Watermelon Pecorino Salad

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It’s been a long time since I’ve purchased a cookbook. I’m a little embarrassed at how many I own, although I do use them. So I promised myself I’d wait a while. And then there it was.

I was in a cute shop while on vacation, and the cookbook practically screamed at me. The cover was beautiful, but I’m not one to only judge books by their covers. Especially with how sophisticated food styling and photography have become.

But this book was a little different in that there was cheese in the cover photo, which always gets my attention! And right there were two of my favorites – Humboldt Fog, bottom left, and a Foja de Noce wrapped in walnut leaves, top left, a Pecorino that I discovered from the last cheese book I purchased. In any case, I couldn’t resist the book, called “The Cheesemonger’s Seasons.”
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The recipes are “cheese-centric” and range from appetizers to desserts, but what I liked most that there are four chapters – Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. That’s my kind of book!

So after I returned home, I perused the summer chapter of the cookbook, and that’s when I saw this salad. A very simple one that includes watermelon (check), Pecorino (check), white balsamic vinegar (check), and mint (check). I could make it the following day!
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The salad is simple yet exquisite. It would be a wonderful first course to a summer meal. Also, if all of the major components were skewered, they would make fabulous hors d’oeuvres, drizzled with white or regular balsamic vinegar.

Watermelon with Pecorino Stravecchio and White Balsamic Vinegar
from The Cheesemonger’s Seasons

One 1-lb chunk ripe watermelon
2 ounces Pecorino Stravecchio or other aged sheep’s-milk cheese*
1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon thinly sliced fresh mint
Freshly cracked black pepper

Remove the rind from the watermelon and cut the flesh into 1/2″ cubes, or use a small melon baller to make same-size balls.


Place the watermelon in a medium bowl. Cut the Pecorino into 1/4″ cubes, or break it into rougher chunks about half the size of the watermelon pieces.

Add the cheese to the watermelon and toss with the vinegar, mint, and a few grindings of pepper.


Divide among individual plates or cordial glasses and serve immediately.
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I personally think Parmesan or Manchego would work just as well as a Pecorino and more cheese needs to be used than what is shown in my photos. This is probably not the fault of the recipe, I just wasn’t going to eat a whole watermelon! (My husband wont eat vinegar.)

Although the cubed cheese looks pretty, smaller crumbles would work better. This salad, I feel, is about the combination of the watermelon and Parmesan, not alternating one bite of each.
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I also ended up using a lot more balsamic vinegar in my salad, but in any case the salad was delicious and refreshing!

note: I love this cookbook but I have two issues with it. One is the index, and the other is the lack of photos. I prefer to have a photo with each dish in order to see it plated.

Foja de Noce

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When the holidays are approaching most all cooks and bakers I know begin thinking about festive treats and Christmas cookies. But not me. I think cheese. I begin collecting Gruyère for pasta, Fontina for savory tarts, Reblochon for potatoes, Époisses for hors d’oeuvres, and raclette and fondue cheeses for special feasts with family and friends.

Thanks to reading blogs, about food, of course, I recently came across one called Di Bruno Bros. From the blog I discovered their website, simply called dibruno.com.

The Di Bruno story is a typical one from 1930, with 2 Italian brothers moving from Italy to Philadelphia via Ellis Island. There they opened the successful Di Bruno Bros. grocery store, but in 1965 the store became primarily a cheese shop. Eventually the sons and other Di Bruno relatives took over the business, and they expanded the products with international gourmet items, and opened new store locations.

Also because of the blog, I discovered and ordered the cookbook Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese – a guide to wedges, recipes, and pairings. The author is Tenaya Darlington, who also blogs as Madame Fromage.

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Because of where I live, I have to be my own cheesemonger. My local grocery store does a decent job, but they’re not going to put out cheeses that the bulk of the population won’t buy. So I make purchases when I travel, and order online a lot, as much as my diet allows. French cheeses are my favorites overall, but the world of artisanal cheeses in the US has really grown, which is a fabulous trend.

So the book appealed to me because cheeses are described in delightful prose. I love the names of the chapters, such as ‘The Quiet Ones,” “Vixens” and “The Stinkers.” But also there are recipes associated with some of the cheeses, provided by the Di Bruno Bros. kitchen, and also notes from their professional cheesemongers. So what’s not to love!

All of my favorite cheeses that I mentioned above are in this book, but I also love that they wrote about two of my favorite American cheeses. One is an old standby for my family – Humboldt Fog by Cypress Grove Chèvre, and a recent discovery – Red Hawk by Cowgirl Creamery.

In the introduction, the author writes, quoting a cheesemaker, that “making a cheese with pasteurized milk is like trying to bake a cake with hard-boiled eggs.” Love it.

To get to the point of this post, one cheese in the book especially caught my attention – Foja de Noce – an Italian sheep’s milk cheese that I’d never heard of. It’s wrapped in walnut leaves and aged in mountain caves. Drinks suggested for pairing include Barolo, a pint of amber, or Scotch ale. Hmmmm.

Here is the cheese. It’s a Pecorino, and has a delightful flavor, similar to an aged Manchego. To quote the author, which will give you an idea of her writing style, “it has all the primal whomp of a nutty, aged sheep’s milk cheese, and yet there is so much more going on: a lazy kind of sweetness, a buttery stealth that lingers, a dreamy, woodsy depth.”

The recipe using this cheese was intriguing to me because it’s a tapenade which not only contains olives, which is to be expected, but made with Foja de noce and smoked almonds. I’ve posted on tapenade before on the blog, and I’ve only been familiar with olive-heavy tapenades. So i knew i just had to make it. It was a good excuse to try the cheese, besides.

I’m typing the recipe as it’s written, but please take note below on my changes.

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Sicilian Olive and Smoked Almond Tapenade
from Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese

1/4 pound Foja de Noce, grated (I crumbled)
1/3 cup smoked almonds (I’m assuming whole almonds)
1/3 cup dry-cured Sicilian olives*, pitted
1 small garlic clove
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor.
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Puree until the mixture is finely chopped, about the consistency of pesto. This photo shows the tapenade on its way to become pesto-like in consistency.
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You may need to add a couple tablespoons of water if the paste is too thick. Because I most likely used more olives, no extra liquid was required (see note). Covered, this tapenade will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

The author suggest serving the tapenade with pita crisps or baguette rounds, and also suggests using it as a spread in a sandwich. Delicious.

I served the tapenade with browned flatbread triangles.
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The recipe states that Pecorino or Parmesan could replace the Foja de Noce.
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* I used Castelvetrano olives, which aren’t dry cured, but they’re the only Sicilian olives I could get my hands on.

note: I’m not going to rant (again) on poorly written recipes, but honestly, 1/3 cup of olives? About four olives fit into my measuring cup and so I gave up and decided to pit them first, then I weighed out 3 ounces. It perhaps wasn’t quite the right ratio, but the end result was delicious nonetheless. The rest of the recipe I followed exactly, because I was so intrigued with the ingredients, especially the smoked almonds and honey.

verdict: I will make this. Over and over again. It’s my new favorite spread.

Gratin Fun

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Can you have fun creating a gratin? Absolutely yes! Because there are no rules. It’s just a matter of using what you have on hand.

We all know and love rich, creamy potato gratins, but during the summer months, it’s fun and easy to create your own customized gratin using your garden vegetables or those from a farmer’s market. And because summer veggies are more watery than potatoes, no cream is required.

A gratin isn’t absolutely necessary, but sometimes you get tired of roasting and grilling and steaming. A gratin just provides a slightly fancier layered dish that is delicious. Plus you can add cheese, so it’s definitely a different kind of win-win vegetable dish.

Today I had a lot of summer squash and zucchini, so that’s what made me decide to make a gratin. This gratin is not seasoned to speak of, because I served it with some grilled chicken breasts topped with my home-made pesto (which contains no cheese). So I left things simple so the wonderful ripe vegetables could shine. Here you go…

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Squash Gratin

Squash, sliced thinly with a mandolin
2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
3 ounces sliced pancetta
6 ounces grated cheese of choice, I used pecorino
Salt and Pepper

Choose a dish, preferably a relatively deep baking dish. It can be square or round, it doesn’t matter. Then pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Begin adding the zucchini and summer squash rounds to the dish in a layer. Season with salt and pepper.

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Then add the slices of one tomato. Season with salt and pepper again. Add some of the grated cheese. In my case, I just happened to have some buffalo mozzarella left over, so I used that. Anything that melts well and will help hold the layers together will work.

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Continue with the remaining zucchini and squash, and tomato slices. Then top everything with the pancetta. Pancetta is completely unnecessary, but I thought would add some nice flavor to the vegetables.

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Then top with the remaining cheese.

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Bake the dish covered with foil for 45 minutes. Then remove the foil and continue baking for about 15 minutes. It should look like this:

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Now, there will be water in the bottom of the baking dish from the vegetables. You can either let everything cool and then carefully pour off the water, or, use a baster like you would use for your turkey, and remove the water from around the edges and discard. This is just inevitable because of the amount of water that is in vegetables. But this is also why no cream is required to make this kind of gratin!

Because of the water issue, your gratin will shrink, as well. So when you make it, try to get it to the top of the baking dish as much as you can. If you’re concerned about overflow, place the baking dish on a cookie sheet or jelly-roll pan first.

To serve this gratin, you can dish it out with a spoon like my husband did when I wasn’t looking, or slice it into pretty wedges.

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So hopefully I’ve inspired you to make your own vegetable gratin. You can layer the vegetable slices with sautéed onion rings for more flavor if you wish, and of course you can season with herbs of choice. You could even brush individual layers with pesto, and dot them with sun-dried tomatoes! It really doesn’t matter what you do – trust me, it will work!