Thyme Supperclub rekindles an old love affair just in time for Valentine’s Day, with cheese!
February is probably my least favourite month of the year. It’s dark, cold and depressing yet without any of the excitement of the festive winter months, or the optimistic fresh start of January to brighten those bleak days a little. February is a month that calls for comfort food of the highest order.
And yet, what comfort food? If you’re anything like me, you’re probably getting a bit fed up with the endless root vegetables and pumpkin, but spring produce is still some way off. The answer – at least for me – is cheese.
And Berliners seem to be in agreement. Last year saw the first (though hopefully not the last) Cheese Berlin in Markthalle Neun, organised by Slow Food Berlin and the Berlin cheesemonger Ivo Knippenberg.
Knippenberg’s in Kollwitzmarkt is where I usually go if I want something a bit special. You’ll find them at other weekly markets as well. Their sales staff are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful, always eager to make recommendations and push you in the direction of something new.
The enthusiasm pays off: Knippenberg’s usually boasts the longest queue of any stand in the market, and it’s not due to understaffing.
I adore cheese and I love it when someone says to me: “have you tried…?” and offers me a sample. I’m a sucker for such sales tactics; I never yet met a cheese I didn’t like. And when it’s teamed with carbohydrates of some nature, I am practically in heaven.
Think of baked potatoes, with crispy skin and the soft mealy insides mixed with butter and cheddar. Or risotto with its last minute addition of pungent, savoury parmesan. Or any one of the myriad pasta dishes with cheese added in to provide soft, melting lubrication.
Two of the most famous cheese dishes, fondue and raclette are a problem to make at home unless you have the special equipment. In any case, the sharing nature of such food probably make it best to enjoy such with a group of friends in a cosy restaurant.
You could try Ars Vini, Feuer und Flamme or la Raclette. But a “cheat’s” fondue can easily be made at home, by baking a whole cheese in a box. The cheese itself is so simple, it almost feels like a scam to give a “recipe” for it. The accompaniments to dip can be as simple as crudités and bread, or you can dress it up with baby roast potatoes and pieces of meat.
Classic pasta and cheese dishes include German Käsespätzle (try Imbiss 204 for a great takeaway version) or American mac ‘n’ cheese. Both are forgiving dishes, that will happily welcome practically any old lumps of cheese lurking at the back of your fridge.
Add pre-cooked pasta, a creamy white sauce, whatever else you fancy (mustard? nutmeg? herbs? tomatoes?), bake for 20 minutes or so, and you’re done. Every version will be slightly different, depending on what you put into it, but part of the beauty of such recipes is that you can make them with whatever you have lying around.
Although I’m perfectly happy with a big bowl of cheesy stodge in February, I also cook for other people, many of who are a bit more health-conscious and at least like to make a nod towards including some vitamins.
If you’re one such, you can make simple pasta dishes with broccoli and blue cheese, for example; or goats cheese with chilli and pumpkin. The cheese pasta recipe given below takes things even one step further by adding a combination of vegetables to the mix, along with a few extra flavours and cutting out the stodgy white sauce.
I don’t have a very sweet tooth and would often forego dessert for – you guessed it – a cheese board. Throw in some crackers, a few grapes and walnuts and I won’t have the slightest food envy of even the most delectable chocolate dessert.
But for the sugar fiends amongst you, I’ve included a cheesecake. It’s a German-style cheesecake with quark, rather than the heavier New York variety with a biscuit base. The cake itself is extremely versatile, and you could try topping it with almost anything you fancy. As it’s February and we all need brightening up, I’ve chosen a zingy pomegranate topping: both beautiful and seasonal.
Serves 4 as a starter, or 2 as a main, depending on accompaniments
For the cheese
1 small, whole, round, soft cheese, in its box (e.g. camembert, coulommiers, vacherin: ask your cheesemonger for a recommendation), about 250g
a few sprigs of thyme or rosemary
1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced finely
a few drops of white wine
Accompaniments, e.g. –
raw carrots, peppers, celery, etc, cut into batons
cubes of coarse sourdough bread
small roast or steamed potatoes (my favourite)
pieces of fried steak
Get the cheese out of the fridge an hour or so before you want to cook it. Heat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas 5.
Take the cheese out of its box, remove and discard any additional packaging and return the cheese to the box. Make a few slits in the top of the cheese with a sharp knife and poke the slivers of garlic and a few herb leaves into the slits. Dribble over a few drops of white wine and grind over some black pepper. Put the lid back on the box, and place the box on a baking sheet covered with foil (just in case the cheese leaks during cooking).
Bake for about 20-25 minutes until the cheese is soft and can be seen to wobble inside its rind.
Serve immediately, in the middle of the table, for everyone to dip their chosen accompaniments through the rind and into the soft molten cheese inside.
Cheesy Pasta with Leeks & Fennel
Serves 4 as a main course
The anchovies and prosciutto can be omitted for vegetarians, though you will probably want to make up for the missing flavour with a little grated parmesan (or vegetarian cheese, for the strict).
2 leeks, peeled and cut into chunks
2 bulbs of fennel, outer layers removed, cut into chunks
2 red onions, peeled, quartered or cut into wedges if very large
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
a few sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper
30g prosciutto, Serrano ham, or similar (3 thin slices)
2 cloves of garlic
a generous bunch of basil, leaves only
250g short, tubular pasta (e.g. penne)
150g soft washed-rind cheese (e.g. taleggio, munster), cut into small pieces.
3 tbsp mascapone
Heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/ gas 6. Put the vegetables into a roasting tin, toss with olive oil, scatter over the thyme sprigs and season. Roast for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and slightly browned at the edges.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente in boiling salted water, according to the packet instructions. Drain and rinse quickly with cold water, to remove excess starch. (This will stop your finished dish becoming claggy.)
Finely chop the prosciutto, garlic, anchovies and basil and mix with a few glugs of olive oil until you have a mixture that looks like a rough-textured pesto. You can do this in a food processor if you prefer.
Mix together the pasta, the roasted vegetables and the basil mixture, along with the pieces of cheese and mascarpone. Return to the roasting tin (or other ovenproof dish), grind over some more black pepper and bake for a further 20 minutes. Serve immediately. Any leftovers are good eaten cold for lunch the following day.
Cheesecake with pomegranate
For the cake
1.5 tbsp flour
1 tbsp cornflour
225g cream cheese
50g butter, softened
2 eggs, separated
1 tbsp lemon juice
0.5 tsp vanilla extract
For the topping
1 tbsp sugar
Heat the oven to 160°C/325°F/gas 3. Butter a 20cm round cake tin (springform will make your life easier, but is not necessary).
Mix together the sugar, flour and cornflour. In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese and quark together with an electric whisk until creamy and softened. Whisk in the butter, followed by the sugar/flour mixture, and finally the egg yolks.
In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites until they are holding their shape in soft peaks. Fold the egg whites gently into the cheese mixture, along with the vanilla extract and lemon juice, until just combined.
Bake for about 1 hour until set, except for a slight wobble in the centre. Rotate the tin occasionally in the oven, if it is not browning evenly. Turn the oven off leaving the door cranked slightly open and rest the cake in the turned-off oven for 1 hour. Be aware that it will rise dramatically, and then sink in the centre on cooling; this makes it perfect to hold a semi-liquid topping.
Whilst the cake is baking, remove the seeds from half the pomegranate and set aside. Juice the remaining half (with a citrus juicer, or by removing the seeds and crushing them through a sieve). Put the juice in a small saucepan with the sugar and reduce by about half over a medium heat. When it has cooled to room temperature, add the rest of the seeds to the syrup. Turn the cake out of its tin when cool and spoon over the syrup and seeds; the risen edges of the cake should act to keep the liquid syrup neatly in place.
About The Author
Thyme Supperclub is a hobby project run by a keen amateur cook and an oenophile (wine connoisseur), who host dinners in their own home for friends, guests and food enthusiasts. Founded in 2010, and one of the first supper clubs in Berlin, Thyme Supperclub entertains 18 guests at an eight-course meal, once a month, with guests invited to contribute a donation to cover costs.
About The Photographer
Kristi Korotash is an amateur food photographer, professional food lover, and one half of Berlin’s Zuhause Supperclub.