Mastelo is a white, hard cheese which comes into its own when grilled, fried or in some way melted. It has been developed and is produced in the verdant Kambos region of Chios, Greece, by the K.Toumazos family, who have done a remarkable job in gradually bringing this fantastically popular product to the rest of Greece. I’m quite sure that it is bound for international stardom soon…
We paired it with the sweetness of caramelised fennels and found that the combination of mildly salty, gooey cheese with these aromatic vegetables worked beautifully.
This recipe makes a great dish for placing in the centre of the table and sharing as a casual starter. You could serve it next to an interesting salad maybe ( Asparagus, Rocket and Parmesan / Blood Orange, Beetroot and Feta) or a dish of grilled vegetables.
INGREDIENTS – serves 2-4 as a shared starter
You’ll need your largest shallow pan for frying and a heavy griddle pan – the classic Greek “mantemi” (which I couldn’t live without).
1 packet Mastelo (cow’s) cheese – there is also a goat’s variety of Mastelo which is slightly softer and melts faster and there is a “Salty” variety which I have not yet used. The cow’s cheese holds its shape and yet melts enough to become a bit “gooey”. (You will only be using 1 round cut off the packet, which will leave you with 2/3 rds left over to serve up plain, with loads of lemon juice squeezed on top)!
4 – 5 fennel bulbs
Approx. 4 tablespoons olive oil (+ 2 teaspoons olive oil)
50 grams unsalted butter
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 garlic cloves – finely chopped
Large bunch of fresh dill – chopped
Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
This all happens rather rapidly – be prepared.
First carefully slice the Mastelo cheese into rounds. I found that each packet of cheese I bought gave me 3 good sized round slices. It’s not easy to cut it straight – use a long unbending knife. Each slice should be approx. 1 cm thick. If it’s thicker, it won’t melt enough.
Pour 2 teaspoons of olive oil into a tiny dish. Place it next to the cheese rounds by the hob.
Prepare the fennel bulbs by slicing off the base and removing the outer leaves. Slice them lengthways into approx. 1 cm thick slices.
In your large frying pan, pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 25 grams (always approx.!) and heat it up over a high flame.
Brown half of the fennel slices on one side. Flip them over and brown the other side. Don’t over-cook them. They should take on a lovely golden colour but they need to keep some “body”.
The whole process shouldn’t take more than about 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and place onto some kitchen paper while you do the same to the other half of the fennel slices.
Turn on the heat source under your griddle pan now – in preparation for the Mastelo grilling.
Now – while the frying pan is still on the heat source, sprinkle over the sugar, the fennel seeds and stir them gently with a wooden spoon, adding ground sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. This shouldn’t take more than half a minute.
Add all the fennel carefully and without breaking up the rather beautiful shapes of the slices, caramelise it for a minute, in the juices in the pan. It is important that the fennel should retain a bit of firmness.
Remove them to a dish to slightly cool.
Gently toss in plenty of chopped dill and garlic. Check the taste for seasoning.
With a pastry brush, lightly brush olive oil onto one side of the Mastelo rounds that you want to grill. I find that 2 rounds fit on my griddle pan comfortably. Do not try to squeeze in another piece…they won’t cook evenly. Place them oiled side down. I know – it’s not rocket science!!
The “mantemi” – griddle – should be hot so as to cook the outside of the cheese and melt the centre. I find it takes about 2 minutes to grill both sides. Use a wooden spatula to lift up the edges and check progress.
When it’s as squidgy as you like, serve it straight onto your dish.
I like to cut each piece in the centre, separate them a little and spoon the caramelised fennel down the middle of the two pieces – but quite honestly, when it comes to decorating (or even consciously not decorating) your plates, anything goes!
Present with a sprig of dill.
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