- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The blues are calling me, inspiring my cooking.

Blue cheese is what makes my recipes sing. The veined cheese adds a tangy, rich flavor and a luscious melt-in-the-mouth texture to everything from scrambled eggs to salad.

If I’m making a savory dish, I can count on blue cheese to make it better.

If you’re a newcomer to the blues, you should know there are differences. Go to a better supermarket or specialty cheese shop, and you’ll see different versions of blue cheese from most cheese-producing regions. Each cheese has distinctive characteristics.

Italy’s Gorgonzola, England’s Stilton and France’s Roquefort are probably the best known of the blues:

• Gorgonzola has a light beige background with green-blue striations. The cheese is sold as dolce, which is mild and soft enough to spread or naturale, which is firmer and sharper tasting.

• Roquefort is ivory colored with plentiful patches of blue-green veins. The cheese is soft and crumbly and has an intense taste.

• Stilton is also ivory with greenish-blue lines. Stilton is firm and moist, though crumbly. The flavor is sharp and powerful.

America produces blue cheeses as well, although cheese makers aren’t limited to a particular part of the country. Maytag Blue (with a creamy texture and spicy taste) from the Maytag Dairy Farms in Iowa and Rogue River Blue (luscious and buttery) from Rogue River Valley Creamery in Oregon are two highly touted cheeses.

When adding blue cheese to recipes, consider the texture of the dish. Crumbly cheeses are well suited to salads or meat toppings. Roquefort does wonders for a bowl of spinach or a grilled hamburger. Creamy cheeses are excellent to enhance and flavor sauces. For an indulgent meal, add Gorgonzola dolce to a simple cream-based pasta sauce.

Pappardelle with asparagus and blue cheese

Water

Salt

2 cups asparagus, cut into 1½-inch lengths, about 1 pound

6 ounces pappardelle or other broad egg noodle

½ cup half-and-half

2 ounces (½ cup) crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

1 large scallion, chopped

Grated rind of 1 lemon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper or to taste

Browned pine nuts (optional) follows

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add asparagus and cook over high heat for 2 minutes. Use a sieve to scoop out the asparagus; set aside.

Add pappardelle to the boiling water. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain well. Return pappardelle to the pot. Add half-and-half and cheese. Toss over very low heat until cheese melts and forms a creamy sauce.

Stir in asparagus, scallion, lemon rind and pepper.

Toss gently but well. Taste and adjust salt if desired. Sprinkle with browned pine nuts. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 servings.

BROWNED PINE NUTS:

1 teaspoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons pine nuts

Melt butter in very small skillet. Sprinkle in pine nuts.

Cook over medium heat, shaking skillet constantly, until pine nuts turn light golden brown.

Immediately remove pine nuts from skillet so they don’t burn.

Add pine nuts and any remaining butter to the pasta.

Bev Bennett is the author of “30-Minute Meals for Dummies” (John Wiley & Sons).

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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