Rarebit, a.k.a. Welsh rabbit, is an odd-sounding name for a dish that's several hundred years old and has nothing to do with bunnies. For those who don't know it, it's a roux-based cheese sauce that's typically flavored with something sharp, like mustard or Worcestershire sauce, and maybe spices, and beer or cider.
It might look like Velveeta, but trust me, that's where the similarity ends. In this application, James Beard Award-winning cookbook author Diana Henry pours it over thick toast and broils it just until browned and bubbly - very quick comfort food for which you could skip the reading of the nutritional analysis, just this once, and indulge. It's posh and humble at the same time.
Henry included it in her new cookbook, "Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors," with the added richness of a whisked-in egg and a skosh of apple brandy. But years before, she had featured in her column for the Telegraph a version with ripe pear, and that gives the dish just enough substance to pass for dinner at my house. With a salad.
HARD CIDER RAREBIT
It's nice to use individual gratin dishes, but you could also serve the cheese sauce in a communal pot (think fondue) for dipping toast batons and pear wedges.
• 3 thick slices crusty bread
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 tablespoons plus 11/2 teaspoons flour
• 1/2 cup dry cider
• 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
• 1/2 teaspoon mustard, preferably Colman's (English, not powdered) or Dijon
• Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 1 large Bosc or Bartlett pear
• 1 large egg
• 11/2 teaspoons apple brandy or Calvados
• 3 sprigs fresh thyme (may substitute finely chopped chives)
Position an oven rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler element; preheat the broiler.
Meanwhile, toast the bread. Place each slice in an individual gratin dish.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to form a roux, then remove the pan from the heat just long enough to gradually whisk in the cider until smooth.
Return to the heat; once the mixture is bubbling, reduce the heat to low. Stir in the cheese, mustard and nutmeg. Remove from the heat and season generously with the pepper.
Peel and core the pear. Cut half of it into long wedges that are not too thick, and cut the rest into small dice.
Crack the egg into a liquid measuring cup. Add the apple brandy or Calvados and stir until lightly beaten. Whisk a few spoonfuls of the cheese mixture into the egg (to temper it), then pour it all into the saucepan, whisking until well incorporated. Add the diced pear and stir to incorporate.
Arrange some pear wedges on each piece of toast, then pour the cheese sauce over them, dividing it evenly among the gratin dishes. Broil for a minute or two, watching closely, just until lightly browned on top and bubbling. Pluck the leaves from each sprig, letting some fall on top of each portion. Serve hot.
Nutrition | Per serving: 410 calories, 15 g protein, 36 g carbohydrates, 21 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 120 mg cholesterol, 480 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 10 g sugar