Monday, November 4, 2013

Royal Salad (with a cheesy crown)


Ahhhhhm cheese ... I must be part cartoon mouse because I adore cheese. Real cheese, though. Not cartoon cheese.

I like it plain, I like it cooked. I like it gooey and melty, I like it creamy, and I like it crispy. Mmmm. Crispy. What's better than cheese that has melted and then gotten a little brown and crisp on the edges?

Well, how about cheese crisps? And then, for the fun of it, how about molding those crisps into interesting shapes? That's exactly what I did with this salad, molding the crisp cheese into a "crown" that topped the salad. And for the jewels in the crown, I filled it with red and yellow tomatoes and some cubes of cucumber that peeked through the holes of the cheese.

I didn't include ingredient amounts for the salad itself because, well, you know how much salad you want. Make it the way you like it!

Royal Salad (with a cheesy crown)

For the cheese crisps:
Grana Padano cheese 

For the balsamic drizzle:
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (the cheap stuff is perfect)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

For the salad:
Mixed lettuce greens (your choice)
Cucumber, peeled and cut in 1/4 inch dice
Cherry tomatoes, quartered
Chive olive oil (or plain olive oil, or other herb-infused oil, as desired)
Balsamic drizzle
Cheese crisps

To make the cheese crisps:
Grate the Grana Padano cheese  - a loose cup per crisp is plenty. Pile the cheese on a silicone baking mat in circles that will be wide enough to drape over whatever you'll use to form the cups. I used a flower-shaped cakelet pan.

Bake the cheese at 350 degrees until it melts and browns slightly - start checking after about 10 minutes, and watch it carefully until it has completely melted and browns lightly. You can let it brown further, if you prefer, but don't let it brown too much or it may get too brittle to deal with on the salad. It will be very pliable when it's hot, but it will harden quickly as it cools.

Carefully remove the melted cheese rounds and drape them over your preferred mold - the back of a muffin pan will work perfectly, or you can use something fancy like the cakelet pan I used.

If the cheese hardens before it drapes, you can put the pan into the oven to let it soften and conform to the shape you're looking for - this is why it's good to use the back side of a baking pan - you can put it in the oven.

Let the cheese crisps cool, then carefully remove them from the pan.

To make the balsamic drizzle:
Put the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan and add the sugar and the split vanilla bean with its seeds. Simmer on low heat stirring, as needed, until the sugar melts and the mixture thickens and it has reduced to about half the original volume. You could do this quickly at a full boil, but the point is to infuse the vinegar with the vanilla flavor, so simmer slowly.

When the vinegar has reduced, let it cool, then remove the vanilla bean and transfer the liquid to a suitable container.

To assemble the salad:
Place the salad greens on serving plates. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar reduction and olive oil, as desired. Figure about a tablespoon of each per salad - you can always pass more at the table.

Fill the cheese cup with tomatoes and cucumber. Place an extra leaf of lettuce on top to hold the vegetables in place as you flip it over on top of the salad. Sprinkle extra bits of cucumber on the salad greens, if desired.

Serve, passing extra vinegar and oil at the table for those who like more.