamic reduction (recipe follows)
goat cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the outside of the beets under cold water. Dry and rub with olive oil and salt. Place in a foil parcel and bake in the oven for about 90 minutes or until tender all the way through.

Heat the stock to a simmer in a saucepan. In a deep frying pan or pot, heat the olive oil and cook the onion along with a teaspoon each of salt and pepper until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more. Add in the barley and stir to coat and continue to cook for one more minute. Add the white wine and stir. Once the wine is evaporated, add a few ladlefuls of the warm stock and stir. Let the barley continue to cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally so that nothing sticks to the bottom. Every time the liquid is fully absorbed and things look dry add a few more ladlefuls of stock until all of the stock runs out. The process will take about 40 minutes.

When the beets are cooked, remove them from the oven and let cool slightly. Remove the skin and dice into fairly small pieces. Add to the risotto along with the Parmesan and stir until everything is bright red. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

To serve, place in a bowl and top with a crumbling of goat cheese and a drizzle of the balsamic reduction.

Balsamic reduction
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs. brown sugar

Mix the two ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula until reduced by half and syrupy. Remove from the heat. Use right away or store in the refrigerator and reheat as needed.