Sheep's milk custard, red wine kale, and some nice dates

January 29, 2007, 12:11 AM

This really ought to be made for two.

Of course, I'm on my own right now, so that doesn't quite work out. But that's no reason to eat like a prisoner. After all, self-indulgence is its own reward.

This weekend, I somehow developed an inexplicable urge to eat some kind of sheep's milk cheese.

It started yesterday, when I remembered I still had a couple of quince I needed to use up. I had more than I actually needed for an infused vodka I started last week, so I boiled the remaining quince with sugar and water to caramelization, added additional water and lemon juice, and pureed everything into a flavorful, smooth sauce.

As soon as I tasted it, for reasons I can't possibly explain or understand, I immediately thought I'd like to have some sheep's milk cheese with that sauce.

Somehow this urge was transformed into a craving for a sort of savory cheesecake or custard.

I found some nice manouri cheese, which has a texture similar to cream cheese but is made from a blend of sheep’s and goat’s milk. I blended this with grated Bellwether Farms San An Shee and an egg. Freshly grated nutmeg added a bit more magic, but no salt was needed, since the cheeses were already both a bit salty.

The ideal vessel in which to bake these “cheesecakes” would probably be a tiny springform pan or a custard cup, but the smallest springform pan I have is still way too wide. In retrospect, I could have used my non-stick mini-muffin pans, but I chose to hand shape the cheese into small rounds, and baked them free-form on a Silpat mat. Fortunately, nothing tragic happened.

Whipping the mixture with a blender would probably produce a lighter, smoother texture, but I was in the mood for something a bit more rustic.

I served the finished custard, embedded with a parmesan crisp, atop roasted thin golden beet slices, and spooned some of the quince sauce over the top. It’s nice with lightly dressed escarole and radicchio.

Winter makes me want to eat dark leafy greens, so I accompanied this with some garlic sauteed kale, simmered with vinegar and red wine. The pleasingly tangy kale still had a hint of crispness.

Two dates stuffed with pepadew-studded soft chevre provide a sweet-savory distraction from the saltier custard.

Along some nice multigrain Macrina bread and an oregano-seasoned lentil soup, it was very satisfying.