While visiting Meg, my wife and I took a trip to Amsterdam.
We'd been warned that Dutch food and food in Amsterdam was somewhere from iffy to terrible. I was a bit surprised that there were so many Belgian fries with mayonnaise shops. Once we put the presence of semi-legal marijuana into the mix, we understood how all the fry shops stayed in business.
But this first bar/restaurant we ate at (and the name of which I've misplaced) had three very nice vegetarian dishes. The first was a spicy lentil soup, the second was a pumpkin and zucchini risotto with mint, and the third was a version of this dish which was best of all.
A simple vegetable stew of tomatoes, spinach, and cannelini beans with herbs support fried wedges of delicious cheese. The original recipe used two big wedges of Manchego cheese, a Spanish sheep's milk cheese. I decided to put the Dutch back into this recipe by frying smaller wedges of a Fresh Gouda we purchased for next to nothing in Amsterdam and brought back to the States.
You'll love the stew as is, but the cheese sets it off perfectly and adds just the right amount of salt and fat to a deliciously healthy base.
Fried Cheese with Spinach, Tomatoes, and Cannellini Beans serves 3-4
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes, drained of loose liquid
1 28 oz. can diced organic tomatoes, drained well.
1 lb fresh spinach
2 14 oz. cans cannelini beans, drained well
2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
1 teapsoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
salt and pepper to taste
4 1/2 - 9 oz. firm but not hard cheese (I used Gouda, the original is Manchego), cut into 1/2 - 1 oz wedges.
1/2 cup vegetable oil for frying
1 cup bread crumbs, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten
You can use other cheeses for this recipe, but try to use a firm, but not hard cheese. Parmesan would not work for this recipe. Gruyere or a firm Swiss might. Mozarella and Ricotta or Brie have too much moisture and not enough backbone for this preparation, in my humble opinion.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the tomatoes and beans and as much of the spinach as you can get in comfortably. Stir occasionally. As the spinach wilts, add more until you have all 16 oz of the stuff in the pot and wilted.
Add the herbs and salt and pepper. Stir well. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Turn the oven on to 150 F an place a cookie sheet on a center rack.
Heat the oil in a medium skillet. You should have about 1/8" oil in the skillet. When you see just the barest wisps of smoke, it's ready.
HAVE A FIRE EXTINGUISHER APPROPRIATE FOR GREASE FIRES READY AND KNOW HOW TO USE IT. You probably won't need it, but if you do, you'll thank me.
Put the eggs in one bowl, the crumbs in the next bowl. Using just one hand, pick up a wedge of cheese. Place it in the egg and coat the wedge well. Place the wedge in the bread crumbs and coat well using just the one hand.
Touch the edge of the wedge to the oil. If it sizzles, the oil is ready. Place the cheese wedge carefully in the shallow oil. You may tilt the pan if you wish to get more oil around the sides of the cheese.
Once the bottom is brown (it'll only take about 15-20 seconds, flip the wedge with tongs or a spatula and fry the other side. If the fattest edge of the wedge never gets into the oil, stand it up after teh second side is done, and fry the fat side down. Remove from the pan to the cookie sheet in the oven which will keep the cheese warm as you repeat with all 9 wedges.
If the oil is too cold, it will take much longer to get the golden brown color. Adjust heat upwards. If the oil is too hot, the cheese will go dark ebony brown almost immediately. Adjust the heat down and add a little more oil to cool the oil in the pan. Be careful when adding the oil. Do it off the flame, away from any source of ignition.
Using a slotted spoon, serve out a good sized portion of the stew to each person and place 2-3 wedges of fried cheese on top of the vegetable mix.
Serve with a good Belgian or Dutch beer.