Transparency of manchego cheese
The good thing about making this dish?
It's really easy, all the ingredients are readily available, and there's one particular element of the dish that is so freakin' delicious it will make your toes curl.
The bad thing about making this dish?
I spent most of the day walking around the house channeling my inner Beavis saying, "Man-chaaayyy-goooooooh" about 500 million times. As if any of us needed further proof I'm really a 12-year old boy trapped in a grown woman's body.
For work-related timing reasons, I made this dish over two days, so let's start with day one. The first thing I did was make the dried olives. 'Twas rather easy, since Whole Foods sells already-pitted Niçoise olives in their cheese department. You know if I'd have had to pit the olives myself, we would've ended up with photos that more than vaguely resembled some sort of post-surgical consult case study. So, hug your Whole Foods employees tight, ladies and germs. They did us all a solid.
This step was so easy, I almost want to make them every day just to feel like a regular Smartypants McGhee. I lined a baking sheet with parchment paper, placed the olives on them, and put them in a 160-degree oven for 7 hours. The book suggests using a food dehydrator at 150 degrees for 24 hours, but I had to improvise since I don't have a dehydrator. I made a few extra so that I could taste them along the way to see when they got crunchy. Seven hours on the dot, people. I am blinding myself with all this science (beep, boop, booop).
Next, I prepped the bell peppers. I put them on my stovetop over an open flame, and just let the fire ker-plack the bejesus out of the skins (10 minutes). Then, I stored them in a ziploc bag for about 30 minutes to loosen the skin, then peeled and diced them.
It was time for beddy-bye, so I packed up shop for the night and continued the next day.
I roasted the garlic in a 375-degree oven for just over 45 minutes, then peeled the cloves and stored them at room temperature until I was ready to plate:
Next up? The croutons. Again, super-easy. I bought a loaf of sourdough bread at the local co-op, trimmed off the crust, and diced the bread into quarter-inch (okay, I lied, they were more like half-inch) cubes (also pretty much lying about the cube shape -- see below -- more like trapezoids). Toasted those suckers at 325 degrees for 10 minutes, tossing them around a bit after the first five minutes.
Now, for the best part EVER, and to date, my FAVORITE THING IN THE ENTIRE WORLD ABOUT THE ALINEA COOKBOOK... three little words that will warm my cockles forever [/snerk, she said "cockles"].....
Olive Oil Pudding.
You have not LIVED until you have eaten olive oil pudding.
Now, I don't want to hear, "But Carol, my Great Aunt Nonny used to make olive oil pudding when we visited her every summer, using a recipe that had been handed down through 37 generations of our family, so it's not like it's a new thing."
To that I say, "Shut up about your stupid Great Aunt Nonny, and just let me pretend I discovered this for all mankind and am taking this opportunity to announce to the entire world for the very first time that this is, perhaps, the greatest pudding, ever, in the history of the universe."
Because it is.
Typically, I hate the word "pudding." It's onomatopoeic in kind of a gross way. Don't get me wrong, I loves me some pudding (especially homemade chocolate pudding, still warm, with a skin over the top); I just hate saying the word. Ick. (I mean, say it. Really. Isn't it kind of gross? Like the word sounds like you actually have some pudding stuck in your throat when you say it, which makes it even more gurgly and gross.)
But gurgly and gross do not in any way define this lovely delight of a p-word. Not even close. It's f-ing spectacular, and in my opinion, is, on its own, worth the price of the book. Seriously. And the best part? You will have LEFTOVERS in a SQUEEZE BOTTLE which means you can .... um....... squirtitrightintoyourmouthwhennooneislookingnotlikeiactuallydidthatoranything.
To make this pudding, I prepared my mise en place:
I brought the milk up to a boil, while I whisked together the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a small bowl.
I then poured a wee bit of milk into the yolk mixture to temper it, then poured the milked yolk mixture into the saucepan with the hot milk, whisked like mad until it came back up to a simmer:
I removed it from the heat, whisked in the olive oil, then strained it into a bowl set inside a bowl of ice so it could cool to room temperature:
The only thing left to do was cut the cheese.
I can hear you laughing. Nice to know I'm not the only adult 12-year old on the internet.
This step is where I wish I had a deli-grade cheese slicer, or that my mandoline would've worked (it didn't). However, I sliced the cheese as thinly as my skills would allow and also diced a bit of the cheese to go onto the plate, as well. I also chopped up a few anchovies to include, as well.
Here's how the plating went -- squiggles of olive oil pudding, then a scattering of red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, olive, crouton, anchovy, garlic:
Then, my neighbor friends came over and we covered this assortment with the not-really-thin-enough slices of manchego cheese, and took a torch to it to melt the cheese. I suppose I could've put the plates under the broiler in the oven, but letting a 10-year old play with fire was far more fun:
So, not quite as pretty as the photo in the Alinea cookbook, that's for sure, but boy was this delicious.
I had to make mine without the bell pepper, but I don't think the dish suffered one bit. The different textures and tastes worked really nicely together, and the cheese didn't overpower the rest of the dish like I thought it might. I've never been a huge fan of manchego cheese -- I don't know why. It's just never one I reach for. I think it's because it's a harder cheese, and the tang of it can stick inyour sinuses longer than other cheeses. This time, it didn't, and I really enjoyed this plate. In fact, if you didn't want to make this particular dish, you could combine these elements into a really great sandwich -- sourdough roll, roasted peppers, anchovy, garlic-olive oil spread, olives, manchego... it would work, and you'd be the envy of your workplace.
And, if you're going to make such a sandwich, don't forget to include some arugula.
Because, you know, the recipe calls for the Transparency of manchego cheese to be topped with a few arugula leaves and some arugula flowers. Couldn't find the flowers anywhere, but I did buy a beautiful batch of baby arugula for this dish and completely forgot to include it on top when we ate it.
Poor, sad, neglected arugula.
Although it did taste mighty fine in a salad the next day.
Up Next: Not sure, yet. Probably Skate. Maybe Cranberry. Maybe Oyster.
NOTE: There's still time to make a difference in helping to end childhood hunger in America by donating to Share Our Strength. Every little bit helps. Seriously. If all you can donate is $5, then I hope you'll consider doing so. It's been so wonderful to hear from so many of you about why you donated and why childhood hunger is an issue that's important to you, too. So, go ahead, click on that link, and do your part help end childhood hunger in America. You might just win a copy of the Alinea cookbook, or Thomas Keller's Under Pressure.
Resources: Organic Valley milk; Smith Meadows Farms eggs; Domino sugar; Clabber Girl cornstarch; Monini olive oil; David's kosher salt; garlic, bell pepper, olives, anchovies, arugula, and cheese from Whole Foods; sourdough bread from the TPSS Co-op.
Music to Cook By: Nikka Costa; Pebble to a Pearl. Funky, soulful, great beats. Try not to bob your head and dance in your chair to "Stuck To You." You can't. I know. I've tried.
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