Until last night, I had never made a cheese ball. Surprising, oui. I have the Midwestern roots but not the epicure. Then, Amanda Hesser came to town with her Essential New York Times Cookbook, and the stars aligned. I had to make a cheese ball for Amanda Hesser.
I was a little nervous. I have been reading her work in The Times since she started, back when I was working as an x-ray librarian in a subterranean world...before I fell into journalism, before I began cruising cheese counters. I wanted this to be a disco cheese ball, an interplanetary wonder. I even considered making a whole solar system of little cheese balls.
Instead, I stuck to the plan: Make a recipe from The New York Times. Take it to a blogger party. Stay cool. Don’t act like a kooky groupie.
Poopy. I hate decorum.
The cheese ball recipe I picked turned out to be from Amanda's mother – with some updates. It contains a lot of lemon, some toasted spices, three kinds of cheese, and a pistachio jacket. It was a breeze to concoct.
While it chilled (2 hours), I floated through Hesser’s new book, hovering over recipes for Shallot Pudding and Hot Cheese Olives. One recipe calls for blood oranges, dates, arugula, and thin sheets of shaved Parm. I have that one marked – it sounds perfect for a rooftop picnic. I am also titillated by Caramelized Onion & Quark Dip.
Oh, Amanda, (blink, blink) you like quark!
Not surprisingly, many recipes made the dog and me drool. The book is heavier than a ham hock – more than 900 pages – which might sound like overkill, but when you find yourself lost in the head note for Welsh Rarebit, you’ll be glad the author didn’t skimp on words. Or leave out the recipe for Julia Harrison Adams’s Pimento Cheese Spread.
Three dishes of it appeared at the potluck. Along with Amanda, who arrived wearing a giant fur hat, an interplanetary fur hat. I do not exaggerate when I say she looked like a cheese ball with cricket legs.
Here, she is, sans hat…
Like any woman of grace, she ate a little of everything and declared it all delicious, from the three versions of pimento spread to the cheese straws to my lowly cheese ball rolled in pistachios.
Many thanks to Foodinjars.com and Doris and Jilly Cook for hosting a marvelous fete. It gave me the chance to make the cheese ball of my dreams.
Amanda Hesser’s Cheese Ball with Cumin, Mint, and Pistachios
This recipe appears on p. 85 of The Essential New York Times Cookbook. Be sure to use fresh spices, and don’t skimp on the lemon zest.
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temp
4 oz. goat cheese, at room temp
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano, preferably Fulvi
1 teaspoon toasted, ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin seeds
½ cup finely sliced celery heart with leaves
1/3 cup chopped mint
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup salted pistachios, coarsely ground
Very thin plain crackers, for serving
1. Beat the cream cheese and goat cheese in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Add lemon juice and zest. Fold in Pecorino Romano, coriander, cumin, celery, mint, and pepper. Season to taste with salt.
2. Lay a large piece of plastic wrap across the counter, and spoon cheese mixture onto it. Wrap tightly and chill for 2 hours or overnight.
3. Dice pistachios. Roll cheese ball in the nuts until covered.
4. Chill cheese ball for up to 2 days. Serve at room temperature.