The week ending April 18th holds two perennial favorite comfort food days – April 12th, National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day and April 16th, Eggs Benedict Day. I could cover both food events with one delicious savory dish, Welsh rabbit or Welsh rarebit.
I used to picture Welsh rabbit as a dish with a small animal in a creamy sauce, and so using its other name, Welsh rarebit, sits better with me. The dish includes many of the food creations from the British Isles – tangy Guinness stout, tart Cheddar cheese, vinegary Worcestershire sauce, and pungent English mustard powder (in that familiar yellow tin). All of the ingredients are mixed with egg yolk, liberally slathered on a hunk of country bread, and broiled. The resulting creamy and substantial dish is a cinch to prepare, while combining in one swoop all of the major comfort foods: bread, cheese, butter, and eggs.
Many years ago, a casual remark to a new friend about my dislike of the taste of cheese prompted an immediate invitation to a cheese fondue dinner. A Swiss native, my friend simmered Raclette in the fondue pot, and paired it with trimmings of fresh and pickled vegetables, cubes of bread, and spiced meat. This memorable meal made me a cheese convert, and it also highlighted the potential of a fondue dinner as a collaborative meal.
When A. and N. wanted to taste some of the foods they had missed but saw written up in the blog, I thought about that fondue dinner. Fondue is a good example of a communal meal that showcases a variety of different textures and flavors. Pickled pearl onions and balsamic compound butter can be worked in as accompaniments alongside chunky bread pieces and bite-size sausages to scoop or dip into melted raclette cheese. There is plenty of room for innovation and collaboration when many hands are involved. Some of our new favorites included new potatoes brushed with cumin and coriander and crisp black radish drizzled with melted balsamic butter. These side dishes, along with firm red pickled onions, were a perfect textural contrast to the semi-firm cheese.
For the Fondue:
Heat 1 lb of Raclette or Gruyere in a ceramic fondue pot or in a pan.
When the cheese has a runny consistency, remove from heat and serve.
Continue to stir while warm.
Add more cheese as needed.
Grilled asparagus spears with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Strips of colorful bell peppers.
Green beans drizzled with melted balsamic compound butter.
The beauty of a communal meal lies in the variety of ideas that are presented on the table. I would love to hear about your traditions or thoughts on some of your favorite side dishes.
I was alerted to the death of Michele Ferrero, the renowned maker of Nutella, by a flurry of texts from A. and N. – huge Nutella fans. I read in her obituary that Nutella was discovered accidentally. With cocoa being in short supply during the war, hazelnuts were added to cocoa powder to get the same creamy consistency associated with chocolate. The concept of stretching food is all too familiar to a home cook, and I was reminded of this when I made compound butter.
Compound butter is easily created by whipping unsalted butter with herbs or interesting combinations such as lemon zest and herbs or hazelnuts and cocoa. There are two advantages in creating compound butter; the flavor and aroma of herbs are preserved, and their essence can be summoned up instantly. For example, in the middle of another cold spell, adding compound butter made with fresh cilantro and lemon zest gave tilapia the fragrance and taste associated with summer and warmth.
The process of making compound butter is simple. All you need is butter at room temperature, parchment paper or saran wrap (which I prefer), and your imagination. Start with readily-available ingredients like herbs, but before long, you will be trying different blends and pairings. An added bonus is that there are no right or wrong measurements – just trust your taste.
Lemon Zests and Cilantro Compound Butter
Lemon –1, zest
Unsalted Butter (room temperature) – 4 tbsp
Cilantro – 1/3 bunch, washed and leaves chopped
Salt – ¼ tsp
Whip the butter and all the ingredients in a bowl, until well incorporated.
Pile the mixture onto the saran wrap. Form the mixture into a log shape. Roll the saran wrap tightly around the log of compound butter. Freeze or chill until needed.
When ready to use, cut a disc or two and add them directly into the skillet to flavor fish or vegetables.
Note: The hazelnut and cocoa compound butter that I made worked well as a sweet spread, while the balsamic vinegar and cracked pepper butter was simply tossed with cooked kale and mushrooms.