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It's one of the stranger facts of my eating life that, despite my profound love of cheese, I have the habit of almost never finishing any of it. The dairy shelf on my fridge door is always littered with little packages of leftover cheese nubbins that I somehow manage to let languish until they're no longer fit to be eaten. I suspect that I'm not the only person guilty of this habit.
For those of us who are, the question is, what to do with all those leftover bits of cheese?
One of my favorite tricks is one I learned from my good friend Raffaella, on whose farm in Piedmont, Italy, I worked several years ago. Raffa always served cheese at the end of dinner, usually a plate with gorgonzola dolce, fontina, and assorted local cheeses, and inevitably after several days there'd be a nice little collection of leftover bits that needed to be dealt with so that new cheeses could take their place. Raffa's solution: Make a cheese pie.
She'd trim off the rinds and cut the cheeses into chunks, fill a pie shell with them, pouring a mixture of eggs and milk on top, and bake it until golden. We'd always eat it warm, so that the pockets of cheese were still melted. I have to say, as much as I loved the nightly cheese plate, I looked forward to that leftover-cheese pie* even more.
*It's funny, I have a years-long habit of calling this a pie, but I should point out that, in essence, it's really an assorted-cheese quiche; to avoid confusion, that's what I'm calling it in the recipe.
I love the cheese pie, first, because it's so damned good, but also because it's such a great example of resourceful and frugal cooking. Instead of letting those hunks of cheese grow old and stale (or moldy) until the only option left is to throw them out, this transforms them into something arguably even better than they were before (assuming you, like me, feel that melting cheese is nearly always an improvement).
I mean, just look at my dairy bin before and after I cooked up my own pie recently.
In this recipe, I use Kenji's Basic Pie Dough, though you can also use a pre-made pie shell to speed things up. I put mine in a fluted tart pan (a deeper one, not the really shallow ones often used for fruit tarts), but a regular pie plate will work too—you'll just have to serve it from the dish, since it won't be possible to remove the pie from the pie plate.
Then I blind-bake the crust to help ensure it stays flaky and crisp once the wet custard filling is added. You may get some shrinkage of the crust after blind-baking, though I've added steps, including freezing the crust before baking, docking it and using pie weights, to minimize the effect. Even with a little shrinkage, the recipe still works.
As for the cheeses themselves, just about any soft or semi-soft cheese will work—Cheddar, Gruyere, Fontina, fresh goat cheese, Gorgonzola, Stilton, etc. I'd avoid cheeses that are likely to dump water, like fresh mozzarella, and hard cheeses that won't melt well, like Parmigiano-Reggiano (though you could finely grate some Parm into the custard base for extra flavor without any trouble). Just trim off the rinds and cut them into cubes, or break softer cheeses into small chunks.
And while this is brilliant for its use of leftover cheeses, you can, of course, just buy the cheese expressly for the pie, especially if you're not the type to let any cheese linger in your fridge. My only advice is to try to use a blend of different cheeses. Part of the fun is taking a bite and not knowing which blob of cheese is going to flood your mouth.
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