Cheese up your Christmas with this delicious, tangy cheese ball
In today's "Home with the Lost Italian," Sarah Nasello shares a recipe for a pre-dinner cheese feast that will leave your guests asking for more.
It is the season for cheese, and I am not talking about Christmas cards where every family member is dressed in the same outfit. I am talking about creamy, delicious, tangy cheese, and this Festive Pear, Pecan and Scallion Cheese Ball hits all those notes, and more.
My sister-in-law served this dish as an appetizer on Thanksgiving this year, and even after indulging in a wonderful dinner feast, not one of us regretted the pre-dinner cheese fest. Cheese is one of my weaknesses, and I found myself craving this cheese ball for days after the holiday.
The chopped pecan and green scallion coating brings a touch of festive color and a nutty crunch that balances the creamy cheese center. But the star of this cheese ball is the finely chopped pear, which is mixed into the cheese to create a wonderful surprise of bright pear flavor with just a touch of sweetness.
I used a Bartlett pear for this recipe and left the peel on because that is how my sister-in-law prepared it (why mess with perfection?). To finely chop the pear, I first cut it into four large pieces around the core. Next, I cut each piece into very thin slices and then cut each slice into fine pieces.
The scallions, also known as green onions, are used in two stages for this dish: the white part of the scallion is mixed into the cheese mixture, while the green part is tossed with pecans to create the coating. This double-punch of gentle scallion flavor provides just the right amount of spice to cut through the rich and creamy cheese.
The pear and white scallions are mixed with cream cheese, extra-sharp cheddar, ground mustard and seasoning. It is important to make sure that the cream cheese is softened to room temperature, as it makes the mixing process so much easier. The recipe is simple enough that you can mix everything together by hand, or you could also use an electric mixer, if desired.
I prefer to use a white variety of extra-sharp cheddar cheese and was happy to find some in the packaged, shredded cheese section versus having to buy an expensive brick from the gourmet food selection. Once the cheese mixture is combined, it is shaped into a ball, wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for at least one hour (overnight is even better), so that the flavors can meld together as the ball firms up.
The chilled cheese ball is rolled in the pecan-scallion coating just before serving. You could use any type of nut to adorn this cheese ball, including walnuts, pistachios or even almonds. Whatever kind you use, you will want to toast them before finely chopping them, which gives them a bit more crunch and a lovely, toasty nuttiness.
This Festive Pear, Pecan and Scallion Cheese Ball is easy to make and assemble, especially as most of the preparation can be done well in advance of serving. You can serve it with a hearty cracker or crostini, and then sit back and enjoy the oohs and ahs because this is a holiday appetizer worthy of praise.
Festive Pear, Pecan and Scallion Cheese Ball
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Serves: 10 to 12
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese (I use a white cheddar variety)
1 medium ripe and firm Bartlett pear, finely chopped (with or without peel)
2 scallions, white and green parts separated, finely chopped
½ teaspoon ground mustard
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup toasted pecans, finely chopped
In a medium bowl, add the softened cream cheese, cheddar cheese, scallion whites, ground mustard, salt and pepper. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to stir until well-combined; you may also use an electric mixer, if desired.
Coat a large piece of plastic wrap with cooking spray and place the cheese mixture onto it. Use the plastic wrap to shape the mixture into a ball, then wrap it tightly in the plastic. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days before serving.
To toast the pecans, preheat oven to 350 degrees and place the pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast until gently browned and fragrant, about 7 to 10 minutes, depending on your oven. Stir the nuts after 4 minutes to ensure even roasting.
Transfer the pecans from the baking sheet to a cutting board and let rest until cool to the touch, then chop into fine pieces. The pecans may be prepared several days in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to assemble the cheese ball.
Assemble the cheese ball just before serving. In a shallow dish like a pie plate, combine the chopped pecans with the scallion greens and parsley. Roll the cheese ball in the coating mixture until evenly coated, pressing with your hands to adhere. Serve immediately.
Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for at least 2 to 3 days.
Recipe Time Capsule:
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Recipes can be found with the article at InForum.com.
“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.