Homemade Ricotta

dsc_0376

In my last post I was sappy. Today we’re getting cheesy. We’re making cheese. Specifically, ricotta.

I was introduced to making ricotta in restaurant kitchens. There we make it by the gallon, using a ratio instead of a recipe. 2 to 1 milk to cream. Boil with salt. Add acid. Set. Strain. The pure white curds that emerge are magic. When I tasted homemade ricotta for the first time I realized that ricotta is so much more than just a filling for lasagna. It’s creamy and light and almost sweet, and it plays so well with everything.

I’ve seen ricotta as a base for dumplings, as a component of a strawberry-chocolate dessert, and as a filling for bruschetta, among other things. In my own kitchen I eat ricotta on top of nutella smeared toast, as a topping for pastas, melted on pizzas, and straight from the spoon. Once you start looking it’s hard to think of anything that’s not improved with a smear of ricotta.

 

Ricotta is simple. You need a pot, a spoon, a colander (or sieve, but you may not have a sieve and you likely have a colander), and some cheesecloth. Cheesecloth should be available at most grocery stores for two or three dollars, and has a habit of proving enormously useful. And once you have the tools, it’s boil, stir, set, and drain. The whole process takes an hour with maybe five minutes of active time, and you’re left with the best ricotta you can acquire this side of $20 a pound.

Making ricotta also has the benefit of leaving behind whey. The whey is the milky, salty, slightly acidic liquid left behind when you drain the ricotta. I’m not going to promise you you’ll love it, but at this moment I am drinking whey straight from a coffee mug. It’s also magic in bread making. I recently made this pizza crust using whey instead of water and it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever made. And if bread making isn’t your thing, whey would be fantastic in a creamy soup.

If you’re still on the fence, think of all the things you could eat with the ricotta you make.

-My mom used to make stuffed shells. These ones look like a grown up version of my childhood favorite.
-I made this cake with our old wonky oven and it was delicious. I can’t imagine how good it would be with homemade ricotta (and our newer, functioning oven).
-I love everything I’ve had from Anna Jones, and I’m willing to bet that includes lemon ricotta french toast.
-Baked ricotta? Baked ricotta.
-And to take advantage of the last of summer produce, a tomato and ricotta pie.

Homemade Ricotta

makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup lemon juice

In a  heavy bottomed pot stir together the milk, cream, and salt. Bring to a boil (200 degrees if you’d like to be specific) then turn off the heat. Stir in the lemon juice, and stir for 10 seconds. Let the whole mixture sit for 20 minutes.

Line a colander or sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth and place over a large bowl. Pour the ricotta mixture into the colander. Let it drain, undisturbed, until the ricotta is at the texture you want. This usually takes 20 to 30 minutes for me.

Save the whey separately from the ricotta. The ricotta should last refrigerated for a week, but it’s unlikely to last that long.

Standard

Chocolate Torte with Whipped Cream and Pistachios

dsc_0234

Aaron,

I’m not sure how I ever got so lucky to be your wife. There are many ways that you may respond- you usually deflect the compliment, and insist that you’re the lucky one. Or you may refer to me as your partner because you think the word wife sounds subservient and that’s nothing like our marriage. This aside, I am still not sure how I ever got so lucky.

Do you remember when we were got engaged? I was 23 and you were 22 and we had no idea where we were going in life. Post-college jobs, the sort that we had spent years studying and paying for, were elusive. Independence was hard to find. And in all of that you took me for a walk one frigid March afternoon and asked me to marry you. I swore and screamed and didn’t let you finish the question. We spent a few days slowly telling our closest friends and families, letting it be our happy secret before putting it out for everyone to know.

In the year and a half before we got married we got a lot of questions from people. Friends and strangers both would ask us why. Why we were getting married so young. There was genuine curiosity, but there was also hostility. Do you remember how angry I would get? Or when your awful manager at that terrible hotel bar asked why you  wanted to get married instead of sleeping around? The form of the answer changed but the core was the same. We loved each other. We wanted to make that love the cornerstone of our lives rather than a crowning achievement. It’s as good an answer as any. But it’s not the whole answer.

I think people need others, whether that’s as friends or lovers or partners or some amalgam of all three. I am better with you. You are the most kind person I’ve ever known, and you bring that out in me. With you I’m softer, less prickly. I’m slower to judge and to take offense. Your steadiness is grounding. You challenge my assumptions by making me explain them.

When my family was questioning my decision to not take your name you were my greatest advocate. When I thought that I might want to change jobs (and earn less money) you mastermind a cross-state move. If I woke up tomorrow with the decision to go to grad school, write a book, or enter politics you would not only support the decision, but help figure out how we could make it work. And you would do it graciously, without any bitterness or impatience.

Our friends who didn’t know us early in our relationship are always shocked that we used to fight. A lot. We spent a long time having the hard conversations and deciding kind of relationships we wanted. It wasn’t easy. I’ve seen plenty of friends break up over these fights, these conversations. When people ask how we did it I like to paraphrase C.S. Lewis and say that love is not a feeling but a decision. It’s not romantic but is often true.

But you know as well as I do that love is both. It’s you making me origami paper roses for our first Valentine’s Day together and not expecting anything in return. It’s smuggling a bottle of wine in our picnic tote because it’s a Thursday and we want to celebrate it being Thursday.  It’s making me a cocktail after a hard night of work and”I love you” being the first words you say every morning. And these sort of flowery posts are usually reserved for Valentine’s Days, or birthdays, or anniversaries. But maintaining love means building it every day.

Recently we went out to ie for a date night. We have a bad habit of going out to eat and spending way more than anticipated, but if that’s our biggest vice I’m not terribly worried. We reconnect over these nights. They’ve always been our steadying point. You had been gone for work for a week and we had missed each other. We drank glasses of wine and made friends with our server. The food was incredible- tender octopus flecked with shredded pepperoni, braised cannellini beans, perfectly seared scallops, squid ink and uni pasta with clams. And then came dessert- a fudge-y chocolate torte with a shattering crust, flecked with salt and drizzled with olive oil. The tart was strewn with pistachios and topped with whipped cream, and as full as we were we kept trying to finish it. We brought it home, and the next day I ate it all. And when you found out, as disappointed as you were, you forgave me instantly. As you always do.

I love you, darling. This one is for you.

dsc_0232

Chocolate Torte with Whipped Cream and Pistachios

adapted from Fran Bigelow via Saveur

Tightly wrapped, this torte will keep but will get softer the longer it sits. I imagine that it will freeze well, but have not tried it myself.

Makes one 9 inch torte

1 pound semi-sweet chocolate chips (or semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped)
1 cup heavy cream
6 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dry curaçao or other orange liquor
1 teaspoon salt

To serve

Whipped cream
Crushed pistachios
Flaked Salt
Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 9 inch cake pan. Cut a round of parchement paper the same size as the bottom of the pan, lay that at the bottom of the pan, and butter that as well. Place a large pot of water on the stove and set it to simmer.

Place the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and set into the pot so it sits above the water but does not touch it. Let the chocolate melt, stirring occasionally. Once all the chocolate is melted set aside. Let the water continue to simmer.

Meanwhile, place the heavy cream into a medium bowl. Use an electric mixer with a whisk attachment to whip the cream. Once it is fluffy and stable set aside.

In a large heatproof bowl combine the eggs, sugar, orange curaçao and salt. Whisk the whole mess together. Set over the simmering water and whisk continuously until the egg mixture is warm. Remove from the heat.

Using the whisk attachment beat the warm egg mixture over medium for 5 minutes. The eggs should be fluffy, frothy, light yellow, and at least doubled in volume by the time 5 minutes have passed. Slowly beat in the melted chocolate until all combined.

Using a rubber spatula, add the whipped cream to the chocolate-egg mixture and fold in the whipped cream. Be careful to fold until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.

Place the cake pan in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes. It will have risen, with cracks on the surface, and will smell of rich chocolate. A toothpick inserted into the cracks will come out clean, and the center should be just set.

Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan. This torte is best served in small pieces with lightly sweetened, softly whipped cream, pistachios, flaked salt, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Standard

Carrot and Coconut Dal

dsc_0099

Fall is on the edges here in MPLS. Aaron has put our old, ineffective air conditioner back into storage and we’re no longer sleeping with a fan. We’ve made the official switch from serving cold soup to hot soup at work. The temperature falls into the 50s at night, even as it sometimes hits 80 during the afternoon. People are breaking out the flannel and even the occasional puffy vest again. And my old friend, seasonal allergies, has come back for a visit.

I’m not sure what, exactly, I’m allergic to, whatever it is it’s all around. I have the full monty- itchy eyes, runny nose, congestion. And sneezes. Oh, the sneezes. Once they start they just won’t stop. I would describe them in more detail, but this is a food blog whose goal is to make you hungry, not grossed out, so I’ll stop.

I have no objection to taking an allergy pill, but all of ours seem to have disappeared. It’s a temporary problem, as I’m making a Target run tonight. But in the meantime I figured that food, while not able to cure my allergies, certainly couldn’t hurt.

To this effect I give you this carrot and coconut dal. It’s full of the types of food you want to eat while mildly sick- ginger, garlic, onions, turmeric, and black pepper. It’s warming at a time when I want to eat something warm, but still light enough for the end of summer. The red lentils dissolve just enough to bring in a beautiful, soft texture. There’s three types of coconut- oil, milk, and flaked for the topping- to bring some sweetness and creaminess. The whole thing is deeply flavored, slightly tart, bright, and earthy. The spice is there, lingering softly after each bite.

This dal reminds me of the soups that I liked to eat in my college house.We used the heat as sparingly as possible there to save money, and so would wrap ourselves in sweaters and blankets. I almost always had something warm in my hands then, whether it was a bowl of soup or a mug of tea. I also ate most of my meals either perched on the couch next to friends, or lounging on the floor. Vegetables and lentils were cheap, much cheaper than dairy and meat, and so I ate them in abundance. This dal is not the same as I would have made then- it is more subtle in its spicing, and made with a more patience and care. But it has the same sort of warm, earthy, straightforward qualities that I’ve loved in lentil soups, past. I still love the clean goodness of lentils in the present, and am certain I’ll continue to love them in the future.

dsc_0109

Carrot and Coconut Dal

adapted from Good + Simple by Jasmine Hemsley and Melissa Hemsley

If you’d like a spicier dal you could double the chili powder. This dal would be an easy one to make your own by changing the spices- cinnamon, ground mustard, or cumin would all be delicious here.

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
a 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 cups red lentils
4 cups vegetable broth
1 15 ounce can of coconut milk
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon tamari
1 teaspoon of salt, plus more to taste
3/4 teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste
1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut, for serving
roughly chopped cilantro, for serving

Heat a dutch oven or other soup-sized pot over medium heat. Add the coconut oil and heat for a minute. Add the onion and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not dark, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add in the ginger, garlic, turmeric, and chili powder and stir well, then cook for another minute. Add the lentils, vegetable broth, and coconut milk. Bring the whole thing to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 or so minutes, until the lentils are tender.

While the dal is cooking heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add the coconut and cook, stirring constantly, for two or three minutes, until the coconut is golden and smells toasty. Remove the coconut from the pan and set aside.

Once the lentils are tender add more water if it’s a bit thick- I added a cup of water to mine. Add the lemon juice, tamari, salt, and pepper. Stir well, and taste. Adjust the seasonings as necessary.

Serve hot, topped with the roughly chopped cilantro and the toasted coconut.

Standard

Eggplant Stew with Chickpeas and Paprika

dsc_1035

What do you make for dinner when you pair a vegetarian, a Celiac, and a few girls who would be perfectly happy with chili dogs and a side of cheetos?

The first time I made this eggplant stew was two years ago. A month after Aaron and I got married I decided to have some high school friends over for dinner. Just before the wedding we had moved to Illinois and into a new apartment, and during the most chaotic month of my life we entertained exactly zero times. I was eager to show off our new place with all its gleaming hardwood floors and large windows. There were new pots and pans and knives to use, and it had been some time since I had lived in the same state as these friends. It was an occasion for celebration. And like any celebration there was a carefully chosen menu.

Nothing too strange, nothing too foreign, but something ultimately delicious and satisfying. For our main I made a smokey eggplant stew, deciding that there was nothing too terrifying about eggplant. There was a kale salad of baby kale and baby grapes, an adorable combination that quashed any qualms about eating kale, an attempt at an acceptable cake that did not work out, and some maple grilled peaches that did. Aaron had been at work, but arrived in time for dessert and mixed cocktails for those of us who drank. I made popcorn after dinner. There were games. We ended up with surprise overnight guests sleeping on our old leather couches. The next morning I convinced the kale-phobic to drink a kale smoothie for breakfast and we lingered over caffeine and kale for hours. The only leftovers were the disappointment of the cake.

It’s a night, exceptional in its ordinary joy, that I remember often. It’s the sort of nights I like to celebrate with friends as often as possible, even though I again live in a different state of these friends. It’s a night that serves as a talesman for the power of food to connect us, and the ways that sharing a meal can be like sharing ourselves.

I’ve made this stew as a souvenir a few times. This stew was a godsend. It’s the type of thing I like to eat late summer, getting to use the last of summer’s produce without pretending like it doesn’t cool down at night. It’s smokey and meaty from the paprika and eggplants and slightly sweet, slightly tart from the tomatoes and pepper. It’s not quite ratatouille, but could be kissing cousins. And the taste is so much more complex than it should from the cooking time. It’s a beautiful sort of meal to share with the people you love.

dsc_0005

Eggplant Stew with Chickpeas and Paprika

I find this stew makes a filling meal, but if you’d like a bit more heft (or to stretch it further) it’s delicious over a bed of brown rice.

adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 medium eggplants (about a pound and a half), chopped into small cubes
1 red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 large or 4 small garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
5 roma tomatoes, quartered, deseeded, and chopped
1 15 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
chopped parsley, to serve

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the eggplant, stirring every few minutes until golden in color, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile warm a dutch oven or other good-sized pot over medium heat. Add the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil. Add in the onion, pepper, and paprika, and stir well. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion and pepper are starting to soften. Add in the garlic. Cook for a few more minutes, until the garlic is fragrant. Add in the tomato paste and stir well. Cook for another minute or so, then add a tablespoon or two of water. Stir well, being careful to scrape up any dark bits on the bottom of the pot.

Add in the tomatoes, chickpeas, cooked eggplant, 2 cups of water, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a rolling simmer and cover. Cook, uncovering and stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have collapsed and are stew-y in texture, about 30 minutes.

Taste and adjust for seasoning, and serve hot topped with a lot of chopped parsley.

Standard

Spaghetti with Figs and Walnuts

dsc_0915

For as long as I’ve wanted to be a writer I’ve kept notebooks. As a kid they were the cheap journals that were given in abundance to the shy, academically inclined child- party favors, Christmas gift, class raffle prizes. I particularly remember one pink journal that whose cover was graced with a Precious Moments ballerina. I hated it. It didn’t stop me from using it.

In high school and college I alternated between spiral bound and composition notebooks. Composition was preferred for its durability and neatness, but I was not particular. If it was affordable and available I would use it. I filled those notebooks with lines of poetry, overheard conversations, lists, doodles, and manifestos. Filling a notebook was almost as good as writing a story. It was certainly better than writing a paper. I have a box of those notebooks tucked away in my closet. I haven’t even looked at them since I graduated college, and I still can’t bear to get rid of them. I’m excellent at discarding clothes that no longer fit quite right or jewelry gifted to me by a friend who I no longer know, but I’m emotionally attached to those notebooks.

I now use almost exclusively Moleskine notebooks. They feel good in my hand, and take abuse just right- they wear, but don’t fall apart. I have a palm sized Moleskines for each restaurant I’ve worked at to store recipes. Some of those recipes call for 70 grams of almond flour. Some call for 5 pounds duck gizzards, cured and rinsed. Both are splattered with oil and coated with flour, the pen almost bleeding. I have a paperback sized Moleskine leather journal that I use mostly while flying, despite by best efforts to use it daily. And I have two soft, flexible Moleskines where I write out ideas and recipes for here- one that I just started scribbling in one day, and the other done deliberately.

dsc_0981

When I started this blog I didn’t plan much. I was worried that if I thought too much about the how I would lose sight of the why. But before I made my first post I sat down and wrote out a list of ideas for posts. Ten ideas was enough, I reasoned. Some of the ideas I wrote down were tested and failed. There’s a few ideas that are so wacky I keep them on in case I’m seriously blocked and need something strange to jar me. A few from the original list have made the site (such as this, this, and this). But the recipe that I was most excited for from the beginning was Spaghetti with Figs and Walnuts.

This recipe has its basis in a post years ago from Green Kitchen Stories. I never made the dish, but the idea of it always stuck in my head- luscious spaghetti dotted with ripe figs, drizzled with olive oil, and strewn with toasted walnuts. It sounded like a glorious, Italian kissed end to summer, where it should be consumed outdoors with a glass of fruity white wine.

As things that live in our head tend to do, this recipe stretched and changed as it waited for its birth. Where the original calls for spinach and goat cheese, this relies on softly sautéed shallots and roasted red peppers to bring out the dusky sweetness of figs. And to cut the sweetness, because despite the sweet elements this is a savory dish, there’s a profound amount of black pepper and a healthy drizzle of sherry vinegar. Walnuts and whole wheat spaghetti accentuate the fig’s earthy tastes, and help ground the whole dish. Finally, because I live in Minnesota and therefore do not receive the luxurious figs I assume people in warm weather climates get, these figs are sautéed along with the roasted red pepper and shallots, and help flavor the sauce of the spaghetti itself.

I devoured this before work with a big glass of water, so I can’t attest to its affinity with the outdoors or wine. But that’s no reason why you can’t dine on spaghetti with figs al fresco during these last brilliant days of summer.

dsc_0964

Spaghetti with Figs and Walnuts

inspired by Green Kitchen Stories

serves 2 as a main

Ricotta salata is a preserved, semi-firm version of ricotta. It should be found in most grocery stores with a decent cheese selection. If you can’t find ricotta salata, a pecorino romano or parmesan would be delicious, as would fresh ricotta.

8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti
1 cup walnuts
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 shallot, thinly sliced into half moons
1 cup chopped roasted red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
10 figs, halved
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

To serve
basil, roughly chopped
ricotta salata
flaked salt
black pepper
olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt generously, then add the spaghetti. Boil the spaghetti for 1 min less than package directions.

While the water is coming to a boil heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the walnuts and toast for a few minutes, stirring frequently. By the time that they are ready they will be fragrant and slightly darker. Remove the walnuts and give them a rough chop. Wipe skillet dry and return to the stove. Reduce the heat to low.

In the large skillet add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add in shallots stir frequently. You want the shallots to soften and take on some color, but not to get dark. Add in the chopped roasted red pepper and sprinkle with the salt and half the pepper. Sauté, stirring frequently, for a few minutes. The spaghetti should be boiling by now.

Bring the heat back up to medium and add the remainder of the olive oil. Place the figs cut side down and sauté for 3 minutes. Add in the spaghetti with a ladle or two of its cooking water. Let the spaghetti and water simmer down to a sauce, stirring to incorporate everything together. Add in sherry vinegar and stir well. Taste, and add more salt, pepper, and sherry vinegar as necessary. Remove onto a platter or bowl. Top with the walnuts, basil, and shaved ricotta salata. Sprinkle on flaked salt, black pepper, and more olive oil. Serve warm.

 

Standard