Marinated Soft Cheese with Herbs and Spices — It’s just one of the delectable recipes in a new book from James Beard-award winning chef Alon Shaya, the former proprietor of acclaimed New Orleans restaurants Domenica, Pizza Domenica, and the Israeli restaurant Shaya. In 2015 he was named “Best Chef, South” in the James Beard Awards while at Domenica, and a year later, ‘Shaya’ was hailed as “Best New Restaurant.” He is opening two new restaurants soon: Saba in New Orleans and Safta in Denver.
Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel follows its author through Philadelphia, to Italy, to New Orleans all the while offering recipes such as Red Beans and Rice: Matzo Ball Wedding Soup; Moroccan Carrot Salad, Yogurt Pound Cake with Cardamom-Lemon Syrup; and Blueberry Rugelach alongside Shaya’s chatty and personal memories of his life experiences.
Most endearing story in the book? Shaya admits to being something of a discipline problem in high school. He credits Donna Barnett, teacher of home economics (a class he signed up for because it sounded easy and a way to meet girls) with talking the school administration into allowing him to spend his detention time in the home ec kitchen where he found his passion for cooking. Barnett not only lined up job interviews for the young high school student, but also drove him to the restaurant where he landed his first job. (Oh, the influence even one good teacher can have on a life!) Shaya went on to become a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and to achieve fame and success in the restaurant world.
His namesake first book is widely available at bookstores and on Amazon.com.
Serving as an example of recipes from the book is Marinated Soft Cheese with Herbs and Spices, a recipe to transform simple cheese into an utterly delicious topping for toasted baguette slices perfect for spring entertaining. As he does throughout the book, Shaya recommends a specific brand of ingredient that works well (Mt Tam, a signature cheese of California-based Cowgirl Creamery) and suggests alternatives to adapt the recipe to make it your own. Enjoy!
MARINATED SOFT CHEESE WITH HERBS AND SPICES
This dish was a revelation when Emily and I ate it in Milan: when you start with great ingredients, you’re wise not to mess with them. It’s a moment of perfect simplicity; at the right temperature, olive oil and cheese can be as flawless as anything that costs you far more time, money, or energy. Any brand of soft aged cheese will do—I like La Tur, a mixed-milk cheese that’s as creamy as goat, with just a little sheepy funk, softened by the cow’s milk. Mt Tam, a domestic triple-cream cheese, is a great alternative. Have fun with the spices: throw in a couple cloves instead of the star anise, add a sprig of rosemary instead of the bay, or use lemon instead of orange. – Alon Shaya
YIELD: 6 TO 8 SERVINGS
8-ounce wheel of soft goat or mixed-milk cheese, such as La Tur
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 teaspoon whole allspice berries
1⁄2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 dried bay leaves
1 dried árbol chili pepper, or 1⁄4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1 star anise pod
Two 2-inch strips of orange peel, orange part only, divided
A crusty baguette
Maldon or other flaky sea salt, to finish
1. Heat the oven to 325 ̊F. Put the cheese in the bowl or rimmed plate from which it’ll be served, to let it soften.
2. Use the side of a knife or a rolling pin to crush the garlic lightly, just so it starts to open up in its skin. Lightly crush or roughly chop the allspice and coriander, and add them, with the garlic, to a small ovenproof saucepan, along with the olive oil, bay leaves, árbol chili, star anise, and one strip of orange peel. Cover with a lid, and bake for 40 to 45 minutes; the garlic will be very golden and the orange rind will have darkened quite a bit.
3. Once the sauce has come together, remove the saucepan from the oven and increase the heat to 425 ̊F. Take the second strip of orange peel and give it a little twist over the pan to release the oil, then drop it into the pan and let the oil cool down.
4. Cut the baguette on a bias into 1⁄2-inch slices, and arrange them on a baking sheet. Toast at 425 ̊F for 6 to 8 minutes, until they’ve built some nice color along the edges.
5. Pour the seasoned oil over and around the softened cheese, letting the spices run free, and sprinkle on the salt just before serving. Slather the toasts with the cheese, and encourage your friends to dab up every last drop of the infused oil.
Excerpted from SHAYA by Alon Shaya. Copyright © 2018 by Alon Shaya. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
If you are looking for other delicious recipes, try the curried sweet potato soup from Healthyish.