The New Gastronome
Freaky Pairings Episode VIII: The Cheesecake Reboot from the Middle East
by Sharon Mendonce
by Sharon Mendonce
Kanafeh is usually the pièce de résistance of the dessert section at Middle Eastern Iftar buffets. If the sheer size of the vessel it’s served from doesn’t grab your attention (similar to a large paella pan), perhaps the emphatic ‘crunch’ you hear, the almost theatrical cheese pull or the glistening syrup drippings will.
Kanafeh originates from the Levant region and, while the ingredients may differ slightly between regions, it is always composed of some of the most luxurious ingredients they have to offer, including, but not limited to cheese, rose water and pistachios. Most commonly brined cheeses, like Akkawi, Nabulsi, Hatay Peyniri & Urfa Peyniri-White, are used, which subtly contrast the sugar syrup on the dessert.
Keeping within the theme of using luxurious ingredients, I found Amaro Nonino, a barrique-aged infusion based on Grappa and herbs from Carni, the perfect – yet slightly freaky – pairing for Kanafeh.
For the cheese mixture:
50g Fior di Langa (or any other goat cheese)
For the sugar syrup:
5 ml rose water
Juice and zest of half an orange.
A pinch of turmeric
75g chopped pistachios
Sea salt, as required
1- Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
2- To make the sugar syrup, add the orange juice and the sugar to the water and bring the solution to a boil. Remove it from the heat once the consistency of the syrup is thick enough to coat a spoon. Add a pinch of turmeric powder, the orange zest and the rose water to the syrup.
3- Add the hot water to the vermicelli to rehydrate them, squeeze out any excess water from the vermicelli and then add a tablespoon of softened butter to it, mix well.
4- Generously grease your baking dish (I used one that was 15x15cms). Take 2/3 of the vermicelli mixture and press it firmly into the base and sides of the dish – this will help contain the filling during the baking process and prevent it from burning.
5- Mix the mozzarella and Fior di Langa cheese in a bowl and add it to the baking dish. One again, press down firmly.
6- Spread the remaining vermicelli mixture on top of the cheese, ensuring it is tightly packed.
7- Place the baking dish into the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes. If the top appears to look dark brown and crispy remove from the oven, if not, continue to bake until it does.
8- While the baking dish is still warm, flip the kanafeh onto a plate and immediately pour the syrup onto it.
9- Garnish with a light sprinkle of sea salt and chopped pistachios.
Photos: Aarón Gómez Figueroa