17 April 2010

A Cheesey Post

I'm a cheese lover and rarely pass up the opportunity to add that dairy-based goodness to any meal.  However, I'm not a big fan of the processed stuff that is so rampant at local supermarkets. 

My favorite memories from trips (domestic and abroad) almost always involve food.  And not fancy-schmancy restaurant dishes, but food from street vendors or tiny markets.  I love hitting the local stores each morning and buying just enough bread, cheese and meat to make sandwiches for lunch that day.  And whatever the local cheese is, that's the one I'm buying.  I have had picnics in some of the most interesting and memorable places.

Fine dining on the steps of the Pantheon, drinking my favorite Italian birra

Last week while looking up information on homemade creme fraiche, I also came across several recipes for homemade ricotta.  They sounded simple, tasty and like something I just had to try myself. 

The recipe I chose was from a guest post by Dave Lebovitz on Simply Recipes.  It's very straightforward with only a few ingredients: 1/2 gallon of whole milk, 1 cup of yogurt, 1/2 cup of cream, 2 teaspoons of white vinegar and 1 teaspoon of salt.

After reading the comments about the recipe I decided to swap a 1/2 cup of my homemade creme fraiche for the cream. 

(I realize I neglected to mention this at the beginning of the post, but I'm sure by now everyone realizes that this was not going to be that Part-Skim Ricotta crap.  When given a choice, I almost always choose the full-fat dairy products.  They just taste so much better.  And when the flavor is better and the food is richer, you tend to eat less anyways.  It all balances out in the end.)

Back to the recipe...

Basically you dump everything in to a big pot and bring it to a boil for a minute or two, until the milk curdles.
 Then you pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined strainer and let it hang out over a large bowl for 15 or 20 minutes.  You can use it right away or store it in the fridge for up to 3 days.

The hardest part of this recipe was watching the milk curdle because normally that is what I try desperately to avoid.  It was strange and looked like lumpy ooze from another planet.  However, it smelled great!

I didn't even let it finish the full 15 minutes of draining before I snuck my first taste... I just couldn't resist.

WOW.  It was unbelievable.  So fresh and squeaky/chewy - you know, the way good ricotta cheese should be.  Reminded me a little bit of those yummy cheese curds.

Never again will I buy the stuff in the tubs at the big supermarkets.  It costs the same (or even less) to make it myself and there is absolutely no comparison when it comes to taste.

For dinner I ended up using the ricotta in a shrimp and pasta dish.  My mom The Easter Bunny brought me 4 packages of specialty pastas from Austin Gourmet Foods and I have been dying to try them out. 

I found a recipe to use as a starting point but ended up changing it around a little bit. 

I sauteed some garlic and crushed red pepper in a little butter, then stirred in 1/2 cup of milk and 3/4 cup of ricotta until it all combined.  I tossed in a little salt, some nutmeg and a couple of dashes of Texas Pete's Hot Sauce.  I wasn't totally pleased with the way things were headed, so I tossed in a 14 oz can of crushed tomatoes.  Good decision.  Next I stirred in 1/4 cup of cheese (I used a mix of gruyere and parmesan) then tossed in about a pound of raw, peeled shrimp and covered the skillet.

While the shrimp were cooking away I boiled the pasta... and dropped the almost full bottle of Texas Pete's.

12 oz on the floor looks like a lot more liquid than 12 oz in the bottle.

No, I'm not giving you the bird, I'm showing you my boo-boo.

Despite the huge mess, the cut finger and the fact that my kitchen smelled like a Wild Wings restaurant, we both thoroughly enjoyed the meal! 

(I realize it looks a little lumpy, but once it hits your mouth it completely melts.)

From start to finish the dish took less than 15 minutes to make.  Definitely a keeper.

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