Okay, stay with me. The title of this post might sound…odd. But I promise you, these are one of the easiest and most addictive nibbles around.
This recipe was my introduction to savory shortbreads, and I’m absolutely hooked. The flavor combination is sophisticated and lovely: fragrant with fennel, savory with salt, and sharp with cheese and black pepper. They’re a fabulous snack or party nibble, and I tend to make them for every potluck I’m invited to these days. Or, sometimes, I’ll just whip up a batch for myself and parcel them out over a week or so, as an afternoon treat with a mug of tea.
I’ve tweaked the proportions a bit from the original Bon Appetit recipe, dialing back the sugar and slightly upping the cheese. I also modified the method: instead of chilling and rolling out the dough, I simply press it into a baking dish. Then, while the shortbread is still hot from the oven, I cut it into squares with a sharp knife. It’s easier and less messy than rolling out, and it means you can go from “I want cookies!” to having cookies in the oven in a matter of minutes.
Honestly, the hardest part of this recipe is grating a giant pile of cheese. You do need a lot of it–at least 1 cup, though you could go as high as 1 1/2 cups if you’ve got the patience (and the arm strength). And the cheese really does need to be freshly grated, if at all possible. Pre-grated Parmesan–even the relatively good-quality stuff–just won’t have the same flavor, and the added anti-caking agents can mess with the bake.
This is one of those recipes that’s gloriously adaptable. I’d recommend making it at least once as written, but then feel free to tweak it as you see fit. You could use just about any tangy hard cheese in place of the Parmesan, like aged Manchego or Gruyere, or even extra-sharp cheddar. You could omit the fennel seeds, or replace them with another seasoning–maybe some cumin or caraway seeds on top, or minced fresh rosemary or thyme in the dough itself. For me, the only non-negotiables are black pepper in the dough and flaky sea salt on top.
Let me introduce you to the most addictive snack to come out of my kitchen thus far: savory granola. Sounds funky, looks goofy, tastes like a cheese-and-herb cracker with the volume turned to 11. For a salty-crunch addict like me, this is daydreamy stuff.
I love finding out that sweet foods don’t have to be sweet. I held off on making granola for a long time, because the sheer amount of liquid sweetener needed to bind it together made my gut tangle uneasily. Then the all-knowing internet offered up the suggestion to replace the sweetener with egg white, and the sugary-chewy notes with cheesy-herbal ones. I gave it a whirl, and came away with a cookie sheet full of crisp, fragrant, salty-savory oats and nuts, coated oh-so-delicately with Italian seasoning and Parmesan cheese. The smell alone made my chilly little apartment a little cuddlier and warmer.
Of course, I stuck my paws in as soon as it came out of the oven. At first, there was a shiver of cognitive dissonance, as I teased out the flavors of hazelnut and pecan and almond and oat from the cracker-like seasoning. But it didn’t take long for my brain to register something good, and I was hooked. It’s a little hard to believe how healthy this stuff is, because it tastes like a total cheesy-snack indulgence.
This granola is looser and crumblier than its sweet cousins, making it more like confetti than clusters. I imagine it would be a terrific addition to a cheese board or an hors d’oeuvres spread. It makes a glorious gluten-free alternative to croutons, especially on top of a rich, creamy soup. I haven’t tried it with tomato soup yet, but I expect the clouds will open and beams of light will descend. You could use this instead of seasoned breadcrumbs on top of a gratin or casserole; for breakfast, you could sprinkle it over baked or fried eggs, or mix it with yogurt. And when it comes to out-of-hand nibbling, it might be the best secret office snack in existence. I can slip a jar into a desk drawer, shake out a handful or two of granola in the morning, and go happily for hours without a rumble of hunger. That’s pretty special.