Another Perfect Summer Dinner, Discovered

Recently I had a problem, which was that I had to cook dinner for the three of us and I really didn’t feel like it and, what’s more, I was determined to not go to the store to buy ingredients. In other words, whatever I came up with, it had to be done with whatever I might have in the house. Around mid-day I realized that if I was willing to put a little bit of effort into it, I did, in fact, have everything needed to make a tomato pie, which is a lovely summer meal.

So I resigned myself to the idea that, come five o’clock, I’d be assembling biscuit dough and then spending fifteen minutes assembling the pie and then I’d be baking it.

The one aspect of this that I was looking forward to was, I’d had the idea that instead of using the cheeses I usually put into tomato pie, I’d use the log of honey goat cheese that someone gave me a couple weeks ago. (It was part of a gift basket I received.) It seemed to me that if I made a pie with that cheese and thin slices of tomato and some red onion, it could be really very good.

But, while poking around online to see if anyone else had ever done something similar, I stumbled on a website that talked about a variant of what I had in mind, and it sounded so good, I thought, “Screw tomato pie.” The site I was on, Culinary Covers, listed this as a Tomato Scallion Shortcake, and apparently it’s really a Smitten Kitchen recipe. I’ve read the Smitten Kitchen cookbook and genuinely don’t remember this — though it is the lovely item shown on the cover of the book —  but it doesn’t matter. The basic idea was that you’d re-configure a shortcake so that instead of being a sweet dessert, it became a savory dish. This was so brilliant I was pissed at myself for not having thought of it (or noticed it as a good idea) years ago. I glanced at the Culinary Covers write up of the recipe. It looked to be pretty much the biscuit recipe I generally use, so once I had that taken care of, the rest of this was a snap.

This savory shortcake was so good my husband and I were actually surprised. Our first bites were a little skeptical, but by the end we were literally looking at the bowl that held the whipped “cream,” wishing there was more. The last time we had a home-cooking experience like this was the first time we made Cincinnati chili. “Weird,” we both said, at first bite. “I need MORE,” quickly followed. And Cincinnati chili has been a standard of ours ever since. I predict the same will happen with the savory shortcakes.

They’re not enough to serve on their own for dinner, sadly. So on the side, I served succotash (frozen corn, a little chopped onion, garlic, and fresh okra, cooked with a little hot sauce and some heavy cream; no one liked it but me, but that is totally okay, because I loved it), and a green salad (lettuce, pea shoots, vinaigrette, beloved by my family, primarily because it wasn’t succotash).

But let’s focus on the important thing here, which is those savory tomato biscuit things. Having done this once, I now know precisely how to do it even better the next time I do it, and there will be a next time.

The Important Part:

Biscuits with Sweet Whipped Goat Cheese, Tomato, and Red Onion

Start by doing two things:

1. Take a 4 oz. log of goat cheese out of the fridge. I used a honey goat cheese, but you could use a plain goat cheese and add your own honey to taste. The cheese needs time out of the fridge to soften. It’ll be perfect by the time you’re putting the biscuits in the oven.

2. Assemble biscuit dough. I usually like to make a very basic biscuit dough, because it’s easier than fiddling with bells and whistles. If you like bells and whistles, go for it. But the down and dirty basic biscuit means, you get a large bowl and blend in it, with a fork, about two cups of flour, 2-3 tablespoons baking powder, and about 3/4 tsp. salt. Before you get your hands dirty, and you will, pour into a measuring cup about 1 cup of milk. Clear a workspace where you can cut out biscuits; get a biscuit cutter out, and a rolling pin, and set them aside. Cut 5 tbs. of cold butter into smallish pieces and then drop them into the mixing bowl and with your fingers rub the butter into the flour mixture until it feels, as everyone always says, “like coarse meal.” You don’t want any large lumps of butter remaining. If it takes you a while to achieve this, then let the flour and butter rest in the fridge for a few minutes before proceeding. You want that stuff to be nice and cold before you proceed.

When you are assured that the flour/butter combination is not melty at all, then stir in the milk with a wooden spoon. Combine these ingredients and then when it’s pretty much a cohesive mound of dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured countertop. Give it a few kneads — not many — to make sure that there are no hidden pockets of dry flour in there, then roll out the biscuits and bake them in a 425° oven for about 13 minutes. Maybe you want your biscuit tops a little more golden, in which case, leave them in longer. I sprinkled the tops of these biscuits with parmesan cheese last night, which was great, but I now realize I should have brushed the biscuits with an egg wash first, and next time I hope to remember to do that.

The next thing you do, which is so easy it’s stupid, is you make the whipped goat cheese “topping.” You could do this by hand but I used my stand mixer because I could and because I knew I had to work on two other side dishes while the topping was coming together. Pour about 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream into the stand mixer, put on the whisk attachment, and make whipped cream. When it’s starting to form stiff peaks, add the softened goat cheese, and let it whip. If it seems a little dense to you, you can pour in some more cream. I suppose the consistency of the finished product is a matter of taste. I really enjoyed the idea of eating something that looked like regular whipped cream but had a trick up its sleeve, so I wanted it to be really fluffy and floppy, and I added a little cream as I went along — but start with 1/4 cup, not too much. I mean, you can always add more cream, but you can’t take it away.

Once that’s taken care of, get a spatula and transfer the whipped cheese into an attractive small serving bowl.

Slice, as thinly as you can, some really nice tomatoes and some red onion. “Paper thin” wouldn’t be out of line here.

When the biscuits are cooked to how you like them — they should be nice and tall, easily split — you make little sandwiches out of them. You can do closed or open faced, as you wish. Think of it as a clotted cream and strawberries or strawberry shortcake situation. What we did was, we slathered the whipped cheese onto the biscuits and then draped the sliced vegetables on top of them and then we gobbled it all up. The honeyed cheese and the red onion were fabulous together. If you made lots and lots of these biscuits, little bitty ones, you could serve them as an hors d’oeuvre at a nice dinner or at a cocktail party. But I think we’d rather have large biscuits and just turn into total hozzers and eat vast quantities of them all by ourselves. We’ll be doing this come Shabbat this week. If I can serve nachos at Shabbat — Shabachos, we call them — then I can damned well serve savory shortcakes. Amen.

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