Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ricotta Cheese and Storm Supplies

A few weeks ago, I received a call that friends were coming by to share in winter's misery.  They were bringing wine and it wasn't quite dinner time, so I needed a quick appetizer.  The weather was crummy and the thought of leaving my warm house to traipse through the snow to the market again was even crummier.  Bad weather may bode well for bakers and dairies, but not for me.  As a lifelong New Englander, I’ve paid my dues in snowstorm bread and milk, but I still needed to come up with something fast.
 
So I opened the fridge door and there, cozy in the little side shelf, were two gallons of milk, purchased hours ago with the intent of nourishing my children during yet another impending snowstorm.  A third gallon was nestled in the snow on the back porch, just in case.  Surely, one of these could be sacrificed for the honor of cocktail hour, no?  Indeed!  Milk and bread, milk and bread…how could I pay homage to a winter storm using these snowy staples?  And, if I was to keep with the theme, the baguette was going to have to give it up, as well.


But, first let me ask you, have you ever had fresh ricotta cheese? And by fresh, I mean “squeezing cheesecloth over the sink” fresh? Oh man, it’s heaven! There is nothing like it, trust me. If you have only had store-bought ricotta cheese and are willing to put yourself into my hands for less than an hour, I promise that you will be very happy. You will probably even need to kiss someone. Yes, I know...again with the kissing. I can't help it.

Because fresh made ricotta cheese is luscious. It’s beautiful. It’s creamy, it’s seductive. It can be sweet or it can be savory, your choice. Drizzle it with honey or tease it with olive oil. Pipe it into cannoli shells or slather it between sheets of fresh pasta. It takes no time to make and forever to forget.  Forever. 

So, on that cold and dreary day, this is how I brought happiness onto my table and into our hearts. 

***

I started by roasting halved cherry tomatoes, whole garlic cloves, and fresh thyme.  Slather everything in olive oil and roast in a 400 degree oven until the tomatoes start to caramelize and the garlic softens.  Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and you've made the simplest of bruschetta toppings!  Make sure that you save the oil!
 
I also had a #10 can (think big) of fig preserves that I'd been saving for something special....(right now, you have no idea of how I love figs.  But, one day….oh, one day, how you will know!).  About a cup of preserves added to a saute pan with about a tablespoon or two of sherry, some fresh thyme (or you can use rosemary), and oh boy!  Let it simmer so that the fig softens and the flavors meet.  Taste for seasonings - I just added fresh pepper.  Let the sherry reduce, turn off the heat, and let it cool.
 
While the toppings are cooking, slice a nice baguette or ciabatta, brush with olive oil, and toast until slightly crisp and golden around the edges. 
 
Slather some fresh ricotta on the baguette slices, alternating the toppings, and drizzle a little of the remaining olive oil over the tomatoes.   Top with a garnish of fresh thyme and you're good to go!  Serve with a nice wine and let the storm blow by! 
 
Four ingredients…are you up for it?  Ok, here we go!


Fresh Ricotta Cheese
  

Start with one gallon of whole milk.  If you're lucky enough to live in a state where you can buy raw milk, that's even better.  Do not use ULTRA-pasteurized milk, because it just won't work.  Regular supermarket pasteurized milk is fine.  It will say ultra-pasteurized if it is ultra-pasteurized, don't worry.
 
Put it in a heavy-bottomed pot (oh, look!  there's my lovely Le Creuset)...
 

and add one pint (2 cups) of heavy cream to the milk. It's alright if it's ULTRA-pasteurized, as most heavy creams are.


Add one teaspoon of kosher salt to the milk and cream.  Heat slowly over medium to medium-high heat. You'll want to stir it often with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula so that the milk doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot. If you heat it too fast, you may scorch the milk and then you'll have to drink your wine without any cheese. 

 
As soon as the milk comes to a full boil, add 6 tablespoons of fresh, squeezed lemon juice. You can use distilled white vinegar if you don't have any lemons on hand.  Reduce heat and let simmer for two minutes.


Meanwhile, line a colander with a few layers of cheesecloth.  If you would like to save the whey (the fluid) for use in breadmaking, strain over a large bowl or pot to catch the whey.  Otherwise, you can put the colander directly in the sink.
 
 
When large curds have started to form, it is almost ready!  Wait....
 
 
...for this!  Beautiful, white, creamy curds! 
 

 Carefully pour the curds and whey into the colander.  Watch for spiders.
 
 
 Let the curds (the cheese) drain in the cheesecloth for 30 minutes for a creamier cheese, or 60 minutes for a more dry consistency.
 
 
After the cheese has drained and cooled, you can use it immediately or put it in the fridge.  It keeps about 3 days and I ended up with about 2 quarts of cheese.
 

A very special thank you to Erin at Blue Water Photography for helping me out with the photos!!!

8 comments:

  1. This sounds like heaven.... I want to make it just to taste the cheese, forget the guests! How ever am I going to cook all of these fantastic recipes... Thanknyou

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  2. Another great inspiring blog! Going to make this this weekend, yummy... The pictures are amazing and so professional love it! :)

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  3. I'm so happy that you think so! Thank you!

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  4. yummmmm....awesome!

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    1. Thank you, my hermana....I miss you so!!!

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Linda, I made labneh a few years back with one of my Syrian students. Thanks for the link!!

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  6. Maria- Great post! The photos add a lot and we can't wait to try it. We've made yogurt cheese before but never knew that ricotta was so easy to do at home. BTW, we are the ones that had Erin's camera and Matt just happened to catch us the night before we left for Fl for a month. Looks like your blog is off and running and we'll continue to be some of your fans. Thanks for the info.

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