Cheesy musings, Pairings, Recipes

Concocting cheese for dessert and Buca on King

One of my favourite parts of my day job is getting to interview the MasterChef Canada competitors. While talking to top-5 home cook Christopher Siu about food trends, he brought up a recent trip to Tokyo and how innovative the culture is with their sweets. It got me thinking – not for the first time – about cheese for dessert.

I don’t mean a cheese board. Although that’s always welcome, I don’t see it as dessert, really, because the same spread would be at home during any course. Plus, I don’t want to wait for the end of the meal to dig into the cheese. I digress.

No, I mean cheese as part of a sweet dessert. After talking to Christopher, I started dreaming up ways to make cheese the centrepiece. First, I thought of a mascarpone parfait. I’d layer it with caramelized grapefruit and burnt toffee. I have no idea if those flavours would even go together, but my brain got real friendly with the idea, real fast. Then, further down the caramelizing route, I thought of flambéing halloumi, which, let’s be honest, is just a hilarious thought. But why not?

I settled on my third idea as a less out-there gateway dessert: bocconcini truffles.

Bocconcini truffle

If you’re thinking that bocconcini is too delicate a cheese to compete with semi-sweet chocolate, congratulations, you are two steps ahead of me! I had a bit of doubt but wanted to give it a go, anyway.

I soaked the bocconcini in buttermilk before turning it into a truffle, hoping it would add a touch more depth of flavour. It didn’t, but that’s why we do these drills! Right, kids? Then I popped them in the freezer for a spell so they wouldn’t get too melty during their chocolate bath.

Bocconcini truffle

Before making my chocolate, I did a quick jog on Google to see if anyone had already attempted a bocconcini truffle and succeeded more than I anticipated I would. Unsurprisingly, there were no bocconcini chocolate truffle recipes. But that did not deter me. No, that only made me think I must be onto something reeeeeally original.

Next was chocolate. I melted semi-sweet chocolate chips with butter and maple syrup. Then I speared each cheesy little guinea pig on a fork, rolled them in as much chocolate as would stick (not much) and topped them with black lava salt I got in Iceland (which I figured would make it feel fancier, even if the experiment failed). It has the consistency of fleur de sel but isn’t as light.

Bocconcini truffle

I brought the truffles over to my friend (and #1 reader!) Christie’s, who gamely tried a few. We both agreed: not a great combo. Not a bad combo, but as I feared, the bocconcini’s delicate flavour was totally overwhelmed by the chocolate.

I’m not giving up on cheese and chocolate though – I know they’re delicious together, if only because Nadège did a much better job pairing the two in my favourite parmesan chocolate bar. I’ll try a saltier cheese next time.

Then I got my wish at Buca (which I accidentally oversold to another MasterChef Canada cook, nay, winner, David Jorge – sorry, buddy! You’ll understand why in a moment). I entered a new age “box” last week, and for my birthday, my mom and I went to the seriously-acclaimed restaurant’s King location. There was a cheese plate (pictured without much of the cheese, because you should never have to wait to dig in on your birthday), obviously.

Buca-cheese-plate

The plate was jewelled with fresh buffalo ricotta, pecorino toscano and one of my all-time favourites, piave. Each was paired with a fruity partner: the ricotta with saskatoon berry (one of my favourite sidekicks), the pecorino with wine-soaked raspberries, and the piave with rhubarb.

Then it was time for dessert. I wanted something cool to offset the looming comatose fog rolling in, post-pasta with lobster (is there any better birthday dish?). Buca made all my wishes come true, even before I blew out the candle.

Gorgonzola-ice-cream

Gorgonzola gelato, topped with blueberries. Now that is how you do cheese for dessert.

I should have wished for the recipe. There’s always next year.

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Recipes

Gimme a cacio e pepe, and make ‘er blush

Sometimes you just need a big bowl of cacio e pepe.

Cacio e pepe

Cacio e pepe is a year-round delight. Obviously, anything hot and liberally-coated with cheese is welcome in the wintertime, but its appeal goes beyond the usual hot-and-cheesy comfort food requirements. It’s a comfort food trifecta: filling, ridiculously simple to make and always delicious.

My boyfriend and I went to Folco’s in Markham, Ontario, for his birthday last year, where our friend is a chef. I can never decide what to get there, so I asked him what he’d recommend and almost immediately, he said cacio e pepe. “People don’t get it, because it’s basically just pasta and cheese,” he said, “but it’s incredible.” Spaghetti, pecorino romano cheese and pepper, to be exact.

BF got the cacio e pepe, so I had to get something else (yeah, we’re those people), but I regretted my choice as soon as I had a bite of his. It’s since become my go-to when I need a big bowl of comfort that won’t further sap my energy in its production.

I called up C’n’P for one such occasion a few weeks ago in the middle of an overwhelming week. I used this Mark Bittman recipe from The New York Times, because it looks like it knows what it’s talking about, and Bittman definitely does.

Cacio e pepe

If you’re looking at my bowl and thinking I went a little heavy on the pepe, you win a gold-star-shaped hunk of pecorino romano. Serves me right for being too lazy to put my black pepper in a proper spice container, instead haphazardly dunking my hand in like it’s a grab bag of beer on a long weekend instead of a potent spice.

The pepper overpowered the entire dish, and I devoured my entire bowl (and then another the night after). That’s the magic of cacio e pepe: it’s worth a burning throat. (And let’s be real, if you’re making this, you probably don’t have the energy to make another batch, you’re likely already well-settled into your “screw you” pants.)

I interviewed Christopher Siu, the top-five MasterChef Canada competitor, at my day job today. He brought up pink peppercorns and how they are well suited to desserts. I’ve been dreaming of them (along with unlikely cheese desserts – stay tuned) all day, and decided somewhere between sprinkled-in-mascarpone and stuffed-on-chocolate-truffles that they would be a perfect substitute in my next cacio e pepe.

I know it’s slight sacrilege, but I’m dying to know how it would taste with pink peppercorns instead of cracked black pepper. I have a hunch it would be a splendid dish-saver if you’re heavy-handed with the pepe, like me.

P.S. If you keep reading cacio e pepe and pronouncing it peepee, know that a) that’s hilarious and b) you’re not alone, I keep thinking that when I type it out and I am a grown(ish)-ass woman. It’s paypay, like the soccer player. But way more lovable.

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