Cheese on toast was a wonderful ally when I worked nights as a breakfast television reporter. The shift started at 9pm and ended at 9am… and it was brutal. Complexion, fashion sense, good temper and appetite all disappeared through the metal-framed windows of BBC Television Centre by about 3.25 each morning. Cheese on toast became the only sustaining, comforting thing to eat.
I still love cheese on toast, despite its associations with cold, grey dawns waiting with a camera crew to ask huffy politicians why they weren’t towing the party line on a single currency. I like it so much that I’ve just made a posh version for old friends, including one of my fellow night shift reporters from all those years ago.
At the end of our gruelling shifts we would decamp to the BBC canteen, so tired that we didn’t know if our cheese on toast and mugs of tea counted as breakfast or dinner. This time around we ate our posh version at 9.30 in the evening, drinking Sauvignon from smart glasses.
Parmesan Cream with Tomato and Olive Toast with Edible Flower Salad
185 ml double or heavy cream
160 ml full cream milk
150g Parmesan cheese cut into very small pieces
1 extra egg yolk
100g miniature plum tomatoes
50g black olives
Pinch of sugar
Handful of salad leaves and edible flowers
4 slices bread, either wholemeal or good quality white
A little fine lemon zest
4 small ramekin dishes, buttered well.
Combine the milk and cream in a small pan and bring virtually to the boil. Take off the heat, stir in the cheese, cover and let infuse for 2 hours.
Finely chop the tomatoes and olives, add a little salt and black pepper, a pinch of sugar and put aside.
After two hours, preheat the oven to 180 degrees C — don’t be tempted to increase the temperature unless you want scrambled eggs. Place the pan containing the milk, cream and cheese back on the heat and bring it almost back to the boil again. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl. Whisk the eggs and yolk into a second bowl and then mix gradually into the cream and cheese. Season.
Pour the cream and egg mixture into the buttered ramekin dishes and cover each with a disc of silver foil. Place the dishes in an oven-proof tin, pour in enough hot water to reach half-way up the sides of the dishes and then bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove when the custard is firm-ish but still a little wobbly. Carefully take the dishes out of the pan of water and allow them to cool.
Toast the bread and cut into circles about the same diameter as the parmesan creams. Pour off any liquid from the tomato and olive mixture and divide it evenly between the four circles of toast. Run the point of a sharp knife around the edges of the ramekin dishes, turn the dishes upside down and tip the parmesan creams carefully on top of the tomato toasts.
Dress the salad leaves in a little oil and grated lemon zest and pile a heap of leaves on top of each cream.
Parmesan cream sounds more complicated than it really is. It’s infinitely more demanding to make than its rugged cousin, but easily worth the effort. Think of it as Christian Louboutin heels compared to Wellington boots. There’s a place for both.