|Home-Made Ricotta and Fig Appetizer|
Let’s play a little word association. When you hear or see the word “cheese,” what is your immediate thought? Processed American cheese, bleu cheese, Swiss cheese, Cheeseheads, cheese and crackers . . . ? I’ll bet it is not ricotta cheese. And if someone out there is strange enough to have thought that, I’ll bet you did not think “home-made ricotta cheese.”
I am from Montana, not the dairy belt. So I had no exposure to home-made cheese when growing up. I love cheese and adore the many specialty cheese shops that have expanded the cheese horizon to include unique, locally produced cheeses, even in out of the way places like Lodi, California. And I really appreciate a restaurant that steps beyond the ubiquitous cheese platter and incorporates some high quality cheese into its dishes.
|Freshly squeezed lemon juice (I love how colorful the purple kale is against the lemon)|
|Bring whole milk, cream, and lemon juice to a boil|
|Scoop curds into a strainer and let drain|
|After ricotta has drained, place in cheesecloth for storage|
At B&B Ristorante (Batali & Bastianich) at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, perhaps the best dish of a most memorable meal was a house-made ricotta garnished with kale and new extra virgin olive oil. Quality ingredients were simply combined in a way that really showcased their flavors. As the last bite disappeared from my plate, I resolved to make some ricotta when I got home.
Fortunately, I remembered seeing a recipe for ricotta in the Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton. Nancy says that “ricotta” means “cooked twice” and since her version is only cooked once, it is not really “ricotta” but a creamy, fresh cheese that can be used in any recipe that calls for ricotta. Heck, ricotta is not technically a “cheese” anyway, but who really cares about technicalities when something tastes delicious?
Among the many wonderful things about this ricotta is how easy it is to make. Since it is only cooked once, it takes just 10 minutes to make and another hour to strain the liquid out. It is so easy, I am not likely to buy packaged ricotta ever again.
We used our ricotta in two ways: first, like at B&B Ristorante, served as a salad substitute with kale and olive oil; and, second, as an appetizer on a fig cracker with Migas Figs and a drizzle of honey. Sasha, the Wonder Dog, was at full attention when the appetizer version was brought out and gave an unqualified two paws up and a mighty tail wag. Trust me, Sasha has a discriminating palate, so her reaction was a resounding endorsement of the dish.
4 Cups Whole Milk
1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
2 Tablespoons Fresh Squeezed, Strained Lemon Juice
1 ½ Teaspoons Kosher Salt
Pour the milk, cream, lemon juice and salt into a small heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan and bring to a boil without stirring. Turn off the heat and set the saucepan aside until the mixture cools slightly (5-10 minutes). At this point, you will see the ricotta separating into curds. Gently scoop the curds out of the saucepan and place carefully into a strainer to drain. Don’t pour the mixture into the strainer as it will break up the curds. Use the ricotta while it’s still warm, or place onto cheesecloth, tie the cheesecloth for form a package and suspend the package from the handle of a wooden spoon or chopsticks over a bowl to drain until you are ready to use. The fresh ricotta will last about seven days in the refrigerator.
Ricotta with Kale:
5-10 Kale Leaves
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I suppose Mario has some people freshly pressing his virgin olives, but “old” extra virgin olive oil works just fine)
Fleur de Sel
Blanch the kale leaves, place in a cold water bath for a couple minutes, then squeeze dry and julienne. Place the julienned kale, and a little olive oil, salt and pepper, into a pan over medium heat to lightly warm. Presentation is flexible. You can place the ricotta on a bed of kale or use the kale as garnish on top of the ricotta. Either way, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of fleur del sel.
Migos Figs or Fresh Figs
Raincoast Fig Crackers
Place the ricotta on the fig crackers. Split the figs in half and place a half on top of the ricotta. Drizzle with honey and a twist of fresh pepper.