Saturday, November 5, 2011

Queso Fresco--Baked with Oregano

I do not know much about South American cuisine and I hardly ever reach for recipes coming from that part of the world. One reason for that could be that I tend to be more comfortable with anything coming from the Old Continent. Another could be that I do not have any Latin friends who could introduce me to their favorite home recipes, which always helps break the ice when it comes to embracing an unknown cuisine. The third could be that in the US, South American restaurants are so popular that there is really no reason to make these dishes at home, unless you have some really well tried recipes for home-made dishes, which are not easy to find elsewhere.

But it does not mean that I do not eat South American food, or that I am not intrigued by it. Whenever I shop in the places that sell more South American products than I can find in my regular neighborhood food store, I always wonder what to do with them.

I often buy Latin cream which is very similar to Polish cream. The other day, I also bought queso fresco, the cheese that occupies a very large space in the Latin food store refrigerators but which I never tried before. There are different cheese types called "fresco", sold in big, usually round, pieces. I found a Mexican recipe calling for queso fresco and, interestingly, not much more. It was baked with oregano and garlic and served as a starter. I served it with fresh bread.

It was very aromatic and delicious, accompanied by a glass of a red wine. Molten queso fresco tasted a bit like Halumi or like molten mozzarella. flavored with a strong aroma or garlic and oregano. Oregano is an important ingredient in this otherwise very simple dish. Mexican oregano, like its Greek cousin, has a lot of flavor, so if you make a trip to a Latin store to buy this cheese you may wish to buy Mexican oregano as well.

When I made this dish for the first time, the cheese held its shape after being baked. When I did for the second time, the cheese melted. Nevertheless, each time s it was equally delicious.

Queso Fresco Baked with Oregano

1 lb (about 500 g) queso fresco, queso panela (if you have neither of them, mozzarella would be a good substitute),
4 garlic cloves,
1/4 cup olive oil,
1 tbsp dried oregano,
freshly ground pepper.

1. Place the cheese in a oven-proof dish.
2. In a small bowl mix crushed garlic, olive oil, and oregano. Pour the oil mixture over the cheese, cover it with plastic foil, and let it marinate for a minimum 2 hours, or overnight.

3. Preheat oven to 350 F (180C). Take the plastic foil off and bake the cheese for about 15 minutes, or until it becomes soft. Season with freshly ground pepper and serve warm.

Serve with a fresh baguette or crackers.

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