Cheese Panela

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There is a restaurant in Dallas, Texas, called Javier’s, that specializes in gourmet Mexicano cuisine. No nachos at this restaurant.

I discovered Javier’s in 1979, after moving to Dallas for my first job. Since marrying 36 years ago, we go Javier’s whenever we’re in Dallas, which can be quite often. It’s that good. I just checked the website for Javier’s, and learned the restaurant opened in 1977. And, it’s still open.

Not only is the food exceptional, but also the ambiance and service. The key to its continued success, in my mind, is the fact that the owner, Javier, is always at the restaurant. Saturday, Tuesday, whenever, he’s there.

One entree we’ve always enjoyed is steak Cantinflas, which is a filet stuffed with cheese, topped with an Adobo-style sauce, and served with fresh avocado. There’s also roasted chicken mole, shrimp Guaymas, great margaritas, and coffee drinks made and flambed at the table. Spectacular.

When you’re seated at Javier’s, you are given warm chips served with two warm salsas – a thin tomato salsa that almost tastes like tomato soup, and a thicker green salsa. We’ve never been able to decide which is better. Oh, and there’s fresh butter in case you want to first dip your chip into the butter, then the warm salsa…

As an appetizer, my husband and I have often shared the Cheese Panela, which is prepared at the table. It’s melted cheese with chorizo and green chiles served in warm tortillas. It doesn’t sound extraordinary, but it is.

I never thought about why the appetizer’s name is cheese panela, until I came across the same word in a blog I discovered, Nancy’s blog called Mexican Made Meatless. Her blog is “dedicated to transforming classic Mexican dishes into modern vegan, vegetarian, and pescetarian delight.”

To quote from Nancy’s blog: I was born and raised in a traditional small town Mexican environment, in which my education in Mexican food preparation began early by watching the passion that my mother, grandmother, and aunts all put into their cooking sessions. Though the culinary bug took time to fully infect my soul, when it finally did it instilled in me a fiery passion that has lead me to devour everything about the culinary arts and helped me get to where I am today.

So while perusing her blog, I saw the word panela, and learned that it’s the actual name of a cheese. Because of my memories of cheese panela at Javier’s, I knew I’d be making this recipe, interestingly also reminiscent of the Argentinian baked provolone I made called Provoleta, topped with chimichurri.

Who can go wrong with spicy melted cheese?!!

Cheese Panela
or, Baked Panela Cheese that will Knock Your Socks Off!
printable recipe below

7oz panela cheese
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
2 teaspoon parsley (I used fresh)
1 teaspoon thyme (I used dried)
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano (I used dried)
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoon olive or avocado oil

Drain the cheese and set aside.

In a bowl combine the oil and all of the herbs and spices. Poke little holes all around the cheese to help the seasoning absorb better. Place the cheese in with the oil and spices mixture and coat the cheese, cover with plastic wrap and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight if desired.

Because I purchased a 3-pound wheel of Panela, I trimmed it to fit the gratin pan.

Preheat the oven to 190℃ or 375°F for 10 minutes. Place the cheese in the oven-safe dish and bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes.

The cheese will become soft and gooey but not melt completely. Allow to cool slightly.

Serve with either corn chips or country bread or any rustic bread. I baked some tortilla triangles.

As the cheese cools it will firm up again, so try to keep warm when enjoying.

The cheese is definitely reminiscent of what we used to order at Javier’s, although not as melty.

However, this cheese panela recipe is absolutely incredible. I love the aromatics, the spiciness, and the parsley.

The next time I made this recipe I used half panela and half Monterey Jack to make it more melty, which worked, but it’s best served over some kind of warmer.

 

 

 

Springtime Baked Brie Tartlets

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Blogging is so addicting fun for me, that posts are scheduled months ahead. But as a result, when I come across something new that I must make ASAP, posts get pushed back, which is exactly what happened to these baked brie tartlets.

I wanted to make them last Christmas, but now here it is April. Instead of postponing them until the following Christmas, I decided to make a springtime version. I mean, why not? Warm cheese isn’t only for winter holidays. And instead of cranberry chutney or some similar festive variety, I’m using strawberry onion chutney.

If you’re not familiar with cooked fruit chutneys, they are different from compotes in that there are savory components. My favorites to use are combinations of onion, garlic, and ginger. The resulting flavor profile includes a bit of zing, as well as sweetness.

Recently on Instagram, I saw a cheese board from Murray’s Cheese in New York City, and I asked about a certain beautiful, orange-rinded cheese. Turns out it’s called Brebisrousse D’Argental, a sheep milk cheese from Lyon, France.

I thought the orange rind and white paste would be beautiful paired with the strawberry chutney.

Just for the ease of preparing these tartlets, I purchased pre-baked phyllo cups. You just fill and serve, and they’re basically a one-bite size.


Springtime Baked Brie Tartlets

1 package (15) phyllo tartlets
Cheese of choice that melts easily, like Brie, Fontina, or Raclette
Strawberry chutney, or choice of zingy condiment
Good balsamic vinegar

Place the tartlets on a microwave-safe serving dish. Fill them about halfway with the cheese you’re using. Gently warm the cheese, using a low-strength microwave setting.

Add some of the chutney, and then top with a few drops of balsamic vinegar.

And you’re done.

I know I called these baked brie tartlets, but baking isn’t necessary, since all you have to do is warm the cheese. I also didn’t actually use Brie…

Now I get to have friends over and finish up this amazing cheese that I just discovered! Yes, it melts well, but it’s also good as-is!

Get creative with this kind of tartlet. You can choose your cheese, as I did, and also choose your condiment. There are so many available for purchase these days – from apricot to tomato chutneys.

Provoleta with Chimichurri

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In the old days when I wanted recipes, I read food magazines and cookbooks. It was wonderful.

But I have to say, having millions of recipes at my fingertips by simply being “online” makes me thrilled that the internet was discovered during my lifetime.

I discovered provoleta after receiving an email from Good Food, which is an Australian publication.

Provoleta is Argentina’s version of raclette, and to make it even more fabulous, this molten cheese is served with chimichurri. And good bread, of course.

So this was certainly a cheese dish I could not ignore, being a huge raclette fan. And cheese fan.

Provoleta with Chimichurri

Chimichurri:
½ cup finely chopped parsley
3 tsp finely chopped fresh oregano or 1 tsp dried
2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
large pinch of crushed red pepper
3 tsp red wine vinegar

Cheese:
Round of provolone cheese, sliced about 3/4″ thick
3 tsp roughly chopped fresh oregano or 1 tsp dried
½ tsp cayenne pepper flakes

1 baguette, sliced, toasted, if desired

In a small bowl, stir together the parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, crushed red pepper, and vinegar. Thin with a little water, if necessary, to make a pourable sauce.

Set aside to let flavors meld. Sauce may be prepared the day ahead.

Before you begin, have your bread sliced (I grilled mine), and the oregano chopped.

Set a small cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. I used my crêpe pan. When pan is hot, put in the cheese.


Sprinkle with half the oregano and crushed red pepper.

Cook for about two minutes, until the bottom begins to brown.

Carefully flip the cheese with a spatula and cook for two to three minutes more, until the second side is browned and the cheese is beginning to ooze.

Transfer cheese to a plate and sprinkle with remaining oregano and crushed red pepper. I added a few tablespoons of chimichurri.

Serve from the hot skillet on a heat-proof surface, along with the bread and the chimichurri.

Alternatively, finish the cheese by putting it under the grill or in a hot oven.

Argentinians grill the provolone slices directly on the fire, but I was not willing to lose good cheese and deal with the resulting mess on my stove!

As soon as the provolone cools a bit, it gets a bit rubbery, but the cheese can be reheated.

Which is exactly what I did that evening when my girlfriend came over. I reheated it on the stove, and we kept eating it, and eating it. Until there wasn’t much left.

She really loved the addition of the chimichurri. I just loved the cheese with the oregano and cayenne pepper flakes.

Will I be making this again? Oh yes indeedy.

note: If you’d like more direction for making chimichurri, check out my recipe on the blog here.