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Say Cheese: A whey with manouri


Manouri combines with dill, lemon, zucchini and orzo to make a particularly spring-like dish. (Domenica Marchetti)

Greek manouri is a wonderful cheese with which to welcome spring. It is much milder and far less salty than its more famous, briny cousin, feta. But that doesn’t mean it lacks character.

White as a clean sheet snapping in the breeze, manouri is smooth and just firm enough to slice. It reminds me of a cross between a good sheep’s milk ricotta and its drier, saltier relation, ricotta salata. But it is distinct from either of those.

Recipe Included

Like ricotta, manouri is a whey cheese, which means it is made from the whey of sheep’s milk, or a mix of sheep’s milk and goat’s milk whey. Rich cream is also added, and the soft curds are collected, drained in bags and packaged in plastic as 6- to 8-pound cylinders, which are sold whole or in segments.

Manouri’s light aroma is slightly sour, similar to that of fresh yogurt, but it lacks yogurt’s (or feta’s) acidity. Instead, it has a clean, subtle nutty flavor with a bit of sheepiness and the barest hint of tang. What really elevates the cheese, though, is its texture.

Its smooth, buttery richness reminds me -- really -- of chocolate truffles. It just about melts on the tongue.

The lovely thing about manouri’s mild nature is that it can be used in all sorts of ways, in both savory and sweet preparations. For example, you can cut it into slices and top them with roasted peppers and onions for an appetizer. Or you can serve a wedge of it as dessert, alongside figs (or other fruit) poached in wine. Or you can use it as a filling for a savory or sweet cheese tart or pastry.

Not surprisingly, I thought immediately of the sharp, lemony flavors of dill and oregano upon tasting manouri, and so I decided to pair the three in a dish to celebrate spring’s arrival. I intended to make an herbed risotto but found I was out of rice, though I had a package of orzo pasta. So I made “orzotto,” using a (somewhat) similar technique to cook the starchy pasta as you would for classic risotto.

It took a couple of tries to get it right. The first time I added hot broth to the pasta a little at a time and stirred the orzo often; at the end of cooking I stirred in the manouri cheese. Although it tasted delicious, I found that the “orzotto” was too creamy, almost gluey; the cheese, meanwhile, broke down into tiny little curds that were never really integrated with the pasta.

On take 2, I added the broth to the pasta all at once and let it simmer, stirring it once in awhile to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot but taking care not to overdo it. Instead of stirring the cheese into the “orzotto,” I crumbled it on top just before serving time. As the heat from the pasta warmed the manouri, the cheese became soft, almost custard-like, making my little paean to spring even nicer than I had hoped.

-- Domenica Marchetti
(Follow me on Twitter.)


(Domenica Marchetti)

Herbed 'Orzotto' With Manouri for Spring
4 to 6 side-dish servings

This dish is less labor-intensive than classic risotto, as it involves a shorter cooking time and, even better, a lot less stirring. Orzo, a long, rice-shaped pasta, is available at most supermarkets and gourmet shops.

Make this delicately flavored dish as an accompaniment for roast chicken or lamb and grilled sausages.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white or yellow onion, minced (1/4 cup)
8 ounces dried orzo pasta
1 rounded tablespoon chopped fresh herbs, such as a combination of dill and oregano, plus a pinch extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
3 to 4 cups homemade or low-sodium chicken broth, heated to barely bubbling (may substitute vegetable broth)
Freshly ground black pepper
Zest of 1 lemon (at least 2 teaspoons)
1 small zucchini, trimmed then shredded (3/4 to 1 cup)
4 ounces manouri cheese, broken into large crumbles, for garnish

Heat the butter and oil in a medium, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, until the butter has melted.

Add the onion and cook for about 3 minutes, until it begins to soften, then add the orzo, the tablespoon of herbs and the salt, stirring to coat the pasta evenly. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring often, until some of the grains begin to look and smell slightly toasted.

Slowly add 3 cups of the broth, stirring gently. Reduce the heat to medium-low; partially cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is almost tender and most of the broth has been absorbed. The consistency should be a little soupy; add up to 1 cup of broth, as needed.

Grind some pepper over the pasta (to taste), then add the lemon zest and zucchini, stirring to incorporate. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring, until the zucchini is bright green. Taste and adjust salt as needed. The pasta should be tender yet still holds its shape.

Ladle the orzotto into a serving bowl and crumble the cheese on top. Sprinkle with the remaining chopped herbs and serve.

Per serving (based on 6): 210 calories, 7 g protein, 30 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 470 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  March 23, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Recipes , Say Cheese  | Tags: Domenica Marchetti, Say Cheese, cheese  
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