Rustic is not a bad word

I always have to be so careful in France and Italy when describing my style of food not to use the word rustic.  What I consider a badge of honor, an homage to simplicity and restraint, they consider pejorative.  They always suggest the words country or simple but in English those words don’t really express what I want to convey.

To me rustic means simple and basic with a large dose of soulfulness.  It doesn’t mean sloppy or careless.  In fact, my style of cooking, relying so strongly on few ingredients and simple techniques is the antithesis of sloppy or careless.  The fewer ingredients you use, the more the quality of the raw material matters.  Pristine, perfectly sourced and carefully handled ingredients produce a purity of flavor that is frequently masked when too many components or techniques are utilized. 

I have three basic rules that define my style of cooking.
      1)   Buy the best, freshest ingredients you can find and get out of the way. 
     2)   Practice restraint.  Use as few ingredients as possible.  (Why use 4 when 3 will do?)
     3)   Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. 
          Complicated techniques for technique’s sake are meaningless and rarely enhance flavor.

You can call this rustic.  You can call it simple.  In the end, I just call it Wine Table cooking.  This is how I cook.  It is how my winemaker friends cook and it pairs wonderfully with wine.

Bacon Wrapped Goat Cheese

Bacon Wrapped Goat Cheese

Bacon Wrapped Goat Cheese 

I adore this dish.  It’s kind of unusual but super good—the meatiness of the bacon, tartness of the goat cheese and fragrant herbaceaousness of the rosemary complement each other very well and the crunch and tannins of the walnut morsels are a nice addition to the dish.  With only five ingredients (I don’t count salt or pepper in my ingredient tally) and easy preparation it still manages to taste complex and soulful—rusticity at its finest.

Yield:  Serves 6 as appetizers
Wine pairing:  Pouilly Fumé
Difficulty: Easy

2 each Le Chevrot goat cheese
12 slices thick-sliced applewood smoked bacon
1/2 cup walnut pieces
6 sprigs fresh rosemary
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper

What you’ll need:
Sheet tray

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time:  10 minutes

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Parcook the bacon slices just long enough to melt the fat and make them supple, approximately 3 minutes. 

Toast the walnuts in the same oven for approximately 5 minutes.  Be careful not to burn them. 

Slice each Le Chevrot cheese in three even rounds. Lay two slices of bacon on a cookie sheet in the shape of an X.  Place one of the rounds of cheese in the center of the X of bacon.  Drizzle the cheese with a little bit of olive oil, top with a few morsels of walnuts and a grind of black pepper.  Fold the bacon over the cheese and close it using the rosemary sprig as a skewer.  Repeat the process with all of the cheese rounds.  This may be done ahead of time.

Raise the oven temperature to 450° F. 

Place the tray holding the cheese bundles in the oven.  Heat until the bacon is crispy and the cheese is just starting to ooze out the side.  Be careful not to cook it until the cheese melts completely.  Remove the tray from the oven.

Serve it warm on individual plates or arranged on a rustic wooden cutting board with crusty French bread and garnished with a lightly dressed watercress salad.

Difficulty:  Easy
Sourcing: Moderate

Note:  Although I find Le Chevrot fairly easily in Washington, it may not be readily available everywhere.  If you cannot find Le Chevrot you may substitute any firm bloomy rind goat cheese.  The key is that the cheese portion of the dish should be about ¾ of an inch high and about 2-1/2 inches across.