A couple of weeks ago I wrote about this savory Sweet Potato Bread that I'd experimented with.
Well, yesterday I was baking bread - made one rather rustic batch and I knew I needed to make something soft and squishy for my husband's sandwiches. I had sweet potatoes, so I thought I'd make another batch of bread with them. But I wanted to play with it again, and so I left out the herbs and spices, and added the remaining half cup of ricotta cheese I had in the fridge from the Easter Pies I'd made over the weekend.
I'm happy to report, the bread is EVEN SOFTER AND SQUISHIER THAN BEFORE! I also remembered to brush the tops of the loaves with melted butter right after they came out of the oven, cover them and let them sit for half an hour like that, to soften the top crust.
My husband made a sandwich with the bread last night and paid the questionably ultimate compliment:
"It's almost as good as Wonder Bread!"
Well then. I can sleep at night now.
The same afternoon I made focaccia, I also made stuffed, fried squash blossoms.
It was a Friday, and at the farmers' market that morning there was a new (to me) farm in attendance selling lettuces and cabbage and squash - and they had big bags of squash blossoms. So, of course, I bought some.
I've gotten behind on my posts, so much so that I've done two more batches each of Ricotta and Mozzarella but haven't written about them yet.
I did, however, want to write about how things went with each successive batch. In a nutshell, things improved. But who wants a nutshell? It's hardly satisfying.
Both times I've made cheeses again, I've made a double batch of mozzarella (if I'm going to make it, why not make plenty?) and a half batch of ricotta.
Second batch of mozzarella went so much smoother than the first chaotic experience. I learned a lot from the first batch. Things like...the milk will heat up to 55 degrees F pretty darn fast, so don't go reading ahead in the recipe or anything. Just WAIT. Which is what I did. Added the citric acid right on time, temperature-wise. I also made sure I had LOTS of bowls on hand, a couple of strainers, slotted spoons, and huge glass of ice water for myself, because it gets pretty hot standing there over a hot pot of milk curds. Oh, yeah, and I was also making bread, too. I'll post about that separately. I made some baguettes to have with the cheeses.
Anyway. With this batch #2 of the mozzarella, I changed a few things. I used half whole milk and half 1%. I can't keep eating full fat mozzarella, and that's that. I didn't notice a huge difference, either, though maybe I would if I did a taste test between a full fat and a part full, part low-fat batch. Hmmmm....that sounds like a fun project, actually.
I also added lipase to the batch. Lipase an enzyme used to give Italian cheeses in particular to enhance the flavor. It comes in powder form and keeps for ages in the freezer. You only need a little - I think I used half a teaspoon for this batch.
I also upped the rennet a bit, because I'd read that if you add lipase, the cheese can have a softer consistency, and so if you add more rennet, that helps balance things back out.
Those, and the switch from all whole to half whole and half 1%, were the only changes I made.
Things went a LOT better. For one thing, the way the curds formed after I added the rennet. Well, wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. I added the citric acid and the lipase (both are dissolved in cool water, and the lipase needs to sit for 20 minutes before using as well) at the 55 degrees F mark and stirred that in. Right away, little tiny curds started to form. You can see them there on the thermometer....
I kept the thermometer in the liquid and gave it a little stir occasionally, just to see how the curds were doing. I was waiting for the temp to go up to 90, so I could add the rennet. Once the rennet joined the party, the fun began.
Woohoo! Curds and whey! A lot of it!
Best of all, as time went on, the curds basically bunched together and tightened into one big mass and started pulling away from the sides of the pot.
Pretty cool, huh?
I also learned another lesson. In the book it says to add the rennet when the temp reaches 90, and then continue heating to between 100-105. So I'm standing there sweating away (probably added additional flavor to the cheese...I'M ONLY KIDDING), holding the thermometer in the middle of the pot. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And the temperature wouldn't go above 90! Maybe up to 91, but nothing more.
I didn't mind so much - I was busy gazing lovingly at the giant mozzarella-to-be floating in the whey. But I was also pretty hot and icky and sort of wanted to get things finished up. I checked the temperature with another thermometer, thinking maybe the new one I'd bought wasn't any good. But no, the other one registered 90 also.
And then some little voice whispered "check the temperature of the whey near the side of the pot!" And so I did, and OH, okay. Got it. The curds apparently get to 90 and stop or something. Or maybe they somehow insulate themselves from the heat. Whatever it was, the whey was plenty hot enough. I don't know the exact temperature- once I saw the temperature zipping past 100 and not slowing, I moved the pot off the burner and shut off the flame.
YAY! Time to strain!
I'm still on the lookout for a really BIG slotted spoon, but this one I bought recently was an improvement over the strainer - it did a better job of draining out the whey as I scooped up the hot curds.
As you can see, there is still a lot of whey to be strained out of the curds, but it took less time because I had a better handle on what needed to be done. I also didn't splash whey all over the counter, the floor, and myself. Not a lot, anyway.
While I worked on pressing the curds together and pouring off the whey, I was also heating the pot of whey (with salt added) up to 175. I made several balls of curds and set them aside. It's sort of like forming snowballs...sometimes the snow isn't exACTLY the right consistency to retain it's ball shape. Same deal with the curds. They're still kind of wet, and crumbly at the same time. So they'll stick together, but you have to do it carefully, otherwise they'll just break into pieces.
It is taking me 3-4 dips in the hot salted whey (okay, I'm not going in it, I mean dipping the ball of curds in the whey 3-4 times) to achieve the proper stretchy consistency. After the first dunk, I mostly just squeeze out more whey and fold the curds (carefully) over and over a couple of times in my hands, give them another squeeze and then put the ball back into the whey. After the second dip, I can start to see the strings forming.
See them? Little stringy bits? But you can also see it's still rather crumbly, too. So I knead it in the bowl or in my hands, and this time around the ball starts to hold together better.
Back into the whey again, and I start to fold it and stretch, fold it and stretch...
It's pretty close now - much stretchier.
I can't tell you how cool this is. Well, I guess I can. It's really, really cool.
And what did I do with this batch? I'd made it a double batch so we could enjoy some that night and so I'd also have some for the next night, when Bill's brother and his girlfriend and his son and HIS girlfriend came over for dinner. We did beer can chickens (Bill cooked those) and I made a pasta salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar instead of mayo...and two zucchini (from the garden)
and a beautiful little pattypan squash (from the garden)
grilled and then cut up into chunks and tossed into the pasta. I also added some scallions (from our garden), and salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of my ricotta over the top. (The second batch of ricotta went off without a hitch.)
I also made a salad of fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and sliced organic hot-house tomatoes. I drizzled the whole thing with olive oil and sprinkled it with freshly ground black pepper and some generous pinches of Mediterranean Sea Salt.
In case you're wondering, after I'd done my two long rows of tomato/mozzarella/basil, I still had a bit of everything left over. So I chopped it up, tossed it together and set it down the center. I figured maybe some people would prefer the slices and others would prefer the chopped stuff.
And ALSO (will it never end???) I served a ball of ricotta in the center of one of my breads. I'd made three baguettes and two circular loaves, both with holes in the center. One looked like a giant bagel, and the other I'd braided and then joined the two ends. I sliced that loaf - the braided one - one quarter at a time and set the whole sliced braided loaf in a pie plate where it fit perfectly. I set the ball of ricotta in the center.
OH - I almost forgot - I'd ALSO made little mozzarella balls - bocconcini - and let them bathe in a blend of olive oil and chopped herbs from the garden. Bill and I ate those the night before, spread on one of my baguettes.
Okay, so all that was from my second batches of mozzarella and ricotta.
I made the third batch of each on Friday, July 4th, while Bill and Alex were out digging quahogs (actually most of them were little neck size) for chowder. Julia was home with me, but there's not much I can let her do while I'm making mozzarella without her being in danger of getting burned. She did, however, help me make pizza dough later in the day.
I'd finished the mozzarella and a small batch of ricotta before Bill and Alex returned from digging. Alex learned how to use a clam rake and did his share of the work, thus earning his dinner. They had 52 clams in all (not the "thousands" that Alex told me initially) - more than enough to make chowder.
Since we had a surplus, we ate the smallest ones raw, on the half shell. Yum. Alex loved them, too. Julia, not so much.
Bill steamed clams and diced potatoes to make chowder and then shucked the rest of the clams and set them out with lemon wedges on a platter.
And what was I doing all this time? Well, I had made pizza dough earlier, so I cut off enough for two pizzas, stretched out the dough on two cookie sheets, and gave them to the kids to work on. I don't have pictures. Julia topped hers with tomato sauce, sliced fresh mozzarella, sauteed mushrooms, and zucchini coins I'd sauteed earlier. Alex spread a thin layer of sauce, then added mostly sliced pepperoni, some zucchini, and small pieces of cheddar.
I made another pizza (it was SO HOT in our house by this time, what with all the cheesemaking earlier in the day, and the pizzas baking, and the chowder cooking away on top of the stove) - oh, yeah, speaking of hot in the kitchen - I had also roasted 8 heads of garlic in the morning. I squeezed all the garlic out and pureed it. I'll freeze some and keep the rest handy. I love the stuff.
Where was I? Oh, yes. I made another pizza - pureed roasted garlic smeared on the dough first, topped with sauteed mushrooms (a blend of oyster, crimini and shitake) and ricotta, then drizzled with olive oil. THAT one was pretty tasty, I have to say.
And I made one final pizza, but we were too full to eat it that night.
I'd bought garlic scapes at the Farmers' Market that morning, and I wanted to use them on a pizza. I sauteed the garlic scapes in butter, salt and pepper earlier. When I made the pizza, I topped dough with a nice smear of the roasted garlic puree, then "artistically arranged" several of the garlic scapes on top, arranged bits and pieces of fresh mozzarella here and there and added ricotta in and around the mozzarella. Then I placed 7 of the raw little necks in the loops of the garlic scapes, drizzled it all with olive oil, and sprinkled with salt and pepper.
It smelled really really good while it was baking but, like I said, we were just too stuffed to eat anything more.
We saved it and had it last night (the 5th) for dinner after the kids were in bed. It was fabulous. The two "shades" of garlic - the roasted garlic puree and the sharper scapes...the soft, mild cheeses...and the occasional brine of the clams.
And that's a LOT shorter than the original title, which was "Lasagne of Homemade Ricotta, Homemade Mixed Greens Lasagne Noodles, and a Quick Homemade Tomato Sauce." The "mostly" refers to the mozzarella string cheese I used (hadn't made my OWN mozzarella at this point) on top of the lasagne.
YAY! I MADE MY FIRST CHEESE! WOO HOO! NOW I'M GOING TO BUY A LARGER PIECE OF LAND AND RAISE COWS AND GOATS AND SHEEP AND MAKE LOTS AND LOTS OF CHEESE!
Okay, yeah, I'm getting carried away. But still. I've never made cheese before - well, okay, I made yogurt cheese but that's basically just straining the liquid out of plain yogurt - I didn't have to COOK anything.
So anyway, I'm on a cheese kick now, so consider yourself warned. I've bought a book, I've ordered a kit, and next up will be fresh mozzarella, baby. ALL. SUMMER. LONG. And when the tomatoes start coming in? And basil? Layered with the FRESH MOZZARELLA THAT I WILL MAKE and drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with a bit of salt and pepper? OH, you will wish you were my neighbor.
Okay, I've calmed down now.
I've seen other food bloggers mention making their own ricotta and how easy it is, so I finally decided to pick out a recipe and go for it. I used this recipe for this batch, and I'll probably try others here and there.
It was pretty easy, and cool, and fun, and if you're at all inclined, and interested, and if you like Ricotta cheese, then go make some.
This version makes it using whole milk, but traditionally ricotta is made from the whey left over from making mozzarella. I plan to try it that way, too, once I've actually MADE the mozzarella.
So anyway, to make this version, all you need are milk, non-iodized salt (that's kosher salt in the little bowl), and white vinegar. (Please excuse the slight blur to that photo - I was trembling with excitement and the camera shook.)
The fresher the better, as far as the milk goes, and you want to make sure it's not ULTRA-pasteurized. Pasteurized is fine, but not the ULTRA, because that stuff's been pasteurized at too high a temperature to successfully make cheese.
Here we go.
My gallon of milk is in the pot - the recipe in the link tells you to rinse the pot with cold water before adding the milk, in order to prevent scorching - along with the salt, and a thermometer. I'm heating it on medium to bring it to just before the boil - also called scalding - which, per this recipe, should be between 180-185.
Per my scribbled notes, this was begun at 12:13. I stirred it every so often.
While I was stirring, the acid in the vinegar was already causing the curds to separate from the whey.
It was pretty cool, actually.
Then, I covered the pot with a dry dish towel, as instructed, and left it to its own devices. This was at 12:40.
While the ricotta was forming, I made some pasta dough.
The recipe said to let the pot of ricotta-to-be sit for at least 2 hours. I held out for an extra fifteen minutes.
At 2:55, I took the dish towel off for good and here's what I saw.
Nope, it doesn't look all that different from the picture above it. But there's actually more of the curds than there were initially.
Here's a lovely close-up shot.
And a closer one.
Next step is to strain the curds from the whey.
I lined a collander with some cheesecloth and set it on one of the bowls to my mixer.
Then I ladled the curds into the cheesecloth-lined collander.
And let them sit for another couple of hours.
And, TA-DA! It's ricotta.
How simple, huh???????
From one gallon of milk, I got a little over 4 cups of cheese.
And THEN what did I do?
I covered the measuring cup above with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. I had to get back to the ravioli I was working on. I could have used the ricotta in the ravioli instead of the goat cheese, yes, but I'd already planned on the goat cheese and had the flavor kind of working in my mind. So I figured I'd make lasagna or manicotti in a day or two with the ricotta.
Which, of course, I did. And I'll share that whole adventure with you next time.
For now, I've got to go make two pie crusts. One of them is for a strawberry-rhubarb pie (strawberries from the Farmers' Market and rhubarb from our back yard), and the other is for a quiche my husband will be making tonight - on the grill! So even though it's a quiche, if it's cooked on the grill, it's a manly food.
That's it for the moment! Now go make some ricotta!