- By Addie Broyles American-Statesman Staff
A summertime hamburger isn’t complete without an oozing slice of Cheddar cheese — the more gooey, the better.
But as the weather gets hotter, maybe we should take a look at some cheeses that don’t melt.
There’s a family of semi-firm cheeses — among them, queso panela, queso fresco, paneer, halloumi, feta, cotija, ricotta and soft goat cheese — that won’t melt over direct or indirect heat in your kitchen.
Many of them are called acid-set cheeses because they are made with a combination of dairy and lemon juice, vinegar or an acid-producing bacteria. Halloumi, a Middle Eastern cheese usually made with goat and/or sheep milk, is firmed up in a hot bath of whey.
Some of these cheeses are squeaky when you eat them, and almost all of them are known for being a little on the salty side. The crumbly cheeses in this category — queso fresco, feta, cotija — act as condiments or added toppings on enchiladas or corn on the cob, in salads or tossed with vegetables. Maria Benardis, author of “My Greek Family Table: Fresh, Regional Recipes” (Countryman Press, $29.95), roasts vegetables like asparagus with a pile of feta on top.
The scoopable ones — ricotta and soft goat cheese — are great for pizzas, baked casseroles or quiches, like this radish and ricotta frittata from “One Pan & Done: Hassle-Free Meals from the Oven to Your Table” by Molly Gilbert (Clarkson Potter, $17.99).
The non-melting cheeses you can slice — queso panela, halloumi and paneer — are substantial enough to replace a serving of meat but light enough for a summer dinner. I say that these cheeses don’t melt, but the texture does change when heated. The cheeses soften slightly and brown on the edges, and the flavors blossom in the heat. In fact, unlike the crumbly and scoopable cheeses in this family, these slicing-and-frying cheeses aren’t very tasty before hitting a hot frying pan or grill.
I hadn’t thought about oven-roasting such cheeses until I recently saw roasted zucchini topped with halloumi in Izy Hossack’s new book, “The Savvy Cook” (Mitchell Beazley, $19.99).
The image of those rectangles of halloumi melted on top of the lightly browned zucchini and potatoes popped into my head when I was at the Sustainable Food Center’s Farmers’ Market at Sunset Valley. It was the first market for Bee Tree Farm owner Jenna Kelly-Landes, who was selling halloumi. I picked up about half a pound of the cheese, as well as several deep yellow and green summer squash.
A few days later, I chopped up those squash, tossed them with garlic and the last of a store-bought package of mushrooms and seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper. The vegetables roasted at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes, and then I added the slices of cheese for the last 15 minutes.
Other cheese, such as provolone or Monterey jack, would have melted all over the aluminum foil on the sheet pan after that much time in the oven. If you want to use those cheeses for a similar dish, place them on top of the roasted vegetables just a few minutes before they are finished roasting.
What else can you do with heat-tolerant slicing cheeses? Anything you’d make with another protein that takes to high heat. You could make kebabs or gyros, tacos or fancy salads. Seared paneer is one of my favorite proteins for curries, such as saag paneer, or to serve alongside sauteed vegetables and rice. You could put slices of browned halloumi on a baguette sandwich with arugula or toss lightly browned cubes of queso panela with pasta and tomatoes for a main dish that keeps well for a picnic.
Some cooks like to fry these cheeses in a thin layer of oil in a pan, but to cut down on the grease, you can brush the slices with oil before grilling, roasting or sauteeing in a skillet. You can interchange them fairly easily, which is handy because it’s hard to find all the cheeses in the same store. My neighborhood grocery store sells panela, fresco and cotija, but if I want paneer or halloumi, I have to go to the Indian market.
These cheeses don’t need much seasoning, and judging by the reaction to that roasted summer squash and halloumi dish I made recently, they help make a memorable meal.
Potato, Halloumi and Zucchini Bake
This recipe from Izy Hossack’s “The Savvy Cook,” which comes out next week, is adaptable in lots of ways. I used summer squash, mushrooms and garlic in my version, and I roasted the vegetables at a higher heat. Hossack suggests using sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes or doubling up on the vegetables so you’ll have leftovers for other meals. If you do start swapping vegetables, just keep an eye on them in the oven. The cooking times will vary, but start with the vegetables that take the longest time and then add the cheese toward the end. My broiler doesn’t work very well, so I roasted the cheese for the last 15 minutes in a 425-degree oven.
— Addie Broyles
3 medium potatoes, unpeeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium zucchini
2 bell peppers, seeded, halved and cut into 4 or 5 strips each
4 1/2 oz. halloumi cheese, cut into 1/8-inch slices
Pinch of salt
For the basil oil:
Large handful of basil (leaves and stems)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Cut the potatoes into 1 1/4-inch chunks and put in a medium saucepan. Cover with just-boiled water and add a generous pinch of salt, then bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain the potatoes, then return them to the pan and cover with a plate or a lid. Let stand for 5 minutes to remove any excess moisture.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Transfer the cooked potatoes to a large baking sheet or roasting pan and toss in the olive oil. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Add the zucchini and bell pepper and toss until coated in the oil. Return to the oven for another 20 to 25 minutes. Finally, lay the halloumi slices over the vegetables, turn the oven broiler on and broil for another few minutes until the halloumi is golden.
Using a handheld blender or countertop blender, puree the basil and olive oil together. (You could also mince the basil leaves with a knife and mix with the oil.) Drizzle two tablespoons of the basil oil over the roasted vegetables and halloumi. Garnish with any remaining basil leaves.
— From “The Savvy Cook” by Izy Hossack (Mitchell Beazley, $19.99)
Baked Asparagus with Oregano, Feta and Lemon Zest
A pile of feta on top of asparagus might inspire you to do the same with baked sweet potatoes or cauliflower. This dish benefits from the simplicity of the garlic, lemon and oregano.
2 bunches asparagus
Sea salt and cracked pepper
4 ounces feta, crumbled
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped dill (optional)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash the asparagus and place in a baking dish. Season with salt and pepper, then scatter the crumbled feta over the top.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan or skillet over low heat, add the garlic, lemon zest and oregano and cook, stirring, until the garlic is lightly golden. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and pour over the asparagus and feta.
Bake for 15 minutes or until the asparagus is tender. Garnish with dill (if using) and serve. Serves 4.
— From “My Greek Family Table: Fresh, Regional Recipes” by Maria Benardis (Countryman Press, $29.95)
Radish and Ricotta Frittata
Frittatas, quiches without crusts, are almost as much fun to eat as they are to pronounce — plus they’re wonderful served either warm or at room temperature, so they’re perfect for long, leisurely brunch gatherings. This one boasts the beauty of crisp, thinly sliced radishes and plenty of fresh herbs and cheese, too. It’s a sunny celebration of springtime, all in one delicious pan.
— Molly Gilbert
1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced, green tops reserved
3 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
6 large eggs
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 ounces herbed goat cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Heat the oven to 375 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Grease a 9-inch pie dish with butter or cooking spray.
Arrange the sliced radishes in an even layer in the prepared pie dish and scatter the scallions and a handful of reserved radish tops (roughly chop them, if they’re very large) on top.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir in the ricotta and carefully pour the egg mixture on top of the radishes, being sure it reaches the edges of the pie dish.
Scatter the goat cheese around the pan, and sprinkle the tarragon and chives on top.
Transfer the pie dish to the oven and bake until completely set in the center and beginning to brown at the edges, 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool before slicing into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 6 to 8.
— From “One Pan & Done: Hassle-Free Meals from the Oven to Your Table” by Molly Gilbert (Clarkson Potter, $17.99).