Homemade Ricotta Cheese

When I think of cheesemaking, I think of sitting under a cow or goat for fresh milk, stirring said fresh milk in a giant heated vat, and adding enzymes that I would buy, um, where exactly does one buy enzymes?  But thanks to David Lebovitz and Simply Recipes, I realized that making ricotta cheese at home is frighteningly easy (frighteningly because I’ll be making it every night!).

Making ricotta cheese, step one.

Not cheese yet

All you have to do is bring whole milk, whole milk yogurt, vinegar, and salt to a boil and let the mixture gently boil for one or two minutes.

Almost cheese

Almost cheese

Take some cheesecloth (which you can buy at pretty much any grocery store), and place it inside a large bowl. Pour the mixture in the bowl, making sure the edges of the cheesecloth stay above the mixture.

Take up the cheese cloth, draining the whey from the curds, and tie it (you may need an extra pair of fingers) to a long spoon or spatula. Hover it over a deep bowl (mine wasn’t quite deep enough) or the sink (as above). Let it drain for about 15 minutes. You can serve it immediately, put it on pizza or pasta, or put it in the refrigerator for up to three days.

 

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Homemade ricotta is much much better than any ricotta you get from the grocery store. It has a fresh, milky smell, and is perfect on this recipe for pizza with fresh vegetables and proscuitto. I’ve also used it in muffins (gasp!) to replace buttermilk or sour cream. If you do use it as a replacement for these, just make sure you balance the recipe out by adding a bit more milk so it doesn’t get too dense.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese (adapted only slightly from Simply Recipes

Makes 2 cups

2 quarts whole milk

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (I use Fage)

Optional: 1/2 cup heavy cream (I did not use this, but if anyone does, tell me how you like it)

2 teaspoons white vinegar

1 1/4 teaspoons salt (the original recipe calls for 1 tsp. of salt, but I thought it could have used more)

Pizza with Sungold Tomato Sauce, Three Cheeses, and Proscuitto

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Pizza is a giver when it comes to providing a delicious and healthy meal that can be changed up each and every time you make it. A lot of times, when people make homemade pizza they want it to taste like the traditional brick-oven or carryout pizza, and when it doesn’t, they are disappointed. I’ve learned that you cannot treat homemade pizza like brick-oven pizza (unless you have a brick oven, which I do not). Homemade pizza is its own creature, and Glenn and I have discovered that we like it better than most pizzas we get out. I make it many different ways depending on what we have, but I always start with a good crust.

Definitely take the time to make a homemade crust–it is absolutely worth it. I use my Kitchenaid stand mixer, which makes it easier, but of course you can do this with a hand mixer or spoon. Because the dough has to rise for an hour, I make the dough as soon as I get home from work (it takes about 10 minutes at the most), then while it’s rising, I prepare the toppings or do something else that I have to do. All you have to do then is roll out the dough onto a pizza stone or a small cookie sheet greased with olive oil. I like to sprinkle some uncooked corn grits onto the pan too, to give the dough a bit of texture, but it’s not necessary. Also, I double the recipe and freeze half the dough, so the next time all I have to do is remember to get it out of the freezer before I leave for work. Yeah, I admit that’s hard sometimes.

While your dough is rising, make the Sungold Tomato Sauce. Whenever my husband would come home with these tiny little Sungold tomatoes, the only thing I could think to do with them was to put them on salads. Booooring. I decided to try a tomato sauce with them. Can you guess what the problem with that is? Well, lots of tiny tomatoes come with lots of tiny skins, so you end up having a sauce that’s almost all skins. And am I going to sit around and peel 4 cups of tiny little Sungolds? Dang it, I’m just not.

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So, I decided to use one of my most favorite kitchen appliances to help me out. But… you’ll have to wait a minute for that. Stick with me here, folks.

In a medium saucepan, I sauteed an onion, carrot, stalk of celery, and garlic in olive oil, then added about 4 cups of the Sungolds and some basil from my garden. Really, you can guesstimate here…it doesn’t have to be exact. 

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Saute everything on medium heat for about 30 minutes–until the tomatoes have all softened and lost their shape. Add salt and pepper. Then, pour the sauce into a blender or food processor. Since my food processor died a couple of weeks ago, I used a blender and it worked great. Oh yeah, I love blenders. They are so powerful for such little appliances. And in this case, it totally took care of all those skins, just processing them into the yummy, tangy pulp that they turned into.

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Spread the sauce over the dough. I used about a 1/2 cup of sauce and froze the rest for later. On top of that, add about 8 oz of fresh mozzerella, about a 1/2 cup of homemade ricotta, and shavings of good parmesean–maybe about 10 shavings or so. Top with about 1/2 cup of Sungolds, sliced in half. Place about 2 slices of good proscuitto, torn apart, evenly on top. Add more if you like pork!

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Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the crust starts to brown around the edges and all the mozzerella has melted.

Pizza is great to experiment with, and it will hold almost any kind of topping you can think of. Pair sweet or tangy things (tomatoes) with salty ones (proscuitto). If you don’t have time to make sauce, just slice the tomatoes in half and place them on the dough with a little olive oil and cheese. You can’t go wrong…

 

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Basic Pizza Dough

Makes crust for one small pizza (this feeds two people)

1 2/3 cups flour (plus extra if you knead it by hand)

1 /2 teaspoon salt

1 package active dry yeast

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup warm water

Mix the dry ingredients, and add the wet ingredients and mix well. Knead for 10 minutes or use the dough hook on your stand mixer. Rub some olive oil over the dough, and place it in a bowl covered with a clean towel. Allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until it has doubled in size.

 

Sungold Tomato Sauce (you can use pretty much any tomatoes for this)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

about 4 cups Sungold tomatoes (plus or minus)

a handful of basil leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and saute for a minute or two (don’t let the garlic brown). Add the tomatoes and basil.

Allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes or until the tomatoes have lost their shape. Add salt and pepper.

Blend or process mixture for about a minute in a blender or food processor.

False Start

To those of you who subscribed to this blog and, who knows, may have even gotten slightly interested in it…or posted a comment…or have been waiting more than a full year for the next post…er, I’m sorry. I’m calling it a false start, a fumble, a fault. Let’s try this again.

See Kelsey Cook and Maybe Sometimes Mess Up Cooking

See Kelsey cook and maybe sometimes mess up cooking

Since my last post (I won’t say when that was; it’s just embarrassing), there has been one major change in my life. My husband, Glenn, has left the architecture field for one a little more, um, green, shall we say. He is now an organic farmer with Jones Valley Urban Farm, here in Birmingham. Although just slightly less profitable (eh hem) than architecture, farming does give this blog a new focus, which is finding something to do with the wonderful produce he brings home each week. Believe me, I love being paid in cherry tomatoes and okra, but let’s face it…for anyone who has ever participated in a CSA or who has a friend with a VERY productive garden, week after week of squash, collard greens, or eggplant can just get boring. Or maybe boring isn’t the word…maybe it’s simply overwhelming. It’s difficult enough thinking of new things to cook for your family, now try to cook the same thing for your family over and over again. Yeah, you won’t get any complaints at all, right? Um, no.

Glenn and Forks Sellin' Veggies at Mt. Laurel Farmer's Market

Glenn and Forks sellin' veggies at Mt. Laurel Farmer's Market

When I say that Glenn is getting paid in vegetables, I’m really quite serious. As an organic farmer, the food he brings home IS part of his pay–it has to be! So, that food becomes the focus of our meals–anything we buy compliments the fresh vegetables that, figuratively, extend his paycheck. So, despite the loss of income, I do still shop at Whole Foods and buy the occasional proscuitto, salmon filet, or expensive bleu cheese, but all are used sparingly, to heighten the taste of what has been grown by my husband, in the thick red clay of Alabama.

Proscuitto

Face it, veggies are good, but proscuitto is delicious!

Whether you live in Alabama or elsewhere, I hope the recipes and stories I share here will help you eat more vegetables in more ways; experiment with food, even if it doesn’t always work (believe me, I’ve served many a mediocre or just plain bad dinner more than once a few times); or just help you extend the food you get from your garden, your CSA box, your overly productive neighbor, or your market.