Archives for category: Ricotta

Ok so the funny thing happened once I was home from the market. I couldn’t crack open the three-pound Amber Cup squash I bought moments earlier. I’d never tried this variety of squash but it was a little smaller than the kabochas (i.e., lighter to carry home) and, as the sign read, it’s “another orange kabocha”—sweet, orange-fleshed, perfect for roasting. The problem was, Jill was due to arrive at any minute for an impromptu lunch and the darn thing would not yield to the gentle, nor increasingly firm, pressure of my knife. Could we have eaten at one of the twenty-six restaurants serving brunch within a stone’s throw of my apartment? Yes. Would it have been easier? Faster? Cheaper? Yes, yes, and yes. But once I get a cooking idea there’s little stopping me.

And I had a very particular craving. Last December I had a memorable lunch at ABC Kitchen with my father and stepmother. I was going to buy my first real rug and it seemed fitting, and fun, to do this a) with my step-mom who is somewhat of a rug connoisseur and b) after filling our bellies with Dan Kluger‘s delicious seasonal fare across the street from the rug emporium. In addition to the pizza with egg, the veal meatballs, and the beets with homemade yogurt, we shared a piece of toasted sourdough bread with kabocha squash, ricotta, and apple cider vinegar. It was my favorite part of the meal that afternoon but I had nearly forgotten it until this week: Bittman wrote about this very dish as an impressive appetizer to serve on Thanksgiving.

But as the clock struck two p.m. in Brooklyn my guest arrived and I was standing in the kitchen with a cold, heavy squash, realizing I had to be on the Upper East Side in two hours no less. I put the squash aside (I’ll deal with YOU later) and came up with an instant plan B. I had the sourdough bread from Hot Bread Kitchen, the fresh ricotta, the sage, the onions—just not the roasted squash. So I decided to substitute it with honeycrisp apples I purchased that morning at the market, reducing them in apple cider vinegar with caramelized onions. Lunch in ten minutes: voilà.

But today was a new day. I took another stab so to speak at the Amber Cup. Mano y mano. Turns out, I just needed to roast it whole. After thirty or forty minutes in a 400-degree oven the flesh was cooked through and had separated from the skin on its own making it very easy to work with. While the squash roasted I caramelized onions in a medium saucepan with a generous amount of olive oil—when they got good and browned I added apple cider vinegar and maple syrup and reduced to a glaze. You combine this onion mixture with the flesh of the cooked squash and add salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes and mash with a fork.

I toasted a slice of sourdough, slathered on a generous spoonful of the ricotta from Narragansett Creamery, and  topped it off with the onion-squash mixture and a tiny bit of fresh sage. There was some debate in my household whether to use sage or mint and I even found conflicting recipes, one calling for sage, the other mint. Sage just seemed to fit the season to me more, but the mint would also be delicious.

And when you’re going to make something with squash, consider this piece of advice from Bittman: almost any winter squash will yield to a sharp knife and some patience, though as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, thin-skinned varieties like delicata are easier to peel or can be left unpeeled entirely.

Squash Toast
Adapted from Jean-Georges Vongerichten

1 2 1/2 to 3 lb kabocha or other yellow-orange squash (peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/8 to 1/4 inch pieces if possible)
3/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp dried chile flakes
coarse salt
1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
1/4 c maple syrup
Thick sourdough bread
1/2 c ricotta (mascarpone, goat cheese, or feta would also work)
Chopped mint or sage

Heat the oven to 425. If you’re working with a hard to cut squash, you may need to roast your squash whole. Otherwise, toss the pieces with 1/4 c olive oil, chile flakes, and about 2 tsp salt in a bowl. Transfer to a baking sheet and cook until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. If whole, you will need at least thirty minutes and up to an hour to cook through. Remove from the oven and let cool a little.

Meanwhile, heat 1/4 c olive oil in a medium saucepan then add the onion slices and tsp of salt, stirring occasionally, and cook until starting to caramelize, about fifteen minutes. Add the vinegar and syrup, stir, and cook for another fifteen minutes over low heat until reduced and syrupy. Combine the squash and onions in a bowl and mash with a fork until combined. Season with salt and black pepper.

Toast thick slices of bread. Spread cheese on top, followed by the squash-onion mixture and sprinkle with coarse salt, black pepper, and garnish with mint or fresh sage.

I have a big culinary crush on Yotam Ottolenghi.

I’ve never met the Israeli-born, London-based chef, restauranteur, cookbook author, and Guardian columnist, but I’m seriously considering a weekend trip to London this summer with a friend just to try his outposts in London. Notting Hill, Islington, Kensington, Belgravia, here I come!

How do I love thee? Allow me to count the ways:

He writes a weekly column called The New Vegetarian but is not a vegetarian.
His love and respect for vegetables are palpable.
He makes things like roasted aubergine with turmeric yogurt, crispy onion, basil, rocket, and pomegranate seeds.
He adores, cherishes, reveres eggplants (aubergines).
His inspiration is Israeli, Palestinian, Turkish, Mediterranean, and above all seasonal.
His “ideal solace for a gloomy winter night” is mushroom ragout with a poached duck egg.
The food he cooks is both familiar and not; simple in preparation yet complex in flavor; traditional and innovative.
And those glasses!

I mean, what is not to like?

To be fair, Ottolenghi has a secret weapon helping him out: partner and head chef, Sami Tamimi, who worked his way up through Israeli kitchens until moving to London in 1997. (You can’t, or shouldn’t, wax poetic about Ottolenghi without at least a shout out to Tamimi.)

In 2010, Ottolenghi published his second cookbook in the UK, Plenty, a book devoted solely to vegetable dishes. Granted, many of the dishes include rich cheeses, runny eggs, good quality oils, but make no mistake, it is an ode to food that comes from the soil.

Yesterday I wanted to both cook something out of Plenty and prepare something I could bring to my lovely, yet increasingly picky grandmother (although she would never admit to being fussy). I thumbed through the beautiful pages and settled on stuffed cabbage. Too many unknown ingredients in a dish can turn my grandmother off before she’s even tried it, so better to stick to more of a known quantity. (Avocados, chic peas, crème fraîche, stinky cheese, chili peppers, black pepper, almost every kind of meat, chocolate even, render a dish dubious at best.)

In this recipe, the cooked cabbage leaves are stuffed with a mixture of rice, vermicelli noodles, ricotta, toasted pine nuts, garlic, mint, and parsley, ingredients that say spring is right around the corner. (I’ve missed fresh herbs!) Before baking you pour a combination of dry white wine, olive oil, and vegetable stock over the parcels, which makes the dish smell wonderfully enticing from the oven. You’ll want to tear right into the mismatched bundles, which is exactly what my grandmother did when I arrived, the dish still hot from the oven an hour later.

Stuffed Cabbage with Rice, Ricotta, and Mint
From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 4

2 tbsp (30 g) unsalted butter
1.5 oz (45 g) vermicelli noodles (not the rice kind)
scant 1 cup (150 g) basmati rice
10 oz (300 ml) water
1 medium white cabbage or Savoy cabbage
2 oz (60 g) pine nuts, toasted and coarseley chopped
5 oz (150 g) ricotta (my post on homemade here)
1 oz (20 g) Parmesan, grated
3 tbsp chopped mint
4 tbsp chopped parsley, plus extra for serving
3 garlic cloves, chopped
6.5 oz (200 ml) dry white wine
3.5 oz (100 ml) vegetable stock
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp olive oil
salt and black pepper

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Break the vermicelli by hand into small pieces and add them to the butter, stirring for 1 or 2 minutes, careful not to let them burn. When the noodles start turning golden add the rice and give it a good stir. Then add the water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a minimum, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes before removing the lid and letting cool.

While the rice is cooking, cut the cabbage vertically in half. Peel off the leaves and blanch in boiling water for 6-8 minutes, or until semi-soft. (You can do this in batches, depending on the size of your pot.) Refresh the leaves under cold running water, drain, and pat dry.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Add the pine nuts, ricotta, half the Parmesan, the herbs, garlic, salt and pepper, to the cooked rice. Mix well with a fork. Use the cooked cabbage leaves to make parcels of whatever size you’d like, filling each one with a generous amount of the rice filling.

Arrange the stuffed cabbage leaves in an ovenproof dish (use cabbage trimming to fill in any gaps). Whisk together the wine, stock, sugar, olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper. Pour this over the cabbage and put the dish in the oven, baking for about 40 minutes or until almost all the liquid is evaporated. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan, return to oven and bake for another 10 minutes, so the cheese melts and turns golden. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Note: Next time I might be adventurous and try adding sauteed shiitake mushrooms to the filling mixture, or about 1 tbsp fresh lemon zest, or when it’s springtime, fresh peas—even though my grandmother said, “Don’t mess with it!”

Turns out, ricotta is almost easier to make yourself than it is to buy.

(Especially if you shop at Whole Foods and drive there in which case you should watch this for a good laugh.)

My friend Mark and I embarked on ricotta-making a couple nights ago; having begun around midnight, I was tucked into bed by 1 am with a pound of fresh ricotta tucked in the fridge.

Ricotta is a fresh cheese typically made from cow’s milk – it’s essentially curdled milk (and I mean that in the best possible way) and its mild flavor and creamy texture improve many a dish from breakfast to dinner to dessert. Personally I think it should be a kitchen staple the way olive oil, butter, or Parmesan are.

Springtime, and summer, are the best times for making and eating ricotta because it’s when cows are munching on fresh green grass, so the milk tastes better. Since ricotta is essentially only milk, the quality of the final product is largely determined by the milk one uses.

So depending on where you live, take the time to search out the best quality milk you can find. I’d recommend getting it from your local farmer’s market if possible; it really does make a difference in taste if the milk is whole, not homogenized, and comes from grass-fed cows. The difference is flavor in marked.

There are a few different ways to make ricotta, here is a very easy method. You’re basically boiling milk, then adding buttermilk, skimming the curds off the top, then letting them drain for half an hour to a few hours. And voilà! You’re left with a velvety, thick fresh cheese that’s delicious in a number of ways. A few of my favorites include:

*Scrambled eggs with ricotta and chives (or parsley)
*Ricotta drizzled with honey, black pepper, and walnuts
*Ricotta gnocchi served with a simple tomato or Romesco sauce
*Prosciutto-wrapped ricotta and melon
*Penne with ricotta, tomato, and basil
*Orecchiette with peas, mint, and ricotta
*Ricotta cheesecake served with fresh berries
*Ricotta pancakes with maple syrup, jam, or berries

Fresh Ricotta

1/2 gallon milk
1 pint buttermilk
olive oil
zest of 1/2 lemon
salt

(Makes 1 pint ricotta)

Bring the 1/2 gallon of milk to nearly a boil in a large sauce pan or stock pot. Pour in the buttermilk, turn the heat down to low, stir continuously, and lo and behold the curds will begin to form instantly before your eyes. After 2-3 minutes turn off the heat.

Line a colander or fine-meshed sieve with two layers of cheesecloth and place over a bowl. With a slotted spoon skim the curds from the pot and transfer to the colander. You can discard the liquid (whey) remaining in your stock pot or tell me if you know a great way to use it. Leave the cheese curds to drain for at least a half hour and up to a few hours. The whey remaining in the curds will drain into the bowl and you’ll be left with ricotta.

At this point you could be done and enjoy your ricotta, or you can continue with a couple extra steps for an added boost of flavor:

Once the ricotta has been drained, I recommend transferring to a food processor or bowl and mixing with a pinch of salt, the zest of half a lemon, and 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. I also liked cracked black pepper, but this can be added at the time of serving.

So remember, if you can buy milk, you can make ricotta. If you can buy good milk, you can make excellent ricotta.



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