There is a brunch restaurant in Athens, Greece, called Different Beast,which might be the cosiest place in town. It is owned and run by Evita and Alex, a wonderful young couple, who, if one is to judge from the space they have created and the way they treat you, are two of the warmest people around.
We frequently visit it with my girlfriends, especially on our Ladies’ Night out, every other Friday. The main reason, beyond the unique ambience and the elaborate cocktails, is this dish, in which we will indulge on cold winter nights. In a tiny pan, wrapped in parchment paper lies a wheel of Camembert cheese, melted to perfection and topped with a spoonful of raisins and orange chutney. On the side, some slices of jamón carefully folded and half a dozen blistered tiny padrón peppers. The vessels which will deliver all this goodness to your mouth, are some artisanal breadsticks. And a generous pile of seriously good sourdough bread slices, toasted, with gentle drizzles of olive oil and a few sprinkles of oregano and sea salt.
We always follow the same ritual , which is a warm-up conversation, after having our cocktails served, and while waiting for our order to arrive. When the camembert lands in front of us, we grab our forks and dive in. And by bite number four or bite number five, our souls have unfolded, the conversation flows, we loosen up and we dissolve into giggles. As the hours rush by, the load each one of us may bear begins to lighten. By the end of the evening, we say goodnight feeling relaxed and connected.
Engaging in rituals with people we love is one of the most nourishing foods for the soul. But when at the same time one shares a splendid meal, it becomes something more. It exceeds the usual levels of serotonin our bodies produce when we are happy and makes us see the world though a prism of deep pleasure. Always treat yourself with the presence of people you adore and accompanied by wonderful food. Booze is welcome too, though complementary.
Melted Camembert à la Different Beast
This is the perfect starter for four to six people, if your guests have to wait till food is served. It also serves as a wonderful meal for two, if you want to treat yourself and your other half with something special. Make the chutney and blistered peppers ahead and leave them at room temperature. Then you will have all the time to light some candles and engage in each other while the camembert bakes in the oven.
For the whole composition you will need:
- A wheel of camembert cheese (choose a good quality; poorer quality ones are resistant to melting)
- Raisins and orange chutney (recipe follows)
- 4-6 padrón peppers (instructions follow)
- 6-8 prosciutto / jamón slices
- A handful of artisanal breadsticks
- Slices of sourdough bread, toasted and sprinkled with fleur de sel and some extra virgin olive oil
Step 1 – Prepare the raisin and orange chutney
- 75 gr / 2.7 ounces / ½ cup raisins
- 75 gr / 2.5 fluid ounces / 75 ml apple cider vinegar
- 30 gr / 1 ounce / 1/3 cup sugar (dark muscovado sugar works best here, but you can use whatever sugar you have handy)
- ¼ teaspoon ground coriander (spice)
- Peel of half an orange (use a vegetable peeler)
- Juice of 1 orange
- Pinch of salt
Put all the above ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium to high heat. When it starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10-12 minutes. Keep stirring with a silicone spatula till the juices thicken and most of the water has evaporated.
It is ready when the juices sizzle and a nice, neat path is left as you slowly scrape the bottom of the pan with the spatula.
Preparing in advance:
It can be made several hours in advance and kept at room temperature. The syrup thickens as it sits, so if you are planning to make in advance and use later, prefer to leave the syrup at a more fluid consistency than if you are using right away.
It makes double the quantity you will need, but if you make less it is difficult to control the cooking time. The remainders can be stored in the refrigerator for 8-10 days and used as an extra topping for your salad.
Step 2 – Blister the padrón peppers
On a pan over medium to high heat pour a tablespoonful or two of olive oil. When it is hot, put the peppers carefully in the pan. Leave them to brown on all sides for 1-2 minutes, resisting the urge to move them around. The whole process will probably take no more than 6-7 minutes. Do not wait for them to look fully cooked and wilted. They will start to wilt as soon as they are removed from the heat. Carefully place on a plate, sprinkle with fleur de sel and leave to cool to room temperature.
Preparing in advance:
These can be made several hours in advance and left at room temperature.
Step 3 – Bake the Camembert cheese
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / Gas 4 (fan oven 160C)
Remove the plastic wrap from the camembert, score a deep cross on top of the cheese. Place on parchment paper and fold it loosely. Place it in a small baking pan and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes.
For the most detailed article on baking camembert, follow the link on the bottom of the post.
Step 4 – Assemble
If you haven’t toasted the sourdough bread, do it now. Sprinkle with flour de sel and some extra virgin olive oil
On a small wooden serving plate (the one I use is 28cm x 18 cm / 11” x 7’’ ) place the camembert. Top it with two spoonfuls of the raisin chutney. Next place the blistered peppers and the neatly folded prosciutto / jamón slices. Finally, arrange the breadsticks and the toasted bread and serve.
click here for Alternative toppings for the camembert:
3-4 spoonfuls of marmalade (or jam) mixed with 2 tablespoons of water (or brandy) and a squeeze of orange juice (or lemon). Warm in a small saucepan and serve.
When selecting jam, opt for an acidic choice which will counteract the fatty richness of the cheese. Lovely acidic choices which pair well are berry jams like blueberry, forest fruit or raspberry jam.
Orange marmalade works well too, if you are into bitter flavours.
You can always put the topping on the side in case one is not inspired by the idea of cheese paired with jam.
For a full insight in the secrets of camembert baking, read this wonderful article by The Petite Cook