Big Girls, Test Kitchen: Homemade Fresh Ricotta
EVENT: Diva’s Uncorked Wine & Food Festival
VENUE: Nectar’s, Martha’s Vineyard
TYPE: Tasting Event & Partnership with Plum TV
MENU: Cherry Tomato Bruschetta with Fresh Ricotta and Three Herb Pesto
Since deciding to spend most of August on Martha’s Vineyard, I’ve been trying to make the most of my time here by inserting myself into the island’s fabulous food culture any way I can. This has meant knocking on a lot of doors. And one that I gave a particularly emphatic rap tap tap to was Plum TV’s.
My annoying squeeky wheel behavior paid off eventually.
I was thrilled when Tina Miller called a few weeks ago and offered me the opportunity to represent Plum at the Diva’s Uncorked Wine & Food Festival and help make a dish for their Grand Tasting Event. My mind immediately began scanning our past catering menus for finger food items that would work best with the island’s local produce. But Tina, who’s written two fabulous cookbooks about the island’s local cuisine, offered some advice from previous years: stick with tomatoes and crusty bread. As a crostini-obsessed cook, I could not have been happier to hear those words.
To add my spin to the dish, and make my life more difficult in the process, I decided to experiment with making my own ricotta to slather on the Pain Levain from Rickard’s Bakery. I began with this recipe which called for heavy cream and lemon juice instead of buttermilk. Perhaps it was impatience that got the better of me, but the experiment turned out to be rather disasterous. My parents watched in horror as I splattered hot milk all over myself and their kitchen. And the recipe yielded but a 1/2 cup of ricotta, for one very big mess.
Without the natural acid in buttermilk, the curdling process took forever. After more research (and a tip from Cara), I found that Jennifer Perillo seemed to have found the right balance between heavy cream and buttermilk. I gave her recipe a go, but again, got impatient, and decided to add the tablespoon of lemon juice anyway to speed things up. Whether or not this last addition was the key to success, the result was fantasticly smooth and creamy, and after 4 more batches for the festival, I feel I can officially give Jennie’s recipe my stamp of approval.
For those of you who I won’t be seeing this afternoon, below are the building blocks for making my Cherry Tomato Bruschetta at home. Simply toast or grill fresh bread, top with Homemade Ricotta, Three Herb Pesto, and some gorgeous cherry tomatoes.
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From my island kitchen, spackled with cream, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Homemade Fresh Ricotta
Makes about 1 cup
Jennie has some really great images of the cooking process on her blog. My only change was adding a little bit of lemon juice towards the end to coax the curdling process along. Also, be careful when doubling the recipe and make sure you begin with a large enough pot–when the milk comes to a boil it has the potential to foam up and spill over the sides. This caused a big ol’ mess during one of my first attempts. If you see this happening, simply skim off some of the foam and curdles off the top and add it to the cheese cloth–there will be some clumps forming on the top before the rest of the liquids have fully separated.
1 quart whole milk
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
Add the milk, cream, buttermilk, and salt to a large heavy pot (a 5 or 6-quart Dutch oven will do the trick) and set it over medium heat. Bring to a boil, and be careful that the liquids don’t spill over the top.
Meanwhile, line a fine mesh sieve or strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth–you will need about a yard, folded into a neat square. Place the strainer over a large pot or bowl (you may need a second one on hand in case the first gets too full).
Once solids begin to form on the top, add the lemon juice. The curds will begin to separate from the whey. Once most of the liquids in the pot have curdled (you will see fine little bits in your ladle), remove from the heat. Spoon the curds into the cheese cloth and allow to drain for about 30 minutes. Once very little liquid is seeping out of the bottom of the cloth, gather it together into a buddle and chill in an airtight container in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Remove the cloth and store covered for up to 2 days.
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup roasted or toasted cashews
1 cup tightly packed basil leaves
1 cup snipped chives
1 tablespoon lemon thyme (or regular)
Juice of ½ a lemon
¼ cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/4 teaspoon salt
In a small food processor pulse the garlic and the nuts until finely chopped. Add the basil, chives, thyme, and lemon juice and blend until the herbs have begun to break down. Add the olive oil, and puree until the mixture is smooth and at your desired consistency, adding more oil as necessary to break down the nuts and herbs. Fold in the Parmesan and taste for seasoning. Add salt and extra lemon juice for acidity as needed.