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Posts Tagged ‘ricotta’

our bill for lunch at Le Cafe Anglais

Well, fo-di-oh-dee; what a wonderful weekend!  Kicked it off on Maundy Thursday with a visit to the remarkably beautiful Le Café Anglais, courtesy of their magnanimous Friend for a Fiver offer: this consisted of halving the total food bill for the two of us and adding just five pounds to the remainder.  For the mathematically minded, our alimental equation was thus:

£ (12+9.5+24.5+29.5+3)/2 +5 = £44.25

And what a terrific deal: we descended as a pair of locusts  intent of bankrupting Rowley Leigh by our greed but, on finding ourselves defeated by the gentlemanly generosity of his portioning, declined dessert.  A cover charge, wine, coffee and service boosted the bill considerably, but every penny was worth the spend.  What a thrill to sip chilled Saumur  (blanc et rouge), over a sunny spring luncheon in such stunning surroundings: a total treat.

No pix though; I’ve become a bit squeamish about photo-ing food in public and there are plenty already online… suffice to say the icy oysters could not have been fresher, a holy trio of hors d’oeuvres lived up to their legendary status, the St. George’s mushrooms were an earthly delight, the salsify cooked to perfection – yes, every complimentary cliché about this place is true.  And as far as I’m concerned, no photo could do justice to the majesty of the art deco architectonics either.  I recommend you go and enjoy.

Talk about putting a spring in our step; we spent the rest of the afternoon strolling across the western edge of Hyde Park,  admiring the view from the upper deck of a Number 9 bus before winding our way across Soho and Covent Garden to Charing Cross and then home.

Well, with the stunning weekend weather I think we all felt a bit resurrected by Easter Monday; fit and ready for fresh somethings – anythings after the long winter hibernation.  But, having forgotten to go to the farmers’ market on Saturday our only “fresh” fixings were frozen peas.  What? Ok, frozen peas: they’re “fresher” than fresh peas, so there.  What was at first a disappointment and a waste of ingredients I transformed into something that blew us all away, hooray:  fresh herbs and fresh ricotta can take you a long, long way.

pea, lettuce & lovage soup with pea & ricotta bruschetta

The soup took inspiration from Mark Hix’s multiple versions on The Independent’s website, or those given by Hugh Fearnley-Wittingshall at various locations.  I did it this way:
Soup
a goodly knob of butter – about 15g or 1/2 oz
1 or 2 leeks, washed and shredded
1 little gem lettuce, shredded
200g frozen peas
500 ml vegetable stock (I haul out the Swiss Marigold)
6 lovage leaves (strong flavour, taste as you go)
salt, pepper

Sweat the leeks in the butter until soft, about 10 minutes. Add lettuce and peas, turn to coat in butter and soften gently under a lid for 5 minutes-odd. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil then cover and simmer until the peas are tender – about 10 minutes. Blend, adding lovage leaves gingerly, tasting all the while. If, like me, you have a not-very-good hand blender it won’t do a great job and your soup will never attain the desired smoothness. I kept going to no avail, so eventually decided to sieve it. This produced a fine-flavoured thin soup and a mountain of debris – far too much to waste indeed, hence the bruschetta.
Bruschetta with pea and ricotta
leftovers from sieving pea soup
sufficient ricotta to lighten the leftovers to a spreadable consistency (2 tablespoons perhaps)
a grating of fresh lemon zest
several drops fresh lemon juice
small sprig fresh mint, chopped fine
a scattering of fresh chives, chopped fine
one small clove fresh garlic, any central green shoot removed
a couple of slices pain de campagne
a drizzle (YES – a drizzle) extra virgin olive oil, or, even better, lemon oil

Stir together the pea solids and ricotta, add the herbs to taste and season.  Grill the bread on both sides, and once lightly toasted, rub the garlic clove  over the surface, as when making Pa Amb Oli (minus the tomato, natch).  Top with the pea and ricotta mixture, apply the drizzle of oil and sprinkle with the scatter of herbs.  Serve the soup in small cups alongside the bruschetta.

ps – I can report that the soup tastes just as good, if not better, chilled the next day – perfect for the hot weather of late.

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fresh home made ricotta with muslin imprint
I don’t know about you, but I adore la cucina casalinga – Italian regional home cooking – so simple, so hearty, so life-affirming; but dependent as it is on the quality of ingredients, my heart used to sink whenever a recipe called for fresh ricotta. There’s no such thing for sale in my home town, no matter what the supermarkets say; it will never be fresh enough and they may as well seal it in a coffin as in anything with a bar code, for its soul will have high-tailed it out of there long before the lid snaps shut.

So with the summery weather (where did that go?) my time was ripe for making fresh cheese and serendipitously, The New York Times felt the same way. With instructions so elegantly simple all I needed was to calculate a couple of unit conversions, dig out a candy thermometer, snip off some muslin, then find me some buttermilk.

Fresh home made ricotta

heating the milk

heating the milk

Equipment

large, heavy based pan
thermometer
heat-resistant spatula
large sieve or colander
1 m² muslin/cheesecloth
fine mesh skimmer

Ingredients

2 litres whole milk
500 ml buttermilk
1 TBS salt

forming curds

forming curds

Combine milks in the pan, add salt and heat steadily to 70C, running the spatula gently across the bottom to prevent sticking. Stop stirring and heat to 80C, then remove the pan from the heat and allow curds to form for 5 minutes. Then, very very gently, skim off the curds and transfer to a sieve lined with 4 layers of muslin sterilised with boiling water.

draining curds in muslin

draining curds in muslin

Drain for 15 minutes, then decide if the moisture content is what you were hoping for.  For a drier curd, gather up the corners of the muslin and make a bag by securing with string or a sturdy rubber band and suspend it over a drip receptacle in the fridge (some simple improvisation called for here – I used a herb drying hook but a strong spoon or knife across the shelf above would work).

Peel away the muslin for immediate use in sweet or savoury dishes; alternatively, place the ricotta in a lidded container and refrigerate but use early; it doesn’t keep well although I’m told it freezes brilliantly.

So delighted to have such delectable stuff to hand we abandoned the idea of recipes entirely and savoured its snow-white tang with some chopped fresh oregano from the garden: spread over toasted slices of homemade artisan bread scraped ever-so lightly with garlic and topped with a drop or two of Alziari olive oil, it made immaculate bruschetti.

artisanal boule, homemade ricotta with fresh oregano

The following day ricotta spoonfuls perched prettily on top of a Menorcan vegetable soup splashed with a good and grassy Sicilian olive oil; a terrific trio.  In the picture below you can see the difference between ricotta made with two types of milk: goat’s milk for the first batch is on the upper left (easier to find than sheep’s) and cow’s milk alone is at the lower right; I found the goat milk’s texture and flavour superior to that of the cows, but both were better than any supermarket substitute.

ricotta made with goat's and buttermilk and all cow made with vinegar

Two essential yet priceless ingredients of ricotta are patience and gentleness, neither of which are my strengths exactly, but the process fosters a contemplative calmness. Trying too hard – stirring too much, squeezing too tight – will transmogrify the cheese into tiny, useless grains of curdled milk which may even drain away before your eyes right through the muslin, and that’s a more than palatable life lesson: take it gentle, take it slow and you’ll find there’s nothing bitter at all about this learning experience.

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