Ricotta Leek Tart with Tomatoes

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If there’s one thing I hate it’s living up to stereotypes. In college I never told people (read: a specific breed of men) that I liked to cook. It was the best way to avoid the inevitable women in kitchen “jokes”, not that it stopped them. As someone who now makes her living in the kitchen I have fantasies about telling such ignorant louts. (These fantasies are essentially channeling Colette from Ratatouille.) There’s something icky about matching up with these stereotypes, like you’re failing to be a fully complex human being.

But to my shame some stereotypes are accurate. Specifically, I’m terrible with technology. I like to say that I’m as good at computers as the average 50 year old, but my Mom is in her 50s and is more proficient than I am. And let’s clarify that this is a me thing, not a gender thing. The other week Aaron and I went over to our friends Anne and Brian. Aaron quickly fell into conversation about tech with Anne, while Brian and I skipped off into their basement to check out their foundation with a marble. As we hurried away Anne quipped that it was computer skills verses actual skills. Our two groups each trouble shot in our own ways- Anne figured out the computer problem at hand, and Brian and I expertly decided their foundation was sound.

All this is to say that this post almost didn’t go out today, because I couldn’t get my camera and computer to synch. I still haven’t solved the problem, and my own personal IT guy (Aaron, who in addition to bar tending used to work for an actual big tech company) has yet to troubleshoot it for me. But today I did discover, after owning my computer for almost a year, that my laptop has an SD port. Problem solved? Absolutely not. Workaround found? Yes. Good enough for me? You know it.

My reticence towards technology spreads to the kitchen sometimes. I know how to sous vide and use liquid nitrogen, but I forget about them both for long stretches of the time. That kid of cooking is deeply impractical for daily life. I have a high speed blender, and I love it, but not nearly as much as I love my chef’s knife and bench scraper. I’m much more interested in fermentation than spherification. At work it’s fun to play with ideas and techniques, but at home I love the simple and the rustic.

Rustic is the adjective I’d chose for this tart. It’s made with an olive oil tart dough, which comes together with less fuss than a butter crust. There’s no cutting in the butter, and no worries about temperature. The crust is sturdy, well suited to the type of thing to make and then leave in the fridge for a week’s lunches.

I’ve paired this tart dough with a sort of faux-quiche. Ricotta and eggs make a lovely, sturdy custard, creamy and substantial. The  custard is filled with leeks, which bring sweetness, and topped with cherry tomatoes, provide brightness in both taste and color. It’s delightfully old-fashioned,  the sort of thing people might bring on classy picnics, with champaign and designated picnic baskets. I initially made this in hope for a classy picnic of our own, but the weather has not cooperated. Instead we have been steadily chipping away at this tart for lunches (me) and dinners (Aaron) in the safety of our apartment, tasting sunshine in its absence. 

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Ricotta Leek Tart with Tomato

I would highly recommend making this ahead of time, as it keeps so lovely. 

Serves 6

1 parbaked olive oil tart shell, recipe below
2 medium leeks, thinly sliced and well washed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup (8 ounces, 226 grams) ricotta
3 eggs
sea salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
12 cherry tomatoes, halved

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a sauce pan over medium heat warm the olive oil. Add the cleaned leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, with a pinch of salt until the leeks have softened, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

In a large bowl mix together the ricotta, eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, thyme, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in the softened leeks. Pour out into the prepared olive oil tart shell.

Gently spoon the filling around the shell so that it’s level. Place the cherry tomato halves into the filling, cut side up. Press down gently so that the cut side is level with with the filling.

Bake for 40 minutes, until filling is set and the tomatoes have shrunk and concentrated a bit. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Serve room temperature or cold.

Olive Oil Tart Dough

Makes 1 tart shell

3/4 cup (120 grams) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup cold water

Whisk together the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in olive oil until the dough begins to clump together, then stir in the water. Using your hands, form the dough into ball, kneading it together if necessary. Wrap in plastic then refrigerate 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350. Remove the tart dough from the refrigerator and roll out onto a well-floured surface until it’s an even circle a few inches longer than your pie dish. Transfer the dough to the pie dish, patching up any holes as they occur. Crimp the edges of the tart dough down and trim as necessary, then prick the bottom of the tart a few times with a fork.

Bake the tart dough, uncovered, for 20 minutes. The tart shell should be firm to touch. Set aside until you’re ready to make the tart.

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Baked Pasta with Acorn Squash, Butter Beans, and Kale

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It’s that time of year now 6pm is as dark as midnight, and there are less people about at night. Last night I was heading home from Mass, a fifteen minute walk. As I started walking I fired off a text to Aaron. And then I saw out the corner of my eye an older man cross the street and fall into step behind me.

I could see his reflection in the dark store windows. When I slowed my steps to feint admiration for bridal gowns, his steps slowed. When I sped up he did the same. When I started to avoid leaves and quieted my footsteps his became near silent. And when I turned away from the park that would lead me home and towards a bustling strip of restaurants he turned as well.

I abandoned subtlety and started looking back, making sure he knew I saw him. There were more people about here, and it was brighter lit, and I could still see him bobbing through the crowds. An alternate route home would take twice as long to walk, and wouldn’t be much safer. Feeling frustrated and slightly foolish, I called Aaron.

“I think there’s someone following me. Can you pick me up?”

I looped back to the church, where I waited in the lobby. Aaron was over in a matter of minutes. The whole time, I could not shake the feeling that I had overreacted. Was I just being ridiculous? That did not stop me from scrolling through local new sources on twitter before bed, hoping not to hear of some other woman alone being attacked.

I’m tired of this. I’ve long since observed the cardinal rules about caution- don’t walk anywhere poorly lit, don’t take shortcuts, memorize the faces of people you see, always have an escape route. I’m tired of having to take these precautions. I’m tired of being catcalled. I’m tired of reflexively listening to footsteps. And I’m tired of the truth that if I had been attacked, there would have been people who insist that it was my fault, that by somehow walking home alone (at 7:30, from church) I was inviting an attack on my person.

It’s a microcosm of how I’ve been feeling this election. I joke with friends that I’ll exhale once the election is over. But it’s not a joke. Weeks ago when the Access Hollywood tape was released I met it with resignation. When there was an uproar in Republican ranks that made me angry. This is a man who has threatened so many. Why is this is the line in the sand that you decided?

There has been such ugliness and such hatred in the recent months. Tomorrow cannot come soon enough. It won’t make everything better, but it may be a turning point, and that’s all I can hope for right now.

I have no good answers for this. There’s no recipe that can create civil public discourse, no cookie that makes women feel safe to move through public spaces unharmed. Soup won’t end wars. But food has always been a touchstone for me.

Today, a day after being followed and a day before the election, I’ve turned to cooking. It’s serving as a  comfort and as a way to keep busy. If I’m occupying myself with food, I can’t endlessly refresh fivethirtyeight. And I can’t single handedly fix our electorate but I can feed people. The optimist in me believes that enough shared meals with enough people can help us change the way we view the other.

This is not a one pot dinner or a thirty minute meal. This has multiple components and loads of dirty dishes. If that’s what you’re not looking for, that’s more than fair. I understand. But if you’re looking for something that will occupy and sooth you, you could do worse thank this. Roasted acorn squash, sautéed kale, sage, and a clever sauce of blended beans all get tossed together with pasta. The pasta gets turned out into a pan and topped with walnuts, more sage, and ricotta cheese. The result is melty and comforting, creamy and full of flavor.

Stay sane, stay safe. And may there be many comforting meals heading your way.

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Baked Pasta with Acorn Squash, Butter Beans, and Kale

If you would like a very creamy pasta bake I would use two cans of butter beans rather than the suggested one.

very roughly adapted from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones

Serves 6

1 medium acorn squash, peeled, deseeded, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 pound short pasta of choice
1 bunch of kale, stems removed and finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 15 ounce can butter beans with their liquid
zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons sage, minced
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup ricotta

Preheat the oven to 425.

In a bowl toss together the acorn squash, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, or until tender. Set aside. Turn the oven down to 350.

Set a large pot of water to boil. Salt the water generously, then add the pasta. Cook at a rolling boil, stirring occasionally, for two minutes less than the pasta package calls for. Drain while there’s still some bite in the center of the pasta. Set aside.

In a medium pot warm 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the kale and stir, cooking until the kale is glossy, dark, and has collapsed a bit. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The garlic should be fragrant. Set aside.

In a blender combine the butter beans and liquid, 3 tablespoons olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth and taste. Adjust seasoning as necessary. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine the squash, pasta, kale, bean sauce, and 2 tablespoons of sage. Mix well. Turn out into a 9 x 13 pan. Top the pasta with dots of ricotta, walnuts, and the remaining tablespoon of sage.

Bake 45-55 minutes, until the edges are crisp and the ricotta is golden. Eat hot.

 

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Homemade Ricotta

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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.

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