Any dish that starts with good Artisan bread, fresh tomatoes and goat cheese, will finish with happy faces and full bellies (just ask my bookclub about bread consumption at group gatherings). Hand crafted bread brings about a celebration, an elevation and elegance to a home cooked date night or dinner with friends.
A while back, there was a week of being under the weather at our house where I had little-to-no ambition to cook at all, let alone, to think of something fun or creative. That meant that when I came out of that funk, I was near bursting to figure out how to spend time in my kitchen.
With no energy to do the actual cooking, my time had been spent watching some amazing chefs on Master Class, reviewing a fun new inspiring cookbook I found, taking inventory of our fridge and pantry, and thinking back to an amazing appetizer while celebrating our anniversary – a meal was born.
Surprising to me about half way thru making everything, this turned out to be a meatless meal with no effort. The appetizer was this Baked Goat Cheese dish. The main meal was a Cauliflower Tofu Soup with Salsa Verde and a side of Seared Cabbage with a vinegar, tahini drizzle and topped with toasted bread crumbs. Ok…as I write this now, I’m hungry and want this to whole plate to magically appear in front of me.
The best part for me was aside from this appetizer, the rest was just playing and creating our own recipe in the kitchen. Blanching the tomatoes to peel the skins was surprisingly simple and gave a smooth texture to the tomatoes, rotating to sear the cabbage wedges in grapeseed oil filled the kitchen with a wonderful sizzle, while the toasted garlic bread crumbs made the kitchen smell like everyones favorite Sunday dinner.
The other amazing part was sharing the whole moment with Eric, as he flipped thru an Artful Living magazine, experimenting with a maple bourbon and trying a new cocktail, and chatting away over whatever came to mind. Oh, and there was a buttery Chardonnay chilling for the finish.
Since that night, we have made this Baked Goat Cheese several times and each to our delight. Both sides of our families approved this dish for future consumption and that is a seal of approval in my book.
To simplify the dish, you could use your favorite store bought red sauce as the base. But what is great about home making this sauce, is that the recipe makes enough to bake two separate goat cheese appetizers. The versatility of this is thay you could enjoy this appetizer two separate nights, make it all one night if you are entertaining a crowd, or simply reserve the rest for a quick pasta night or dipping cheesy bread. Ok – I’m really getting hungry now.
One of the most recent times I made this, I had premade the red sauce on a Wednesday night while making dinner. When the sauce cooled, I put it in a sealable container in the fridge. Then Friday night, it was easy to throw the dish together for date night in by creating a wheel of goat cheese and toasting some panko. We both agreed, it was the best batch yet! I contribute it to letting the sauce sit and develop a more intense flavor while resting in the fridge.
The only modification I made to cook time was that I first baked the sauce for 10 mins, since it was cold from the fridge. Then adding the goat cheese and last the panko topping, keeping both of those bake times as the recipe states.
Looking forward to making this at my next family or friends get together. I hope you enjoy!
Baked Goat Cheese
- 4 Bushel Boy Tomatoes (could substitute heirloom or early girl)
- 1 Tbls extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1 Tbls minced fennel
- 1 Tbls minced shallot
- 2 Tbls tomato paste
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme, stems removed
- 2 tsp aged balsamic vinegar
- Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper
- 4 oz goat cheese
- 2 Tbls butter
- 1/3 cup bread crumbs
- 1 Tbls fresh chopped parsley
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- 1 Tbls lemon juice
- Artisanal Bread for Serving – Focaccia, French Loaf or Baguette
Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large stock pot, bring 8 cups water to a boil. Wash tomatoes and score them with a knife at the bottom in an ‘X’ shape. When water is boiling, carefully place the tomatoes in the water for around 2-3 minutes. This is simply for removing the skins and not cooking the tomatoes. When you see the skins at the bottom start to peal away, remove the tomatoes to a paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon. Let cool slightly until cool enough to handle, but not cold.
When you can handle the tomatoes, peel all of the skins off and either discard or dehydrate for use as a tomato powder in other ways – like topping salads or a finishing sprinkle on just about anything. Then roughly chop the tomatoes to 1/4″ cubes.
In a saucier pan, add olive oil and warm over medium heat. When at temperature, add garlic, fennel, and shallot and stir while cooking for only 1 minute. Add prepared tomatoes and stir. Cook for about 3 minutes and using either your spoon, a muddler, or a potato masher, smash half to three fourths of the tomatoes to create more of a sauce.
Next add the tomato paste, thyme and balsamic vinegar to the tomato mixture. Stir until incorporated and continue to let simmer over medium heat for about 7-10 minutes. Salt and pepper to your liking.
While sauce is simmering, use plastic wrap to form goat cheese into a 3″ diameter disk and leave in plastic wrap until you need. In a small sauté pan, melt butter and add bread crumbs, stirring frequently to toast, but not burn. When the bread crumbs are nicely toasted, add parsley, lemon zest and juice and stir to incorporate.
In a 6″ round baking dish, place enough of the tomato sauce to go just above half way up the sides of the dish. (Reserve the reaming sauce for another goat cheese round another day or use over pasta or to dip cheesy bread.) Add the goat cheese round in the center. Place in the pre-heated oven and cook for 7 minutes. At the same time, add your artisanal bread to the oven to heat. Remove goat cheese dish from oven and top with half of the bread crumb mixture. Return to oven and cook for another 5-7 minutes until the bread crumbs are nice and toasted.
Remove both goat cheese and bread from oven. Let goat cheese cool for 3 minutes while you slice the bread. Serve immediately.
*Experimental Spoon Original