On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me…
An esky bag full of fresh cheese!
Chasing the milk truck to the dairy with my brothers was one of my favourite “cooling off activities” in the sun-burnt afternoon summers. Not only did the much loved milk truck driver decant jug fulls of creamy white magic straight from the vat, he also dolled out plenty of ice – used to cool the milk testing samples – to go with it. At Christmas time, our heart grew even fonder as we waited in anticipation for the annual delivery of our Christmas bonus: the esky bag packed to the gunnels with cheese. Seeing that every other diary farming family received the same gift pack, cheese based dishes got top billing at all the festive season community and farm road gatherings. Whilst most of my dairy-farming friends had a fetish for the cheddar cubes and cabana, my cherished choice was always my best friend Jacey’s mums’ Spinach and Ricotta Dip in the Cob loaf.
Paying homage to the nostalgic Christmas gatherings of yesteryear, I have recreated this beloved dish so as to call it my home-grown own. As my darling little curds saw it fit to demolish my last batch of fromgeric goodness, the odds seem in my favour for an udderly delicious appraisal at this afternoons, first for the season, Christmas party. Say Cheese!
Be’n Cheesy Cob Loaf Dip
1 Sourdough Cob Loaf (or if you have your own sourdough culture: see below for recipe)
20 broad bean pods (podded and steamed as for Bean Broadening my Salad Days (Pea and Bean Salad)
½ onion (or 4 – 6 white parts of a spring onion), finely diced
1 garlic clove, finely diced
2 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, diced
125 – 200 g fresh spinach (kale, beetroot leaves, chard etc.) leaves, roughly diced
125 g ricotta cheese
70 g yoghurt cheese (made by straining approximately 120g greek yoghurt overnight)
100g cheddar, grated
25g parmesan, grated
2 tbs chives, finely diced
Heat some oil in a pan and fry the onion and garlic till translucent. Add the bacon, broad beans and spinach. Cook till the spinach is wilted. Take off the heat. Stir in the cheeses and mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper if required. Spoon mixture into two 250ml ramekins. Cook (with bread, if making your own) covered with foil at 200oC for 15 minutes. Cool slightly. Top with chives and serve to your festive friends with your fresh, crusty sourdough loaf.
Sourdough Cob Loaf (makes 1 large loaf)
Sourdough mother culture
60 g rye flour (plus extra for feeding the culture)
90g filtered water
200 g spelt flour
250 g whey (or filtered water)
300 g (plus extra for kneading) wheat flour
8 – 10 g salt
Starting twenty four hours before you wish to serve, take the mother culture out of the fridge for 20 minutes or so to warm to room temperature. Place 50 g of the culture into a large mixing bowl (feed the mother culture by thoroughly mixing in 20 g rye flour – or whatever flour you feed your culture – and 30g of filtered water. Return to the fridge). Stir in 60 g rye flour and 90g filtered water. Cover with a damp tea towel (or plastic if you leave in a dry climate: the mixture must not dry out). Leave to ferment for atleast 8 hours.
Add the whey (strained from the yoghurt cheese) and whatever amount of filtered water is required to reach 250 g of liquid. Stir in the spelt flour. Cover and leave ferment for another 6 – 8 hours.
Stir in the wheat flour and salt. Bring the mixture together with your hands (it will be a little sticky) and turn out onto a floured surface. Continue to add more flour until it reaches a manageable dough consistency. Knead traditional style or – using the method taught to me by an expert artisan baker in Oxfordshire – by raising the dough above your head and slamming it down onto the surface (atleast 300 times) until the dough reaches an elasticy texture. Line a dish (I use a lidded casserole dish) with cheesecloth dusted in flour. Make the dough into a tight ball and place into the dish. Flatten the dough slightly. Spray with water. Cover. Leave to rise for 2 – 5 hours (depending on air temperature) till doubled in size. (Picture: dough rising – for the last time – and scissored dough about to go in the oven).
Turn out dough onto a greased and floured tray. Using scissors, cut into the dough slightly to leave a triangular indentation. Continue in a circular fashion around the dough until you have a star shape on top. This helps to release excess steam during cooking and hence reduce the chance of unwanted cracks. Cook in the oven at 200oC for 25 – 30 minutes. Tap on the base of the dough to check whether it is cooked through (it should sound hollow – if not, put it back in for 5 minutes each time till done). Leave to cool for atleast 30 minutes before serving.