Very Cheesy – baked camembert with garlic and thyme

My local co-op has had those little wooden boxed camembert cheeses on special offer recently.  I bought one a couple of weeks ago, planning to bake it, but of course life intervened and it was only this week that I finally got around to it.  This is no problem, of course, as it just gave the cheese a chance to mature and ripen nicely.

I think it’s probably a side effect of my early upbringing in Switzerland, but I have to admit to being a teeny bit obsessed with melted cheese. And this is one of the quickest, simplest, and most self-indulgent melted cheese suppers of them all.

Baked camembert with bread & chutney

Who could ask for more after a long day at work? You will need –

  • Unwrapped camembertA whole camembert, in a wooden box. The cheaper ones tend to have cardboard bottoms. This isn’t a problem as long as at least one half of the box has wooden top and sides.
  • A clove of garlic, minced.
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme (dried, at a push).
  • A tot of dry white wine.
  • To serve, a fresh crispy baguette (or other bread if you prefer – some home-made sourdough would be wonderful, of course!) and some chutney (I chose my spiced plum chutney, but choose whatever you like!).

Open the box and unwrap the cheese, taking off any plastic or paper surrounding the cheese itself. Return it to half of the wooden box, and place the box on a baking tray. Set the oven to heat at 180C.

Prepared camembert with garlic and thymeCut four our five parallel slices through the top skin of the cheese. I’ve seen some recipes call for cutting this off entirely, but I really can’t see the point. Mince up your clove of garlic, and rub it into the top of the cheese, making sure you get some into the slices you’ve made. Strip the leaves from the fresh thyme sprigs, and sprinkle these over. Finally, pour over a tot of wine (about a single spirit measure, or a good ‘glug’).

Tuck in!That’s it, really. Could it be simpler? Slide the prepared cheese into the oven, and pour yourself a well-deserved glass of that nice dry white wine. After about 10-15 minutes, put the bread in alongside it to warm through and get all crispy and gorgeous and leave it all for another five minutes.

Then serve, with some chutney on the side. Go ahead and dig straight into the silken melted heart of the cheese with a big piece of crispy baguette.

I think it would be great served with a crisp green salad with a nice sharp vinaigrette, perhaps using some gorgeous chive flower vinegar, but it had been a long day at work, so I just settled for totally indulgent bread and cheese!

All gone!

As you can see, it went down a treat. Make this, you won’t be disappointed!

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Taming the Tomato Glut – Part 2: tomato and chilli chutney

The home-grown tomato glut continues apace, and after yesterday’s harvest, I had over 1.5kg (about 3lb) of lovely ripe tomatoes in bowls on my kitchen counter. Obviously even the most energetic eater of fried tomatoes couldn’t make much of a dent in that with their full English breakfast (though, believe me, I tried!). I wasn’t planning to do any preserving today, but the idea of them going to waste was more than I could bear – so I decided to whip up a batch of tomato chutney, with chillies, since I have a few of those from the greenhouse, too!

This is a bit of a chutney of opportunity / necessity, made out of what I had in the fridge and cupboard, loosely based on this recipe for ‘sweet chilli and tomato chutney‘ from the Pink Whisk blog.

To make this chutney, you’ll need to get together:

  • Fresh ingredients1.5kg of fresh, ripe (home-grown) tomatoes – all shapes and sizes are fine
  • 5 onions (varying sizes)
  • 2 red peppers
  • 4 cloves of garlic (I used half smoked, half fresh)
  • 1 rather over-grown courgette (optional – I had one that had ‘got away’ a bit in the vegetable garden)
  • A few fresh chillies. I chose four large mild red ones (variety ‘Vampire’) and two small-but-fiesty ones (variety ‘Twilight’) which I’ve been growing this year. If you’re in doubt about the properties of a particular chilli, for goodness sake slice off a very small piece and taste it before cooking with them!
  • 800ml of malt vinegar (I used what I had in the cupboard, which was about 400ml dark malt vinegar, 200ml of white malt vinegar and 200ml of spiced preserving vinegar left-over from pickling beetroot – use whatever you have / fancy. Wine or cider vinegar would also be fine, but probably a bit of a waste of money.)
  • Variety of sugars600g of dark sugar (again, this was a cupboard-clearing effort, I used a mixture of demerera, soft dark sugar and golden caster sugar)
  • 4 tsp of whole yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • A chopping board, good sharp knife, large stainless steel cooking pot and enough jars to contain your chutney. Also helpful, a ladle and a bottling funnel.

Now, there are a few strongly held beliefs that I try to live by, and not least of these, I’m afraid, is the view that life is far to short to spend it peeling tomatoes – particularly when there’s 1.5kg of them, and many of them are tiny, sub-cherry size. I looked up my grandmother’s green tomato chutney recipe this afternoon, just to check (more on which later, with a little luck!), and it turns out she didn’t peel her tomatoes either. Well, if it was good enough for Grandma, it’s good enough for me! Of course, if you find the idea of tomato skin in your chutney offensive, do feel free to blanch and peel them before you start.

Wash your tomatoes and chop them into roughly even pieces (halves, quarters, or smaller portions depending on the size of the tomato). I left the tiniest toms – those smaller than 1cm – whole. Chuck these into the pan, then chop your onions and peppers (deseeded, and with the white pith removed) into smallish pieces and add them, too.

Peel the courgette and slice it up as finely as you can – I chopped mine pretty roughly, expecting that it would break down to a nice soft pulp during cooking, but it didn’t – probably because the sugar and vinegar in the mix firmed it up nicely! – and I ended up fishing the bigger bits back out to chop them up more finely towards the end of cooking, which is a task I’m sure you can all live without!

Chillies and spicesChop up your fresh chillies very finely (you may want to remove the pith and seeds, where some of the heat is hiding!) and remember to wash your hands very carefully afterwards, including under your fingernails!

Add your chopped chillies to the pan with the sugar, vinegar, crushed garlic and dry spices. Get some heat under it and bring it to a good rolling boil before turning it down a little. Leave it simmering gently, uncovered, and stir occasionally.

Chutney at start of cookingNow, you have time to sort out your jam jars and lids. Wash them carefully in hot soapy water, dry them, then lay them out in a cold oven and set it to 150 degrees C. Make sure that the lids you’re planning to use are plastic-coated, as the vinegar in the chutney will corrode exposed metal. I tend to turn the oven off once it’s been up to temperature for about 20 minutes, and just leave the door closed until I need the jars.

It will take about an hour and a half to cook the chutney – mine took a bit longer than that, so follow your judgement. It’s ready when you can catch a glimpse of the shiny bottom of the pan when you stir the mixture. It will have lost a fair bit of volume (perhaps up to half) and darkened to a rich dark red colour, with no watery liquid left. Once you’re happy it’s done, bottle directly into your hot sterilised jars. These quantities made a little under 2 litres for me, but this will vary depending on your precise ingredients – how watery your tomatoes are and so on. And please, don’t be too hung-up on the details of the recipe – be creative and use what you have, or vary it to your own taste!

My quantities filled whole jars just perfectly (six small ones, and three larger ones), so I haven’t got any ‘left overs’ to enjoy in the next few days from the fridge – a bit of a shame, as I was looking forward to some with a nice cheese sandwich! But this will just heighten the anticipation as the flavours develop over the next month or so. The sneaky tastes I took during cooking (quality control, right?) certainly promise very good things – a lovely sweet-sour background with a gentle chilli heat.

Lovely jars of chutney

Chutney will keep in a cool dark place for ages (I’ve opened – and eaten, and lived to tell the tale – jars of home-made chutney with dates that would make some people’s eyes come out on stalks!). It’s probably best, though, to aim to let it mature it for a month, and then eat it at it’s best within a year. As with all home-made preserves, it’s best to keep it in the fridge after opening. And of course, like any home-made jam or preserve, they will make great gifts!

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