Old cheese begets new dish

Sliced&

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODDISH - TONY JACK­MAN

THE OLD can some­times be the new. Ta­leg­gio is a cheese that has been around for as long as 10 cen­turies. But you wouldn’t think so to lis­ten to the trendier lo­cal chefs who have de­cided that this Ital­ian cheese is the next big thing. Just like when bal­samic vine­gar was “dis­cov­ered” about 15 years ago, and God knows what will be dis­cov­ered a year from now. Eggs, per­haps. Oh no, sorry, that’s this year’s fad.

It’s ev­ery­where, on menus from one end of the re­gion to the other, served in ever more imag­i­na­tive ways, draped with this, driz­zled with that and nestled with the other, and all the right food­ies are chat­ter­ing on about Ta­leg­gio as if it had only been in­vented last week, like the Kar­dashi­ans, what­ever they are. (I think they’re a kind of muesli, all fruit and nuts.)

Not that I am not up on all the lat­est trends, you un­der­stand. I am just al­ler­gic to flavour-of-the-month syn­drome. So I am torn with this Ta­leg­gio thing, be­cause it is un­de­ni­ably a trend, yet it has been around for an en­tire mil­len­nium. It’s like joust­ing sud­denly com­ing back into fash­ion, or throw­ing Chris­tians to the lions, or eat­ing great haunches of wild boar fol­lowed by a roasted swan, washed down by a tankard of mead.

But, apart from the Chris­tiantoss­ing, even those other two an­cient pas­times are rel­a­tively new com­pared to Ta­leg­gio.

So I bought some. It turns out to be a medium- soft calves’ milk cheese which, on un­wrap­ping its pa­per cov­er­ing, im­me­di­ately be­came one of my favourite cheeses. This needs to be seen in the con­text of my other favourite cheeses – they tend to be the ripe, stinky ones, the Pont l’eveque, the Stil­ton, the Gor­gonzola (any blue cheese, re­ally), and, if it has to be Camem­bert or Brie, it needs to be so ripe that once you un­leash it from its wrap­ping it slith­ers out of the fridge of its own ac­cord and makes a break for the back door.

It seemed fit­ting, this be­ing a ven­er­a­ble Ital­ian cheese, to use it to make an Ital­ian dish. So out came a packet of ar­bo­rio rice and I tod­dled off to Woolies to see what fresh veg­eta­bles might catch my fancy. Into the bas­ket went baby asparagus tips, mangetout, small broc­coli flo­rets and red onions (there had to be some­thing that wasn’t green), a head of gar­lic and a tub of crème fraiche. The lat­ter was se­lected be­cause I wasn’t sure how the ta­leg­gio would com­bine with the stock once I’d made risotto, and as it turned out my in­stinct was right – while the cheese blended very well, the re­sult­ing risotto dish still needed more creamy mois­ture. So in the crème fraiche went.

I’ve had a bit of a jour­ney with risotto, as, I guess, has any­one who has tried to have the end re­sult gor­geously creamy with the whole rice grains be­ing in­tact but just soft. As with well-cooked pasta, risotto rice needs to be al dente, with a hint of crunch but not need­ing too firm a bite. What you don’t want is a mush. And it’s a touch-and-go busi­ness, mak­ing risotto. In the early days, I used to stir al­most con­stantly, hav­ing lis­tened to the many chefs who had in­structed us all to do that. What they should have been say­ing is: rather than stir as such, use a flat-ended wooden spat­ula (like a flat wooden spoon) to scrape the bot­tom of the pot regu- larly, to avoid any stick­ing or burn­ing. But gen­tly, with no big stir­ring mo­tions. Ease it this way and that. In be­tween, the risotto should bub­ble at a gen­tle heat, so that there’s barely any hint of a bub­ble at all. This I have come to through trial and er­ror, and I find it works per­fectly.

Be­fore mak­ing the risotto, blanch the veg­eta­bles in batches, by va­ri­ety, by in­sert­ing in boil­ing water, boil­ing gen­tly for two min­utes, drain­ing, re­fresh­ing in cold run­ning water and then plac­ing them in a bowl of water with plenty of ice cubes in it. They can stand in this for some time, but drain them about 15 min­utes be­fore you’re ready to add them to the risotto.

Start your risotto by mak­ing a litre-and-a-half of stock. This con­sists of two parts vegetable stock to one part dry white wine. But vary this as much as you like, sub­sti­tut­ing red wine for the white, and chicken stock for the vegetable stock. I have be­come a fan of Nomu fonds, which are highly con­cen­trated stocks which you di­lute in water in a ra­tio of 30ml to 500ml. Bring a litre of water to the boil in a large pot, dis­solve the fond in it, add half a litre of wine, heat to a sim­mer and keep on the low­est heat, with a la­dle to hand. Sim­mer the frozen peas in boil­ing water for 15 min­utes, drain and re­fresh. Keep in the iced water un­til needed.

Now, in a sep­a­rate pot, saute a chopped small red onion with three cloves gar­lic, finely chopped, un­til soft­ened. Add 500g ar­bo­rio rice (no, Daisy, not ‘Tas­tic’, it’s a brand, not a va­ri­ety of rice, un­less you can find Tas­tic risotto rice) and stir to com­bine the rice with the onion. Lower the heat. Add a la­dle of hot stock, stir, and al­low to sim­mer very gen­tly, scrap­ing the bot­tom as de­scribed above.

When most of the liq­uid has been ab­sorbed add an­other la­dle of stock. Re­peat un­til all the stock is used up and the rice is al dente, which should take about half an hour. Cut 200g of Ta­leg­gio into small pieces and stir in to dis­solve. Sea­son to taste. Add the crème fraiche, stir to com­bine, heat to a gen­tle sim­mer. Add the drained veg­eta­bles, stir quickly and serve, with grated Parme­san if you like.

Read Tony Jack­man’s weekly food col­umn in the Sun­day edi­tion of Week­end Ar­gus, which re­sumes pub­li­ca­tion next week­end.

PIC­TURE: TONY JACK­MAN

CHEESE TREND: The per­fect sum­mer meal, risotto tossed with Ta­leg­gio and sum­mer greens.

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