For the Love of Cheese: Robiola

I’m starting a new series dedicated to cheese! – a great favorite of mine and my friends and family. As I write this, I just found out today that my cholesterol level is a bit too high, so I’m a bit bummed. There is no life without cheese! But I think I can manage, cutting back a bit, but enjoying it all the same.

From time to time I’ll write about a certain type of cheese, its provenance in Italy, the particular qualities it has, and of course, some recipes to consider. Some of these cheeses are a little hard to find outside of Italy, so I’ll give you some sites where  you can order online or provide you with some substitutes which work well in recipes.

I’m particularly fond of robiola and somewhat fascinated by it. As I peruse various Italian magazines and cookbooks, what is intended and used by cooks varies enormously. For most it is a soft, fresh cheese, such as Robiola Osella, with a consistency very much like a cross between a cream cheese and a chevre. Other forms of robiola such as Robiola Bosina or Robiola di Roccaverano Dop resemble a camembert with a soft interior and velvety  white rind.

The term “robiola” is derived from the Latin “rubeolus,” an adjective suggesting the “reddish” hue of the more seasoned form of the cheese. Some have also suggested the term comes from a town of Robbio in the province of Pavia in Lombardy. The term Dop means that the product is a Protected Designation of Origin, the real thing. You will will see the seal on many products, such as Parmigiano Reggiano,  from Italy.

Also known as “formaggetta,” the Robiola di Roccaverano comes from the town of the same name, Roccaverano, located in the eastern part of Piedmont, the Langhe, between Asti and Alessandria. This robiola made from cow and goat milk is produced year-round and has two forms, the fresh product which is soft and creamy and the dry seasoned one which has a hard, drier texture and rind. The dry form has a sharp flavor which grows more intense with age.

Many recipes in Italian magazines and online cooking sites call for the fresh robiola with the cream cheese texture. But this type is difficult to find, so I got into my head to try making it myself! I found a recipe through an Italian blogger https://www.laricettadimarco.com/2014/02/robiola-fatta-in-casa.html who offered a simple way to make the cheese at home. So this is what I came up with following his instructions and adapting it to US measurements.

Make-Your-Own Robiola

2 lbs. Non fat yogurt (I used the Straus brand as it is organic and free of additives). It is European style, so it is a bit runny.

1/2 tsp salt (or a large pinch)

1/2 tsp sugar (or a large pinch)

4 Tbl butter softened.

Add the salt and sugar to the yogurt and mix it well. Form a pouch with double folded cheesecloth. Gently pour the yogurt inside it . Tie the notch at the top and hang the pouch over a bowl in the refrigerator. I devised this crazy contraption like this:

Allow the cheese to sit in this way and drain for 18-24 hours. When you take it out of the cheescloth, it will look like this:

Now this is delicious as is; it will resemble and taste like a very thick yogurt. Then whip up 4-5 Tbl. softened butter and add to the cheese. Stir well and adjust the salt. It is now ready for use…to enjoy on crackers, or to make the following dish which inspired me to go down this path in the first place! I found this recipe in the May 2019 edition of Sale e Pepe and was intrigued.

Tortino di Crespelle ai Piselli Farcito Con Robiola

To make the crepes:

2 cups peas (frozen ok), cooked, drained and cooled

3/4 cup milk + 1/4  cup water

1 cup flour

3 eggs

2 tbl butter

In a food processor, use the pulse mechanism to break up the peas until they have the consistency of a paste. Then add the flour, the milk and water, the eggs, and salt. Continue to pulse until somewhat smooth; the peas will give the batter a bit of lumpiness. Allow the batter to rest for about a half hour. It will be thick, so when you begin to make the crepes, you can add a bit more milk as necessary. This recipe makes exactly 8 crepes.

To make the crepes, heat a shallow  8 inch (measure the bottom) non-stick pan at moderate temperature and lightly grease it with butter. With a soup ladle (that measures a little over a 1/4 of a cup), pour the batter onto the pan, swirl it into a light pancake coating the entire bottom of the pan. When the sides seem to brown slightly, flip the crepe. Cook briefly, then turn the crepe onto a towel paper. Prepare the other crepes in the same manner. You should end up with 8 crepes in all. Allow them to cool while you prepare the filling.

The filling

3 cups robiola  – You can use the recipe described above. Substitution:  You can try cream cheese mixed with chevre.  The Nicasio Valley brand cheese called Foggy Morning is very similar to robiola.

However, it is a bit pricey for only 6 oz. I have blended it with my homemade robiola to stretch it a bit.

Add a dash of pepper to the robiola, loosen it up a bit with milk if it seems too stiff. Place one crepe on an oven-proof plate, distribute the robiola over the crepe as if you were icing a cake, then repeat by placing another crepe on top of the other until you have used all eight. Leave the top layer free of cheese. Lightly trim the edges with a sharp knife so you can see the layers. Cover with foil and allow to rest in the fridge. Before serving, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees (I used my Breville oven) and place the tortino in the oven for 20 minutes. Decorate with some fresh basil; I also put a few slow-roasted cherry tomatoes to give it color. Cut into wedges and serve as a appetizer or light lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robiola has many uses from gracing a cheese board to being an excellent addition to crepes, cannelloni, pasta, or polenta. Try it in scrambled eggs, top a pizza, add a few dabs in a salad….drizzle with chili oil or fig confit. You won’t be disappointed with it freshness, its mild, yet tangy lightness.

Crepes “Cannelloni”

Ever thought about making cannelloni with crepes? And fill them with the zucchini or other vegetables that abound at this time? I have tinkered with different crepe recipes, some contain more egg and less flour, others use more flour to achieve a pancake-like texture. I have something in between that works well with the following recipes.

But first, the crepe recipe!

Crepe Batter (pastella per crepes)

Makes 12  (more or less!) crepes

Ingredients

1 cup flour (approximately)

2 eggs

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons butter

vegetable oil or butter for brushing on the pan

salt to taste

1. Place ¾ Cup flour in the bowl, add 3-4 tablespoons milk to wet the dough. Mix well and add the eggs one at a time, alternating with more milk. Watch the consistency of the batter, if you prefer it thinner – add more milk or thicker – add a little more flour. Melt the butter and add it to the batter, then the salt. Let it sit 30 minutes to an hour. This important step allows the flour to take action with the rest of the ingredients. The batter will thicken and form little bubbles  on top.

2. To make the crepes, use an 8 inch nonstick pan. Heat it until fairly warm and grease it by brushing vegetable lightly all over the surface. Ladle 2-3 tablespoons of batter in the center of the pan and start rotating the batter quickly around the entire bottom. Once the batter begins to brown slightly around the edges, with a spatula, gently flip the crepe. Give it a few seconds, then overturn the crepe onto a paper towel. Usually the first one turns out a mess, so don’t panic! The pan needs to adjust to the right amount of heat and oil. As you get going, making more crepes and getting into a rhythm, the process gets easier.

Here’s a not so perfect demonstration on how to make the crepes!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtsvRs5aGT8

If you notice, I greased the pan with butter, but a better way is to brush a little vegetable oil on the pan. Another better technique is to pour 2-3 tablespoons of batter in the center of the pan and then rotate it.

3. I make four crepes, then layer with a paper towel, make another four, and so on. At this point you can either freeze them or store them in a plastic bag or covered pyrex dish until ready to use.

The following recipe adapted from the Italian magazine Sale e Pepe turned out delicious and provides an easy way to use the zucchini you have in the garden.

I used yellow and green zucchini in the creamy filling for these crepes.
I used yellow and green zucchini in the creamy filling for these crepes.

Crepes “Cannelloni” with Zucchini and Leeks

Ingredients

8 crepes

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon flour

4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1-2 zucchini (depending on size), sliced in thin disks

1 leek, sliced thinly

1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated

3 thinly sliced prosciutto (optional)

salt and pepper

Method

1. Make the crepes and set aside.

2. The “besciamella” or white sauce. In a small saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter, add the flour and make a roux. Slowly add the milk and stir until smooth.  Cook the sauce for about five minutes stirring constantly as it bubbles softly.  Add salt to taste. Cool.

3. The filling. In a sauté’ pan, heat the rest of the butter and the olive oil. Add the leeks and cook briefly until slightly translucent. Add  the zucchini and cook for 7-8 minutes until tender. Add the besciamella, 3-4 tablespoons of parmigiano, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

4. Lay the crepes out on a board or counter top and distribute the filling evenly among them. Roll the crepes and place them seam side up in the buttered dish. Drizzle more melted butter over the crepes. Sprinkle with rest of the grated parmigiano.  (Optional)Sprinkle thinly sliced prosciutto for some extra flavor.

5. Bake in a  preheated 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.

“Cannelloni” Crepes with Spinach and Ricotta

Another recipe that works very well with crepes is to make a filling using spinach and ricotta. These “cannelloni” are delicious as a a “primo” (first course),  a main or side dish. And it is delicious for lunch the next day!

 

View of the crepes before adding the parmiggiano and baking.
View of the crepes before adding the parmiggiano and baking.

 

Ingredients 

1 lb. chopped frozen spinach

1/2 chopped onion

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 oz. ricotta (low fat is ok)

3/4 cup parmigiano reggiano

Method

1. Make the crepes and set aside.

2. For the filling, begin by dunking  the frozen spinach in salted boiling water, just enough to defrost it. Drain and cool. When cool enough to handle, grab a handful of the spinach and squeeze the water until a ball is formed in your hand. In a saucepan, saute’ the onion inthe butter and olive oil until slightly golden. Add the spinach and cook it briefly until the flavors blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cool.

3. In a bowl break up the ricotta with a spoon, add the spinach and more seasoning as needed. You may like to add a little nutmeg. I like to add a scant 1/2 teaspoon onion powder. Let the mixture to  sit a bit before filling the crepes.

4. Fill the crepes and place in a buttered pyrex dish seam down.

5. Optional: make a quick tomato sauce by dicing 3-4 tomatoes and sauteing them at high heat for five minutes in a saucepan with 1/2 cup chopped onion, 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add a little water  during the cooking process if the sauce gets too dry. Spoon the tomato sauce over the crepes, sprinkle with parmigiano and bake for 25-30 minutes in a 350 degree oven or until heated through and slightly browned on top.

Buon appetito!