Benedictine - A Gift from the Bluegrass State
This weekend at the Carrboro Farmers' Market, I'm sharing one of my favorite summer recipes so you too can be prepared for cocktails on the back porch, summer concerts, picnics, pool time, and hungry children on summer break. The genius part of this creamy, herby, cucumbery spread is that it is fast gratification. You could be home from the farmers' market and snacking your way through a bowl of it within 10 minutes if you're focused enough.
Benedictine was invented in Louisville, Kentucky at the turn of the century by cookbook author, caterer, and astute businesswoman Jennie Carter Benedict (1860-1928). Her Fourth Street cafe was famous for the simple spread and it has since been featured in almost every cookbook released within a stone's throw of the Kentucky border, including The Junior League of Louisville's The Cooking Book and Best of the Best from Kentucky. Personally, I consider it one of the pillars of what I call 'the Kentucky Trinity' (bourbon and burgoo being the other two).
Benedictine is an incredibly flexible dish. It can be made into a sandwich spread, tea sandwich filling, or dip for chips and vegetables by just adding a little less or more of the cucumber puree or the liquid reserved from draining the vegetables. Traditional recipes tend to add a drop or two of green food coloring to make the color a little more pronounced, though we prefer little herb and cucumber bits poking through the creamy base.
For those without fancy kitchen equipment handy, you can also make the cucumber puree using a blender, mini-chopper, or by using the finer holes on a cheese grater. You can also mix the spread together with just a bowl and a spoon or whisk, though it will take a bit more time.
Adapted from Ouita Michel's Just a Few Miles South
2 medium cucumbers, seeded and chopped
2 oz. white onion, chopped
1 clove garlic (optional, but recommended)
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup Duke's Mayo
1/8 cup of your favorite fresh herbs (we used dill and parsley)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Pepper to taste
Make the Benedictine:
1. Place cucumbers, onion, garlic in a food processor and puree.
2. Transfer the cucumber puree into a cheesecloth-lined bowl or fine sieve and allow the puree to drain. Removing as much of the green liquid as possible into a small bowl. Reserve the liquid for later.
3. Combine cucumber puree, cream cheese, mayo, herbs, and salt and pepper in a bowl. Using a hand or stand mixer, mix on medium-high until smooth. If mixture is too dry and will not smooth out, add a little of the cucumber liquid to the bowl. Continue mixing until the spread is soft and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Pepper to taste.
4. Transfer spread into a container and cover tightly. Sneak a couple more crackers covered in the spread and then put the container in the fridge until cold. The Benedictine will become firmer (or "set-up") after a couple hours in the refrigerator.
Spread on whatever your heart desires, but we recommend crudites, crackers, Carolina Kettle Chips, or even a BLT with a little too much bacon and a really, really good slice of tomato.
Keep for one week in the fridge. The reserved green liquid can be added to Bloody Mary mixes, incorporated into smoothies, or discarded in a compost bin.