When I first moved to London I was 18, poor and terribly over-excited. As a child I used to stare in envy and bafflement as wads of cash were handed over for the least glamorous things – WHY would anyone spend that money on kitchen cleaner when it could be spent on football stickers and feet, nay, acres of fluorescent green sour apple sweets? Now, finally, I had escaped the tyranny of adults (in so far as it suited me, it wasn’t until 3 years later that I assumed responsibility for things like rent and bills) and could indulge my inner glutton. Except, as previously mentioned, I was (read: am) fiscally handicapped.
My poverty had two knock-on effects. Firstly, I lived in squalor because I still couldn’t get the idea that money spent on anything practical was money wasted out of my head when the multifarious and sinister delights of Soho lay practically on my doorstep. Secondly, I had to be creative in my extravagances. My tastes lie in other, unfortunately more expensive, areas to my young loves of sweet-sour braces and sparkling sportsmen.
One of my earliest excesses was a heart attack in a meal. Incredibly anti-social, gout-inducing and totally satisfying, baked Camembert with roasted garlic & chilli oil is not to be eaten if you’ve any intent to go out that evening. The hot, creamy cheese perfectly compliments the smoky, sweet, almost oaky flavour of the roasted garlic. I ate this with a big burly Pomerol whilst watching Vanessa Paradis smoke and smoulder her way through La Fille Sur Le Pont. I can’t recommend it enough – just as the combination of the rich cheese and strong garlic stands up to a hairy-chested red, it can brook a bit of pretentious idiocy on the consumer’s part.
So, Baked Camembert with Roasted Garlic & Chilli Oil
- Camembert, preferably something half-decent but Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference does the job.
- Two bulbs of garlic, sliced in half horizontally across the cloves.
- Lots of olive oil. Enough for the half bulbs of garlic to be near-submerged in a tight fitting dish. No need for extra-virgin or anything fancy.
- A few sprigs of thyme.
- Chilli. How much you use depends on your taste. I’d go for one whole birds-eye chilli with half its seeds removed.
- Crudites. I used carrot, celery and raw pepper alongside some breadsticks to add a bit of crunch.
- Asparagus spears.
- Lemon juice
Start by heating the oven up to around about 150˚c or, if like me your oven has long lost any hint of numbers, a medium heat. Whilst that’s going on get the bulbs of garlic sliced in half perpendicular to the tentpole root that runs through the middle of each bulb.
Pour a little olive oil in the bottom of a smallish dish – the four half-bulbs should fit quite snugly when you lay them cut side down in the oil. Pour more olive oil into the dish until it’s about 3/4 of the way up the split bulbs. Roughly break up the sprigs of thyme and tuck them between the bulbs. Season with a good twist of pepper and add the chilli, sliced lengthways, before putting on the middle shelf of the oven and leaving to roast for 45 minutes or until the garlic is soft enough to mush with a fork.
Strain the oil through muslin (or just kitchen towel) into an airtight container and set the garlic aside. Allow the oil to cool whilst you’re chopping up some crudites.
Heat the oven again, this time to 200˚c. Remove the cheese from its box and unwrap it before replacing it in the box. Lay tin foil underneath the box on the oven shelf. Score the crust of the cheese in a lattice pattern before drizzling garlic oil over it and into the cuts. Squeeze over a couple of drops of lemon juice and bake for around 25-30 minutes or until the cheese is wobbling inside its crust and emerging through the scores in the crust. Whilst the cheese is cooking, steam the asparagus very lightly so it still has some bite.
Pull the melting hot and powerfully aromatic cheese from the oven and tuck in. I most recently ate this in my pants at the breakfast bar after negotiating a particularly ferocious hangover. I don’t recommend following my lead. Instead, grab someone you love (or want to love) and watch their knees weaken with each bite.