Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Provençal Herb-Marinated Zucchini & Goat Cheese Rolls

Last night I taught a class featuring some of my favorite foods from the South of France. One of the things I included in the class was a delicate and simple little goat cheese and zucchini roll inspired by an hors d'oeuvre I was served while I was working in Provence. As with most of the recipes I taught in last night's class, these rolls are not particularly speedy to make. They are a bit of a process—taking some advance planning and a willingness to do some detail work. But if you (like me) think that preparing something beautiful and delicious for your friends and family is a worthwhile way to spend your time, then I think you will like this recipe.

The original version of this hors d'oeuvre was made with a soft, fresh Provençal cheese called Brousse. Brousse can be made from sheep's milk or goat's milk. In texture it falls somewhere between ricotta and the soft goat cheeses widely available in the U.S. You could make these hors d'oeuvres with a very firm fresh ricotta (they would be exceptional made with your own fresh homemade ricotta), or you can use the slightly firmer soft goat cheese. Because it is readily available, when I teach these zucchini rolls in my classes, I use a soft goat cheese.

To make the rolls, first let the goat cheese come to room temperature so that it will be soft enough to allow for easy incorporation of any seasonings you might like to add. I think it is best to keep these additions simple and to a minimum—the goat cheese is the star. I almost always add a small amount of garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt. For last night's class I stirred in a bit of lemon zest. It was delicious. You could also add some herbs, but I find this to be unnecessary since there is an abundance of herbs in the marinade. No matter what you add, don't forget to add some freshly cracked black pepper....and salt, too—depending on the saltiness of the cheese you use.

The zucchini used to make these rolls should be chosen with care. They should be small—about four ounces each. Small zucchini will have a less developed seed cavity and will have denser flesh than large ones. These characteristics will make it easier to slice the zucchini thinly. The zucchini should also be straight and of as even a thickness as possible from top to bottom. Finally they should be long and opposed to short and thick. Long, thin, straight zucchinis of uniform thickness will provide a perfect "ribbon" for wrapping the little cylinders of cheese.

These zucchini and goat cheese rolls are very nice served as a passed appetizer. If they are small, they may be speared with small skewers and placed on a platter. You could also set out little plates and forks if you don't like the idea of skewers. But the appetizer tray is only one way to serve these rolls. They are also quite nice when served as a garnish to a simple green salad. If served this way, they could be made slightly larger—more of a knife and fork size. To serve them, arrange two or three on a plate and add a fluff of lightly dressed greens...perhaps with a lemony vinaigrette....maybe garnished with an olive or two....and some toasted walnuts.... No matter how you serve them, I hope you will agree that they are worth that little extra bit of time.

Herb-Marinated Zucchini & Goat Cheese Rolls

1/3 to 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive oil
Minced Fresh Thyme, Basil and Parsley (be as generous as you like with the herbs)
Salt and Pepper
6 to 8 oz. Soft Goat Cheese, room temperature
1 small clove Garlic, smashed to a puree with a pinch of salt
zest of 1/4 of a large (or 1/2 of a small) lemon—not too much
2 small Zucchini (about 4 oz. each)

Combine the olive oil, herbs and salt and pepper to taste in a shallow dish. Set aside.

Smash the cheese, garlic and zest together with a fork or wooden spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

If you have time, chill the goat cheese so it will be a bit easier to manipulate. Form into small "fingers". I prefer them to be about 1 1/2- by 1/2-inch in size and each weighing about 1/3 of an ounce (10 grams)—at this size, you will get 18 to 24 "fingers".

Chill until ready to wrap with the zucchini (again, the firmer the cheese is at this point, the easier it will be to wrap).

Slice zucchini lengthwise in very thin slices using a mandolin.

Blanch briefly in boiling salted water. Do not overcook—the goal is to make the zucchini pliable, not “cook” it—it will take less than 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl of ice water and then lay the slices out on a few thickness of paper towels. Blot with a couple of thicknesses of paper towels to dry the slices as much as possible. Toss with some of the herb and oil mixture.

Lift the zucchini slices out of the herb and oil mixture, one at a time, gently running the length of the slice between two fingers as you do. This will remove any excess oil back into the container of herb oil. As you work, lay the slices of zucchini out in front of you—as many as your work surface will comfortably allow. Place one of the goat cheese fingers at the end of each slice. Roll up the goat cheese in the dressed zucchini slices, wrapping as snugly as you are able without smashing the cheese. Repeat until all of the goat cheese fingers are wrapped.

Place the zucchini rolls in a shallow dish and drizzle more of the olive oil/herb mix over. Cover and let marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature. Makes 18 to 24 pieces.

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