Thursday, June 12, 2014

Say Cheese

It’s been awhile since my last post.  This was partly due to a kitchen mishap.  My common sense deserted me and I put my finger into the business end of an immersion blender and accidentally turned it on. Why would I put my finger near the blade?  Well, I didn’t want to leave behind any of my thick sauce on the blender.  That would be wasteful, right?  It’s a hang-up I've had and now I think I'm cured of it.

I'm lucky. The kitchen gods took pity on me because I still have my finger and it will soon be mended.  While I was at the hospital my husband decided to play undercover paparazzi, although at this point I’m only the star of my own kitchen debacle.   I wished he had given me the “say cheese” warning. Then I could have begged him to put his phone down.  But you can see that wouldn’t have helped since I was so focused on the sewing up of my finger. 

I think cheese is vital in so many ways... not only for photography, but most importantly for eating! The mangled finger had to stay dry which limited my ability to cook. Therefore I ate lots of cheese and crackers.  This was good, because I always find cheese so satisfying, but I was really itching to do something more than slicing and stacking.  Then I thought of ricotta. Ricotta is so much better homemade, as it is creamier, lighter, and less grainy than the mass-produced grocery store stuff. I love how it can be used in so many ways- pancakes, pasta, salads, pizza, or simply topped with fruit or spread on toast.
Bruschetta: ricotta sweetened with honey, topped with grilled stone fruit, pecans, olive oil & mint

Pizza: ricotta mixed with pesto, asparagus, tomatoes, sweet peppers
Tart: ricotta mixed with egg and sugar, topped with figs and apricots
Sometimes recipes seem more intimidating than they actually are, ricotta cheese being a perfect example of this. Making it is very straightforward and doesn't require lots of strange ingredients.  Here is your shopping list: milk, cream, lemons, cheesecloth. It also helps to have an instant read thermometer, however it is not vital.  

Ricotta  means "recooked" in Italian and is actually a by-product of cheesemaking.  In traditionally made ricotta, the whey is heated with an acid to create curds.  This recipe is a simplified method that uses milk instead of only using whey.
This recipe is from the book Home Dairy With Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Cheese, Yogurt, Butter & More.

Pasteurized milk is fine to use for making ricotta, but avoid using ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurized milk, as this process changes the protein structure of the milk and prevents it from separating.  Using 2% milk will work too, although your cheese won't be quite so creamy.  If you opt out of using a thermometer, watch your milk carefully.  You want to stop the cooking process just before your reach the boiling point. I've found that Meyer lemons just aren't acidic enough for this recipe.  If the curds are not developing, try adding a little more lemon juice or white vinegar.


8 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup lemon juice or white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1) In a large saucepan, stir together the milk, cream, and lemon juice with a metal spoon. 
 2) Gradually warm the mixture to 170°F directly over medium-low heat.  Monitor the temperature closely with an instant read thermometer or a dairy thermometer to avoid overheating.  Expect this to take about 30 minutes.  Stir only once or twice while heating to prevent sticking; any more and you run the risk of making the curd too small.

3) Increase the heat gradually until the mixture reaches 200°F.  This will take anywhere from 4 to 7 minutes.  Be sure to stop just before the boiling point.  Your curds should look similar to cottage cheese floating in the liquid whey.
4) Remove the pot from the heat, and allow to rest for 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, line a colander with 2 layers of cheesecloth.

5) Gently ladle the curds into the colander, and allow the whey to drain from the ricotta for at least 20 minutes.  For a firmer, drier curd, allow the curds to drain an additional 20 to 30 minutes.

6) Add the salt and stir to incorporate.  Use the ricotta immediately or place it in a lidded container and store in the refrigerator.  Use within 4-5 days.

Here is a great way to use your ricotta.  I've adapted the recipe from The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook.  It's wonderful on pasta, pizza or even as dressing for sandwiches.

2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup pine nuts 
1 cup arugula
1 cup fresh parsley
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup ricotta cheese 

Place first 7 ingredients in a food processor and pulse while slowly pouring in the olive oil.  Scrap down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Transfer pesto to a small bowl and stir in ricotta.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Mixture can be refrigerated for up to 3 days in a closed container.

For other recipes using ricotta checkout:
Silver Spoon
Baking Illustrated
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian