Yes, we here at the smittenkitchen had our very first cheese-making experience last weekend. Except, you know how I say “we”? Well, what I actually mean is that Alex was sitting on the sofa, thinking to himself and occasionally out loud “why can’t we just buy it”? And people, it’s like he doesn’t know me at all.
Remember the Cook This List? I’ve had ricotta, and specifically Michael Chiarello’s* recipe on it for ages, but it took a kick in the pants from The New York Times Dining Section three weeks ago to finally get me to check this item off. Luisa–organized, timely Luisa–got to it first which was great because I got a preview of what to expect: a super-cinch recipe that could use a little zing.
My ricotta was precisely the same. I was amazed at how quickly it came together, and how it created a cheese smell in the apartment that was absolutely delicious. Believe me, if I’ve ever said the apartment “smells like cheese” before, it was not a compliment. But this time it was! Even the naysayer on the sofa agreed.
I found a bit of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice really perked the ricotta up, but I am sure it would indeed be tastier with sheep’s milk. Needless to say, I have yet to find a milk-producing sheep baa-ing around Manhattan, so I made due with what was available. From Horizon. In the eerily-close-to-it’s-expiration-date section of Gristedes.
As for what to do with your ricotta once you’ve made it–you know, twenty minutes later–I had come across a recipe for an open-faced ricotta, red onion “marmalade” and prosciutto sandwich on Epicurious a while back that fascinated me, but seeing as I am on a pizza-making bender, I thought these ingredients would make an unusual one.
Alex–poor guy, I guess it’s Harass Alex Day on the blog–is very wary of sweet and savory things mixed together. He doesn’t want to know about the apricot chicken dish I saw Dave Lieberman make once. He cannot deal with grapes in chicken salad. So you can imagine what he thought of a red onion “marmelade” but I am proud to say that on this, too, he admitted he’d been wrong. (And I didn’t rub it in. At all.) The red onion component is more tangy than sweet, and a hefty pinch of red pepper flakes steers it far from the dessert lane. Layered with fresh ricotta and proscuitto (actually, we use speck, but either works) that’s been baked to a curly crisp on top, it was a really fun dinner.
But really, this is a story about cheese. And if you do nothing else, you should make some too.
* Speaking of Chiarello, can I just say how much I miss him? I know I once called his recipes unnecessarily complicated. And well, sometimes they are. But every single one I have made has been utterly delicious and now he’s not on the Food Network anymore. And he’s been replaced with people whose cooking only encourages me to get out of the kitchen, not enjoy it. Come back, please! I’ll never talk smack about your recipes again! (Well, except in two or three days, when I get to the other one I made this week.)
One year ago: Whole Lemon Tart, Fresh Strawberry Tart
Adapted from Michael Chiarello, via the New York Times 5/28/08
Makes about 2 cups; can be doubled.
2 quarts whole milk
2 cups buttermilk
1. Line a wide sieve or colander with cheesecloth, folded so that it is at least 4 layers thick. Place in sink.
2. Pour milk and buttermilk into a heavy-bottomed pot. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently; scrape bottom of pot occasionally to prevent scorching. As milk heats, curds will begin to rise and clump on surface. Once mixture is steaming hot, stop stirring.
3. When mixture reaches 175 to 180 degrees on a candy thermometer, curds and whey will separate. (Whey will look like cloudy gray water underneath a mass of thick white curds.) Immediately turn off heat and gently ladle curds into sieve.
4. When all curds are in sieve and dripping has slowed (about 5 minutes), gently gather edges of cloth and twist to bring curds together; do not squeeze. Let drain 15 minutes more. Discard the whey.
5. Untie cloth and pack ricotta into airtight containers. Refrigerate and use within one week.
Fresh Ricotta and Red Onion Marmalade Pizza
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups thinly sliced red onions
1 1/2 teaspoons golden brown sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
6 to 8 thin slices prosciutto (speck works as well)
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and sugar. Cook until dark brown and tender, stirring frequently, about 16 minutes. Mix in vinegar and crushed pepper. Cook until mixture is thick, about 1 to 2 minutes more. Season marmalade generously to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 500°F. Roll pizza dough out onto the back of a baking sheet, sprinkled with cornmeal. Brush with remaining 1 tablespoon of oil; sprinkle with salt. Spread onion marmalade over the crust, dollop ricotta all over the onion layer and top with slices of prosciutto. Bake until caramelized and crusty, about 10 to 12 minutes.