This spring will be 10 years since I first moved to Chicago after college, and lately I’ve found myself thinking back to those early days in the city. Settling into a new job and my first apartment, trying to make new friends, figuring out the wonderful world of the CTA … truth be told, it was a strange, angsty time, but also fun and exciting.
For one thing, there was a whole new world of food to explore. And while many of my discoveries weren’t particularly noteworthy and consisted of questionable burritos, “killer margaritas” and candy-laden frozen yogurt, I also started to expand my culinary horizons a bit.
I paid a visit to the neighborhood cheese shop to buy my first piece of big girl cheese, wrapped in paper and everything. I ventured beyond Pad Thai at my favorite local Thai place, had my first taste of Ethiopian food and tried this new thing called “tapas” that everyone was talking about. OK, it had probably been a dining sensation for a while already, but I’d spent the previous four years living on cafeteria food and Taco Bell, so to me, it was a revelation. Tiny plates filled with rich, delicious food and big pitchers of sangria – what was not to love?
One of my favorite dishes was baked chèvre in marinara served with garlic bread – a classic. It’s a great dish to recreate at home with a Raclette grill. The garlic bread toasts on the grill while sliced chèvre is warmed in tangy marinara sauce underneath. If you’re feeling a little romantic or just generally adorable, you can cut the chèvre into little heart shapes.
In fact, the Raclette grill could be the star of a whole tapas-themed Valentine’s Day dinner at home. Alongside your chèvre & marinara, why not serve dates wrapped in prosciutto and use the Raclette grill top to crisp them? Make a pan of garlicky shrimp in olive oil (don’t skimp on the red chile flakes) and keep it warm on the grill as you eat. Add a simple arugula salad and some olives to round things out. These days, I’d skip the sangria and go for a nice bottle of Chianti, but hey, you do you.
Chèvre & Marinara
Marinara sauce – homemade or a nice prepared version
Garlic clove, halved
Slice chèvre into rounds or cut into small heart shapes. For heart shapes, flatten 1-inch-thick rounds to about 2 1/2 inches diameter and cut out heart shapes with a cookie cutter or paring knife.
Spoon marinara into Raclette tray. Place sliced chèvre in sauce and sprinkle with dried basil. Place under Raclette grill to melt cheese and warm sauce. Meanwhile, drizzle baguette slices with olive oil and toast on grill top. Once toasted, rub with halved garlic clove. To eat, spread cheese and sauce onto baguette slices.
High acid Sangiovese wines like Chianti can stand up to the tartness of the chèvre and marinara.