Everything is better with cheese, and when it’s melted, we want it on top of everything. Mark the start of comfort food season with these oozy, gooey recipes – and return to them whenever you need a boost.
If you’re a regular reader of Stylist, you’ve probably noticed that we’re big fans of cheese.
Whether you’re all about creamy brie or buttery camembert, punchy stiltons or extra mature cheddars, we believe there’s a cheese out there to suit every personality. (Seriously – you should take our quiz to find out.)
And as any serious cheese lover can testify, it takes on a whole new dimension when you add heat. Ponder the brilliance, for instance, of a hot cheese toastie, a baked cheese pie, or the wonderful aroma that emerges from macaroni and cheese when you break the golden-brown crust. Comfort food rarely comes any more soul-soothing than this: just place a plate of melted cheese in front of any (non-vegan) dinner guest for proof of that.
Imagine our delight, then, when we came across Hot Cheese by Polina Chesnakova, a new cookbook containing all the melted cheese recipe inspiration our hearts could desire. From no-fuss snacks and hearty dinner ideas to melted moments to really make a big night in, the book is packed with fun fromage combinations. And now that autumn has officially begun, we figured there was no better time to expand our repertoire than with three of Chesnakova’s recipes.
If you’re all about quick, simple meals that can warm you up with minimal time in the kitchen, Chesnakova’s traditional French onion recipe topped with a blanket of melted gruyère is just right. The cheddar, sour cream and onion hassellback gratin, meanwhile, is another deceptively simple dish that makes for an utterly irresistible bake – and the prettily arranged slices of potato will look great on your Instagram feed, too.
And if you love food but hate waste, the asparagus, taleggio and preserved lemon tart can be customised with whatever odds and ends you have that need using up in the fridge. Homemade pastry, seasonal greens and puddles of melted cheese? That’s an autumn-approved meal we can get on board with.
French onion soup
Polina says: “The French turned what essentially started out as rustic peasant food into a gloriously rich, deeply savoury, and crave-worthy dish. Caramelised onions are turned into a flavourful, velvety-thick broth, which is then ladled into a bowl and topped with a bread slice and a generous layer of nutty, slightly sweet gruyère.
“A grill in the oven results in a bubbling and browned cap of melted cheese that you must fight through to reach the delicious goodness below it. If that’s not a stroke of genius on the French’s part, I don’t know what is!
“If you have homemade beef stock on hand, this is the time to use it. If not, seek out the best variety you can find or substitute chicken stock. I like to use a blend of yellow and red onions along with shallots as the base to lend complexity.”
- 55g unsalted butter
- 1.4 kg mixed onions (such as yellow, red, and shallots), cut into 6 mm slices
- ½ tsp flaky sea salt, plus more as needed
- ½ tsp sugar
- 3 garlic cloves, 2 cut into thin slices and 1 halved
- 120ml dry white wine
- 3 tbsp plain flour
- 960ml store-bought or homemade beef stock or broth
- 2 large thyme sprigs
- 1 large fresh or dried bay leaf
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp cognac or dry sherry (optional)
- 4 to 6 baguette slices
- 115 to 170g gruyère, coarsely grated
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and stir until they’re fully coated in butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened and turned translucent, about 20 minutes.
Add the salt and sugar, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions have browned and are caramelised, another 25 to 30 minutes. While you stir, make sure to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom so that they don’t burn.
Lower the heat to medium-low and add the sliced garlic. Cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook until the liquid has evaporated and the onions begin to dry out again, 3 to 4 minutes.
Stir in the flour and cook for another 3 minutes – the mixture will turn into a thick paste. Pour in 240ml of the stock and stir to fully incorporate. Add the thyme, bay leaf and remaining 720ml of stock. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until the broth thickens.
Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs and season with salt and pepper. Add the cognac (if using), and continue to simmer. The soup can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
While the soup is simmering, rub each baguette slice with the halved garlic clove and then toast the bread.
About 10 minutes before you’re ready to serve, turn the grill on high. Put four to six ovenproof bowls or large ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet. Ladle the soup into the bowls and top each with a baguette slice. Divide the cheese among the servings, covering both the toast and the soup.
Carefully transfer to the oven and grill until the cheese has melted and begins to bubble and brown, 4 to 8 minutes. Serve immediately.
Alternatively, you can place the garlic-rubbed toasts in an even layer on a baking sheet, top with some of the cheese, and grill until the cheese has melted, 2 to 4 minutes. Top each bowl with a cheesy toast and sprinkle any remaining cheese on top.
Cheddar, sour cream and onion hassellback potato gratin
Polina says: “The way the potatoes are thinly sliced and stacked together in this visually impressive gratin reminds me of crisps – which is why I was inspired to flavour them as if they were. You might raise your eyebrow and think that this dish is too complicated, but in reality, a mandoline makes quick work of assembly – it’s the long bake you’ll have to allot time for.
“Thankfully, it’s worth it. The potatoes turn out creamy and tender on the bottom and crispy, browned, and cheesy on top. It’s comfort food at its best and will quickly earn its keep on any holiday table.
“Depending on the shape of your pan and potatoes, the amount of potatoes you’ll need to fit your dish will vary. I recommend buying an extra potato or two in case they’re necessary. Original method comes from J. Kenji López-Al.”
- 240ml double cream
- 240g sour cream
- 1 bunch chives, minced (15g)
- ½ small yellow or red onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tbsp flaky sea salt
- 2 tsp onion powder
- freshly ground black pepper
- 170g sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
- 55g fresh parmesan cheese, coarsely grated
- 2 to 2.3 kg russet potatoes (5 or 6 large), peeled and cut into 4mm slice
Preheat the oven to 200°C and generously butter or oil a 17 by 28cm rectangular or oval casserole dish.
In a large bowl, mix together the double cream, sour cream, all but 1 tbsp of the chives, the onion, garlic, salt (it may seem like a lot, but it’s not!), and onion powder until combined. Season generously with black pepper. The mixture will taste like an intensely seasoned sour cream and onion crisp. Stir in two-thirds of both the cheddar and the parmesan cheeses.
Add all the potato slices and gently toss until they are evenly coated. If any slices are stuck together, make sure to separate to coat them.
Take a handful of potato slices, organise them into a neat stack, and place them in the casserole dish with the edges vertically aligned. Continue this process, working around the perimeter and then filling the centre, until all the slices are used and tightly packed. If you need more potato, peel and slice another one, coat the slices in the sour cream mixture, and add them to the dish.
Once you’re done filling the pan, you’ll find that the sour cream mixture will pool at the bottom. You want it to reach about halfway up the sides of dish – if it doesn’t, pour the remaining mixture into the pan until it reaches that mark. If it fills more than halfway, try spooning out as much as possible. Any more liquid than that, and it’ll bubble over in the oven, burn, and fill your house with smoke.
Tightly cover the dish in foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes, until the potatoes are lightly golden.
Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the remaining cheese, and bake until deeply golden and crisp, another 30 minutes. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before garnishing with the reserved chives and serving.
Asparagus, taleggio and preserved lemon tart
Polina says: “A puff pastry tart is a great party trick because you can throw it together at the last minute with whatever vegetable, cheese, or spread you have. It feeds a crowd and is always a hit. This stunning and appetising version spotlights both taleggio – an Italian semisoft washed rind (read: funky) cow’s milk cheese – and springtime asparagus, while preserved lemon and fresh tarragon help brighten and balance the richness.
“It’s a bold marriage of flavours, but nestled into buttery, flaky pastry, it totally works. If your asparagus is on the thicker side, cut the spears in half lengthwise before arranging them on the tart. Preserved lemon can be substituted with the zest of 1 lemon, used as a garnish at the end.”
- 1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed but chilled
- 170 to 225g taleggio cheese, cold
- 3 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves
- 2 tbsp finely chopped preserved lemon
- 280g asparagus (preferably pencil-thin), woody ends trimmed
- 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tbsp double cream, milk, or water
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Either butter a large baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry sheet to a 28 by 35.5 cm rectangle and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, score a smaller rectangle 12mm from the edges. Prick the inside of the marked rectangle all over with a fork.
Cut the taleggio into thin slices and then tear each slice into two pieces. Evenly distribute the taleggio within the marked rectangle. Top with 2 tbsp of the tarragon leaves and the preserved lemon. Arrange the asparagus on the tart so that they fit crosswise – if the spears are too long, trim them – and brush with the olive oil. Season with black pepper. Transfer the baking sheet to the refrigerator or freezer to chill the dough, 5 to 10 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine the egg with the cream and brush the edges of the tart with the egg wash. Bake the tart for 18 to 22 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and crisp.
Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before garnishing with the remaining 1 tbsp of tarragon and serving.
From Hot Cheese: Over 50 Gooey, Oozy, Melty Recipes by Polina Chesnakova (£14.99, Chronicle Books), out now
Photography: Paul Sirisalee
Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.