Tuesday, August 25, 2009

homemade pride

grilled pizza with homemade ricotta and heirloom tomato bruschetta
there are several things
that i have made,
simply because i'm
to find out that i can.

that's how the whole deal
with marshmallows began,
why i first made graham crackers,
and how i ran to the store late
one saturday night to get yeast,
determined to make english muffins
for sunday morning's breakfast.

and that was initially most of
my thought process with
ricotta cheese.
i can't even remember how long
ago it was that i learned
ricotta cheese could easily
be made at home.
and even though i printed out
a recipe and debated what i should
use it for,
i still held onto that piece of paper
for way too long.

last week i decided - no doubt
fueled by the success of
that that was it,
no more excuses:
i was making ricotta.

larry reacted true to form.
first giving me that look,
letting me know that he thinks
i'm crazy.
next, he asked, very simply, why?
and after that didn't work,
he gave it a last ditch attempt,
reminding me that i could
buy it for a lot less work.
later, he asked what i was going to
do with it. when i said i didn't
yet know, but that wasn't the point,
he shrugged his shoulders and
dropped the subject,
no doubt clear in his defeat.

but because i'm never content
to just make it easy,
i searched for a different
recipe, wanting to guarantee
that i went with the right method.
i found this one,
then debated all afternoon.
it wasn't until i was in the store,
staring at all the milks
that i decided to stick to my guns
and go with my first recipe.
i owed it that much after
years waiting its turn
in the binder.

i made one change,
breaking a major rule of mine:
never ever change a recipe the
first time you make it.
make it the way it was intended first,
then feel free to play, tinker and add.
it's not that i don't adjust
here and there,
but when a recipe is fundamentally based
on very few ingredients,
it seems more than wrong
to mess with any
of them.

i never buy full-fat ricotta,
so, it seemed kind of weird for me
to make the cheese all fat at home.
i took a big leap, and bought
1% milk, knowing that if i didn't
have cheese at the end of the
experiment, i'd have no one
to blame but myself.

i also switched the heavy cream
for light cream, worried that i needed
extra fat that whole milk
just would not be able to provide.
milk coming to a boil for ricotta cheese
in spite of these changes,
when i mixed together the
and salt,
in a pot, and brought them
to a boil, they boiled anyway
(not that there was really
any doubt about that part).

and after, i
added the lemon juice
called for,
plus just a smidge more,
i crossed my fingers
that the mixture would
in fact curdle.

at first, i thought the curds
were tiny, and that there
weren't enough.
i was sure that the whole
thing concoction would slip
through the cheesecloth
and all wind up in the bottom
of the bowl,
still liquid.
but a minute later, i experimented,
lifting up the spoon i was using to stir
and was pleasantly surprised to
see that it contained a good amount of cheese.

it was now or never.
i poured the mixture into
the cheesecloth-lined strainer,
eyes half closed and was very
happy to realize that there was quite
a lot of cheese in the bowl.
i tasted i small bit -
very hot
still wet -
but unmistakingly, ricotta.

even though this recipe had said to strain
the cheese for one hour,
the other one called for only 15 minutes.
i took a chance around 20
(after a quick straining test to make sure
it wasn't still dripping wet)
and spread it onto the
whole grain pizza dough i had just grilled.

then, i topped it with the
heirloom bruschetta i had stirred together
while the cheese was draining.
and i was so glad for that.
you see - i like ricotta.
i can appreciate the creamy texture
and the smoothness it lends
to a dish. i can get behind the
hard to beat clean cheese flavor.
but, i can't help to find ricotta
a little bit bland.
i rarely use it without
spicing the whole mixture
up with
and more.

this time, i wanted to enjoy
it for the simple ingredient
it was. i added nothing to it,
but on top, was a different story.
the balsamic, basil and red onion-spiked
bruschetta over the crispy smoky crust,
encouraged the cheese to taste like
the most complex of
homemade fresh ricotta with cinnamon, honey and blueberries
the next night,
i scooped a spoonful of the
significantly dryer ricotta
into a bowl,
sprinkled it with ground cinnamon,
drizzled everything with honey
and tossed a handful of blueberries
on top.
it was a lovely treat -
creamy and indulgent,
gently spiced and
not too sweet.
but thanks to the summer fruit,
extremely fresh.

i've waited years to
make ricotta, never actually
discussing it with anyone,
but just days after this batch
was made, my friend colleen
wrote about her experience
making ricotta that very
weekend. it's not such a
surprise - in the past
we've made garlic scapes
at the same time and
this past weekend for my
birthday, she whipped up a
batch of peach cupcakes that i
had my eye on to bake.
but to me, the best part was
that she had made the other
recipe, so i now have proof
that both work.

obviously, if you're in a hurry,
i cannot dispute that it's easier
to buy a container
from the store.
but if you have even
the tiniest
bit of time,
it's worth it to make
ricotta at home.
the only reason
this actually takes
a few extra minutes
is because you have to
wait for the mixture to come
to a boil.
after that, it's fast,
smooth sailing -
the equivilant of making pasta.
don't wait as long as i did.
fresh ricotta cheese, straining
homemade ricotta cheese
adapted from gourmet magazine
the original recipe called for whole milk and heavy cream, which i'm sure would have been delicious. i made this with 1% milk and light cream. on the first night, it was lovely. the second night it was still good, but much dryer. the original recipe called to let the mixture drain for 1 hour. i was very happy with the texture after 20 minutes of draining - so i used it then. if you prefer a less wet ricotta, let it strain longer.

1/2 gallon 1% milk
1 cup light cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 generous tablespoons fresh lemon juice

line a large sieve with cheesecloth (i gave it four layers); place over a large bowl and set aside.

in large heavy saucepot over medium heat, bring milk, cream and salt to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.

add lemon juice; reduce heat to low and cook 2 minutes, or until the mixture curdles, stirring constantly. gently pour mixture into sieve. let drain 20 minutes to 1 hour.

cover and chill in fridge. keeps for up to two days.

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