Lyonnaise Garlic & Herb Cheese
Lyonnaise Garlic and Herb Cheese (aka Boursin’s Mama) by Dorie Greenspan
Makes about 2 cups, or 4 to 6 servings
From Dorie Greenspan’s book, “Around My French Table”:
Authentically called cervelle de canut, or, literally, “the silkweaver’s brains,” this luscious mix, part dip, part spread, part salad dressing, strikes everyone, me included, as the inspiration for Boursin, the soft herb cheese that’s as much a supermarket favorite in the United States as it is in France. Created at a time when Lyon was the center of a thriving silk industry, the dish is traditionally made with fromage blanc, which is sometimes mixed with cream. And it is always mixed with a little vinegar or white wine, a little oil, and lots of herbs, usually parsley, chives, and chervil, the licoricey herb that is beloved and easily available in France but less known and much less gettable in America — where tarragon makes a fine stand-in.
While fromage blanc is also difficult to find here and, when found, quite expensive, ricotta, if spooned into a strainer and left to drain for a few hours, works perfectly — it has precisely the right mild flavor and soft, thick, airy texture for this dish. If you want to serve the herb cheese for an hors d’oeuvre, just put it out with a selection of raw vegetables — it’s particularly good with radishes — or crackers or bread. Should you want to use it as a dressing, thin it with a lick of milk or cream and use it over greens of any kind, especially bitter greens. To fancy it up a bit, use it as a stuffing for hollowed-out tomatoes (see Bonne Idée), piquillo peppers, or store-bought cherry peppers. Or, to make it part of a cheese platter, just shape it into quenelles, or present it in a bowl with a spoon, so everyone can scoop their own. Be prepared: No matter how you serve it, you’ll want it to be cold, so plan ahead. (Plan even further ahead if you’re using ricotta.)
2 cups fromage blanc or ricotta (can be part-skim)
½ shallot, minced, rinsed, and patted dry
1 garlic clove (or a little more, if you’d like), split, germ removed, and minced
About 2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
About 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
About 1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon
2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
If you’re using fromage blanc, put it in a medium bowl. If you’re using ricotta, you’ll need to drain it for a few hours to thicken its texture a bit. Spoon the ricotta into a fine-mesh strainer, put the strainer over a bowl, and cover the setup with a large plate or plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight, if that’s more convenient. When you’re ready to use it, spoon the ricotta into a medium bowl and discard whatever liquid has drained from it.
Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix everything together lightly with a rubber spatula. (You don’t want to beat the cheese and risk thinning it.) Taste and adjust the seasonings as you wish, adding a little more garlic, herbs, and/or vinegar.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Taste the cheese and season again if needed before serving.
The cheese can be served as a dip with lots of raw vegetables or as a spread with crackers or hunks of warm toasted country bread.
Covered well, the cheese will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days; stir gently before serving.
Cheese-Stuffed Tomatoes. Choose 4 medium tomatoes that are ripe but still firm, and blanch them for 15 seconds so that you can peel them. Cut the top third off each tomato (reserve it) and, using a small spoon or your fingers, pull the pulp and seeds from the tomato, leaving a sturdy wall. Turn the tomatoes over onto a paper towel and drain for about 30 minutes. To serve, fill each tomato with some herb cheese and cap with the reserved tops. I like to drizzle a little Pesto or Basil Coulis around the tomatoes.
For more recipes and to find out about Dorie’s latest cookie venture, Beurre & Sel, Have a peek at her website here: http://doriegreenspan.com.