Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Ricotta Cheese is Easy. (Orechiette, Arugula, and Ricotta Cheese Recipe)

So easy I can't even believe it. Thanks, April issue of Cooking Light, for bringing this to my attention.

This past weekend, milk was on sale at King Soopers. I figured it was time to try my hand at making homemade ricotta cheese. Here's what's required for this process (yes, it's just this simple):

1 gallon 2% milk
5 c. low fat buttermilk
a bit of salt
a large pot (about 1.5 gallons or thereabouts)
a candy or meat thermometer w/ clip
a spoon (slotted)
a colander
some cheesecloth
some string

Here's how it works:
1. Pour the milk and buttermilk into the pot. Put in the thermometer (at least 2 in. below the surface)
2. Heat the mixture over medium heat. Stir every now and then.
3. Heat until the mixture reaches 170 degrees. This will take a long time. You might start to see clumps of curds forming before you reach this point. Stir every few minutes, gently. Don't panic.
4. When the mixture reaches 170, stop stirring but leave the heat on. Let the mixture hit 190 degrees, then take it off the heat.
5. Line the colander with 5 or so layers of cheesecloth, put it over a bowl, spoon the curds into it. Let drain about 5 minutes.
6. Gather up the edges of the cheesecloth, tie with string, and hang it up over the faucet so the whey will drip down into your sink. Drain the curds about 15 min.
7. Scrape the curds into the bowl; lightly salt; toss gently to mix. Cool to room temp., then store in the fridge.

Makes 3 cups

And it is DEFINITELY better cheese than one would get from the grocery store. Better texture (more creamy, less grainy), and better taste (more like cheese, less like refridgerator). I am going to check prices tonight, and see how it compares cost-wise. Unless milk is on sale, it might not be more cost-effective, but I'm thinking store-bought ricotta is pretty expensive (relatively) per cup...

I used my cheese to make a recipe accomanying the cheese article last night:

Orechiette w/ Arugula*, Ricotta, and Tomatos

1 lb. orechiette
1 c. ricotta cheese
1/2 c. Pecorino romano cheese, shredded
3 c. arugula, thinly sliced
1 T. olive oil
fresh tomatos (for the top)

1. Cook the orechiette in boiling water.
2. While it's cooking, mix the ricotta, romano, and olive oil in a large bowl. Add a bit of salt and pepper.
3. When the pasta is done, reserve 1/4 c. up the cooking water and drain. Add the pasta and cooking water to the cheese; toss to coat.
4. Dump in the arugula, mix it up, add salt and pepper if desired.
5. Top with however many chopped fresh tomatos look good to you...

This dish was lightning fast, and with homemade ricotta, much more delicious than you would expect given the small number of ingredients. WOW is all I can say. We shall see if it reheats well. It was creamy and delicious. **Edited to say that this dish DOES reheat well. Usually reheated pasta gets sticky and gummy. This was not quite as good as it was fresh, but it was still quite good. I ate all the leftovers, something I seldom manage when I make too much pasta.


Besides pasta, ricotta works as a dessert cheese. I may make another batch this weekend and try a cheesecake recipe! or just top it with some honey and berries. Yes, it's THAT GOOD. I am not a big fan of cottage cheese and fruit, but this stuff is delicious. I had to put it away right after it was cool, otherwise I would have eaten it all straight out of the bowl.

*A quick note on arugula:
It can be hard to find. I have to go to the natural foods supermarket to find it, and it's not always the best-looking green available. If you can't find arugula, you can substitute spinach, at least in this recipe. You can't do this in every recipe, though; arugula has a much more peppery flavor than spinach, so some recipes will not be as interesting without it. However, arugula is very easy to grow, and it shoots up quickly. I am trying it out in my windowboxes this summer; I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Radishes and Kitchen Scales

This is a timely subject; the small seeds I planted last week have begun to sprout. I'll check on their progress again tonight.

The French eat them for breakfast (according to the title of the variety I planted last week, "French Breakfast"). I've always kind of liked them, but I've always thought of them as either part of a relish tray or sliced up in salads. And I only really had the round red kind, though I've also had daikon (which counts, barely).

I have discovered a better way to eat radishes; they are good in salads, etc., but they're not exactly amazing. Try this: butter and salt. Oh yes. Take a thin slice of good bread, butter, cover with thinly sliced radishes, salt, eat. It's much more delicious than it sounds. I'll have to find a real good German beer and have my own Oktoberfest once my own radishes are ready to eat...make that a Apfrilfest...

I've also learned that they can be braised just like any other root vegetable. I haven't tried this yet. But it seems intriguing. Again, to be tried when the radishes come up. I'm sure I'll have more than I know what to do with.

In other news, my lovely and generous roommate just bought me a digital kitchen scale for my belated birthday/Christmas present (in actuality, it was a 'happy tax return!' gift...). I'm thrilled. I've been wanting to bake serious bread for quite some time, but serious bakers use scales - flour is difficult to measure accurately by volume. There have been a lot of good recipes that I've just had to skip. Now, though, I am equipped; I can also make recipes from British and other European cookbooks! I plan to start a batch of ciabatta or something equally interesting this weekend.