Stay-at-Home, Eat-at-Home Tip #1: Buy A Block of Cheese the Size of a Car Battery

Greetings, everyone. I hope you’re all doing well and staying well during this time. For me, there are two things that are making this bearable: long afternoon walks on the most secluded streets of my neighborhood and enjoying three good meals a day.

As we’re all trying to cook our best while making as few trips to the store as possible, I thought that every day or so, I’d share a few foods or resources that have helped my cooking life immensely during these times. Here’s my first tip:

I’m so glad to have this 2.5 pound block of Cheese Mart Vintage Cheddar on hand during these times.

Buy A Block of Cheese the Size of a Car Battery

If you’re a Seinfeld fan, you’ll get the reference — George’s idea of freedom is being able to stay at home, sit on the couch sans shirt, and eat a “block of cheese the size of a car battery.”

While this block of Cheese Mart Vintage Cheddar isn’t really the size of a car battery, the 2.5-pound behemoth is probably the largest hunk of cheese I’ve ever owned.

Why this cheese? Sure, if you’ve read my blog and books, you know I’m pretty insane about Comté, Pyrenees sheep’s-milk cheeses, and all kinds of aged goat cheeses. And I do have a variety of such artisanal cheeses in my fridge, and will love them while they last.

But, I wanted a big block of good, multi-purpose cheese that I could use for weeks without running out. This cheddar fits the bill. It slices well for cold sandwiches and snacking, and it melts beautifully for everything you need a good melting cheese for (from flatbread pizzas to casseroles to grilled cheese). And, while it’s no Parm-Regg, it grates reasonably well for pasta, soups, salads, etc. Sure, it’s more moist than your best grating cheese, but in a pinch (and were definitely in a pinch these days) it’ll do.

The flavor is moderately sharp, and the buttery-creamy notes are nice, too. Yes, I like the caramely, wild-meadowy appeal Comté better, but again — these times call for a few modifications.

Buy Cheese Mart Vintage Cheddar on Amazon

Here are a couple recipes I’ve been relying on lately. Both make great use of this cheese.

1. Rigatoni al Forno

This recipe is so much more than the sum of its parts! I snagged it from Steve Logsdon, owner Lucca, of a fine Italian restaurant here in Des Moines. After watching him prep the recipe in Lucca’s kitchen, I realized why this recipe is so much better than it sounds — it’s two secrets are the broiler and the à la minute (made fresh to order) way of cooking. By combining the sauce and pasta seconds before running the cheese-topped combo quickly under the broiler (rather than giving it time to dry out in the oven), everything gets hot and bubbly, yet stays rich and moist.

If you have some olive oil, canned tomatoes, pasta, and cheese, you can make this!

Rigatoni (or Whatever) al Forno

6          ounces dried rigatoni (or any other short pasta you have on hand, from penne to shells)
1  1/2  cups marinara sauce (see recipe, below)
4          deli-thin slices good melting cheese, such as Cheddar or provolone

Preheat the broiler. Cook the pasta according to package directions and drain well. Season the marinara sauce to taste with the salt and pepper. Toss the pasta with the marinara in a broilerproof nonstick sauté pan. Arrange cheese slices in a single layer over pasta. Broil about 4 inches from the heat source for 2 to 3 minutes until the cheese bubbles and browns in places and pasta is heated through. Divide among two dinner plates and serve immediately. Serves 2.

For the Marinara sauce: Combine 1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes, 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil (to your liking) and 3 to 4 good-sized leaves of basil, finely chopped (or use 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil or dried Italian seasoning) Store any extra in the refrigerator.

 2. Simple Cheese Pasta

Pasta with Piment d’Espelette — or whatever red spice you have on hand now.

This is another recipe you can probably make with staples you have on hand. I love using Piment d’Espelette, and it’s worth buying to have around. But if you want to make it tonight, simply use a little smoked paprika or crushed red pepper flakes, or both.

Pasta with Piment d’Espelette and Cheese (or another spice and cheese)

8       ounces dried capellini or angel-hair pasta
1/4   cup top-quality extra-virgin olive oil
4       large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
1       teaspoon chicken base paste, such as Better Than Bouillon (or use a cube or granules)
1/2   cup minced fresh parsley or chives, or a combination
1/2   cup freshly grated aged cheese (such as Cheddar)
1       teaspoon Piment d’Espelette, or more to taste*

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain well, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Set the pasta aside to keep warm.

2. In the same pot in which you cooked the pasta, heat the olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the garlic and cook, watching constantly and stirring often, until it starts to turn golden. Using a slotted spoon, remove the garlic from the oil. Set aside. Off the heat slowly add the pasta cooking water to the pot—stand back, it will spatter. Add the chicken base paste. Bring to a boil, cook until reduced by about half, about 3 minutes.

3. Add the cooked pasta and the garlic slivers to the pot. Toss well. Off heat, add the fresh parsley; toss again. Let the pasta stand for a few minutes for pasta to absorb some of the liquid. Divide into shallow bowls. Top each serving with some of the grated cheese and Piment d’Espelette. Serves 4.

* Or use a little smoked paprika and red pepper flakes.


As always, thanks for reading Chez Bonne Femme. Note that if you purchase anything through one of the links, I will earn a small commission. Thank you for your consideration.


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