Tag Archives: fennel

Cheese and Jam Pizza – weird but so good…

Soft cheese, hard cheese, crumbly cheese, melty cheese, processed cheese (honestly, I’m not even joking about my love of Dairylea – it is one of the few constants in my fridge for comfort eating days) – I love me some cheese. So when the team at Castello asked me if I wanted to try a new cheese, I may have actually punched the air with joy before calmly saying, oh, sure. OK, if I must. I have uber cool appearances to keep up, you see.

The cheese is the story so here’s a little bumpf from the press release.

“Castello is bringing Aged Havarti to the UK following strong demand from cheese lovers…. With buttery caramel flavours, Castello Aged Havarti is base on an authentic Danish recipe dating back to 1952 and matured for 12 months for a richer taste experience.”

Sounds delicious (although would be interested in learning how strong the strong demand was – given I work in PR, I spot a stat fudge when I see one!) The challenge set by the team was to create a pizza using this cheese – they’re working with the super talented Trine Hahnemann to develop recipes for it and provided one she’d created using quite Scandi flavours. They’d also put some stuff in about smorging but by this point I decided all I wanted to do was cut the cheese (ha ha ha) and eat the cheese.

The second food confession I need to make is my love of pizza. Honestly. it would probably be my death row meal (washed down with a side of KFC and my mum’s chicken curry). I love pizza. I have been known to have pizza at lunchtime and pizza for dinner (earning me the not so interesting but factually correct nickname, Vinnie-two-pizza – thanks Sarah!) I have made pizza at home before but usually I order in and when I say usually, I try to limit it to only when I’m hugely hungover, there’s no bread in the house and I want chicken wings. I know, I’m filth.

But now I’m approaching (two days to go) 40, I figured I need to stop spending my money on Papa John and start making pizzas for myself. It feels like something a proper grown up would do, and I figure that grown up malarkey is going to kick in on Monday and I’ll start wearing power suits and reading the FT.

So with my niece and nephew hanging out with me over half term and with a pizza stone provided by Castello, we decided to make five pizzas. One for each of us and one dessert pizza. Here’s a selection of toppings from our savoury pizza day. We ate a LOT of pizza.IMAG3409

You know how a good cheeseboard will feature fruit? Usually figs or apricots or grapes. After I’d tried the Havarti, I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind to make a herby, spicy jam (and definitely a jam, not a chutney) to use instead of a tomato sauce and with the cheese on top. And it worked really well – just that right combination of salt and sweet and the thyme and fennel brought the whole thing together. I’ve been fascinated by the combination of cheese and jam since we ordered scones in Cape Town and they provided a side of grated cheese and strawberry jam and it worked really (if weirdly) well. So here’s my take on a Cape Town classic, using lovely Havarti Aged Cheese.

(If you couldn’t already tell, this is a sponsored post but all opinions are my own. They haven’t made me lie about cheese, I love cheese.)

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Roasted plum, thyme and fennel jam

  • 12 plums, halved
  • 1.5 cups of golden caster sugar
  • 3-4 sprigs of thyme, cut into smaller pieces
  • 2 tsps fennel seeds
  • 1.5 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 1.75 cups of water

Preheat your oven to gas mark 6. Place plum halves skinside down into a roasting tin – as you’ll see from the pic above, I didn’t bother to try and get out the pits, they come out easily after they’ve been baked.

Sprinkle over half a cup of sugar and the fennel seeds and place the thyme sprigs around the plums in the roasting tin.

Roast for approximately 25 mins until the tops are golden and the sugar is melted. Remove from the oven and leave to cool until you can handle them.

Remove and discard the pits. Scoop the flesh from the skins and put into a bowl. Put the skins and herbs and any juice from the roasting tin into a saucepan, add the lemon zest and juice. Taste at this stage to see if it’s got the right level of thyme/fennel for you and if not, add more – I put three more sprigs into the pan. Add 1/4 cup of water and bring to the boil over a low heat – you want to release the additional roasted flavours from the skins. Once the liquid has reduced by half, remove from the heat and strain. Add the liquid to the reserved plum flesh, along with the remaining sugar (1 cup) and water (1.5 cups), transfer to a saucepan and bring to the boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer until you get the consistency you want (check by doing the line test – drop a blob of jam onto a freezer cold plate and then drag the back of a spoon through it – if the line holds, your jam is set).

Put the jam into a sterilised jar – it should keep for a few weeks in the fridge.

Plum jam and Castello Aged Havarti Cheese pizza

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I used the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s pizza dough recipe which worked REALLY well and will become my go-to. You can find it by clicking on the link.

To make a jammy cheesy pizza, simply heat up your pizza stone (or baking tin) in the oven at the highest temperature, roll out your dough, transfer it to a baking sheet with no edges that has a light sprinkling of semolina on it (this’ll help it to slide off the tin and onto the stone in the oven). Smear 2-3 heaped tablespoons of jam over the base (as you would with tomato sauce). Sprinkle a tsp more fennel seeds and a a similar amount of thyme and then top with Castello Aged Havarti – we used a good 150g, because I love cheese (have I mentioned that before?). Transfer to the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes – the cheese cooks a lot faster than mozzarella and you may burn the jam if you leave it any longer. Allow to cool before eating. I had mine with Green and Black’s chocolate ice cream which may have taken the weird food couplings a smidge too far but wasn’t bad. Maybe a dollop of cream or creme fraiche would have worked better? Regardless, utterly delicious and definitely something I’ll be doing again. Thanks Castello!

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Christmas Crackers (for cheese)

We’re big fans of cheese in this house. Blue, soft, hard, goats, cows, sheep(s), we’ll eat it all. And there’s nothing better than a good cracker to have with your cheese, maybe with a little touch of quince jelly or a grape or two to make the cheese feel a little more virtuous.

I’m hungry now.

I’ve never really given much thought to crackers, given that they’re mostly just a vehicle for speedy and clean delivery of cheese to mouth. But as I’ve had a lot more time on my hands recently, I’ve been talking to the cat about crackers. Or maybe I’m crackers for talking to the cat. Regardless, I recently found myself on a cracker making mission (mostly because there were none in the house and I was loathe to change out of my pajamas at 4pm to buy some. Stay classy, Vins.).

Crackers

A few years ago, a group of us hired a cottage in Devon for New Year’s Eve. Being typical Londoners, we filled the car with booze, cheese, duvets and an essential Xbox (including Singstar) and assumed that upon arrival there’d be a corner shop nearby in which we could find some food for that evening, before doing a proper supermarket shop the next day. Bear in mind, we arrived around 4pm on a Sunday and had chosen the cottage for it’s remote location. Yup, we’re townie twats. No shops to be found, but we had packed some flour in amongst the wine and the taps had running water so we fashioned some flatbreads and ate those with cheese. Not the worst meal ever – in fact, that meal is one of my favourite memories of that trip (I was drunk most of the rest of the time).

So my brain goes, if I can fashion flatbreads out of flour and water, just imagine how amazing my crackers would be with a cupboard full of ingredients and Google?

Google shows me that many other people have had much the same thought so my cracker mission starts with a couple of hours of reading recipes until I eventually find myself nodding along to this article from The Washington Post, which leads me to this recipe, also in the Washington Post from Pat Elliot at Everona Dairy. She’s a cheesemaker and developed these crackers to go with her cheese. Perfect for my needs.

The base recipe is just about perfect on it’s own – light, a little salty, delicious and a perfect cheese delivery system. But sometimes you just want a cracker (not often) so like Pat, I thought I’d experiment with my own flavours and so made four variants – cheddar, fennel, cinnamon sugar (that was hers, FYI) and parmesan, fennel and cumin seeds.

The recipe is below or via the links above. According to the WP journalist, these were a fraction of the cost of buying them – I didn’t cost them up but I’d completely agree, and this recipe makes between 80-100 bite sized crackers – which last a couple of weeks if you don’t eat them all at first sitting (which I definitely did).

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour (and more for dusting)
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 stick (57g ish) butter at room temp, cubed
  • 1/2 cup hand warm water (use sparingly)

Method (stage one)

  • Preheat oven to gas mark 7 (or equivalent)
  • Whisk together dry ingredients
  • Using rubbing in method, as if you’re making pastry, rub in the butter till you get a texture like fine breadcrumbs
  • Once you have a texture you’re happy with, without any lumps, gradually add the warm water until the dough is just combined
  • Turn onto a floured surface and give a quick knead until the dough is smooth
  • Split into four equally sized balls and leave to rest for 10-15 minutes in warm place

Whilst you’re waiting for the dough to rest, consider your toppings. What I used is below, but feel free to adapt to your own tastes – just be careful to not change the consistency of the dough. There are other variants available via the recipe link above.

Toppings/flavours (amount per ball)

  • 25g grated cheddar (use a microplane)
  • 25g parmesan grated (as above)
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon sugar

Method (stage two)

  • Take your first ball and flatten a little
  • Cover the top of the ball with the 25g cheddar and fold/knead in till its all incorporated – should only be a minute or two. If you overknead, your crackers will end up dry and overworked
  • Once your dough is relatively smooth again, flatten out again, dust your board and rolling pin and start rolling
  • Keep rolling (picking up, redusting and rotating as you go) till you can practically see the board through the dough – this will take some time and a lot of upper body strength. Keep going, imagine the cheesy crackers you’ll have at the end of it
  • Once they’re thin, cut them into your desired shape – I started with squares and then realised it’d be much easier with a cookie cutter – the smallest ring size (I want to say 6cm but I could be lying) is the perfect bite size
  • Transfer the crackers to a lightly floured baking sheet and prick with a fork
  • Bake for 8-12 minutes until the tops are golden – you may need to move them around on the tray during baking in order to ensure the ones on the outside don’t get burned
  • Cool on a wire rack

The method is much the same for all the other topping ideas – I mixed the seeds with the parmesan but incorporated it all at the same time.

If you’re using cinnamon sugar, get your unbaked crackers rolled and cut and onto the baking sheet, then sprinkle with sugar before baking. Word to the wise, sugar burns so keep a very close eye on these unless you want them very ‘caramelised’.

Since I first discovered this recipe a fortnight ago, I’ve probably made them once a week. They’re really good and really easy – and apparently cost effective too. Enjoy!

A selection of crackers