Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Big Cheese

There's a great blog that you may have heard of, called 'Thursday Night Smackdown'. I will let you check it out and discover the reason behind the title, but in the meantime, let's talk about her 'First Thursday' event. Every month, she gives out a theme, and you are free to make it and enter. The catch? You must use a recipe from a cookbook or magazine you already have-no improvising. The goal is to make you utilize your recipe collection. You post about it and send her a link, and she posts the round-up of photos on her blog. A fun little event. I wanted to enter for the first time this month, with her theme of "Challenge yourself". I had Hubband go through my cookbooks to find something challenging that he would like to eat, and he picked ricotta gnocchi from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. The recipe requires fresh ricotta, not so easy to find around here, so I decided part of the challenge would be to make my own. 
Milk + Buttermilk + Heat = Cheese!
The cheese-making itself was fun, but would have been considerably easier had I had a nice small-holed skimmer for getting all the tiny curds out. As it was, lacking the appropriate tool, I had to make do with other methods that didn't work so well and were rather time-consuming. Because of that, the cheese did not have enough time to drain, and wouldn't hold shape well enough to make the gnocchi. At this point, I had about a pound and a half of fresh homemade ricotta mixed with parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg, gently wilted chopped spinach, and a few eggs. I couldn't waste it! I wrapped up the cheese mixture to save for the next day, ordered some mediocre take-out chinese for supper, and busted out my totally-necessary backup plan
The next day I stopped at the store for a few supplies...
and turned my luscious ricotta into stuffed shells. I paired them with my favorite bolognese recipe, and we had one rich, flavorful dinner. Did I enter this in the First Thursday event? No. I realized that none of my cookbooks had a recipe or technique for the homemade ricotta, and the end result was mostly improvisation, so I didn't qualify. I did get to try something new, and got a great dinner out of it, but I hope to do better with February's theme. 

Homemade Ricotta

1 gallon whole milk
1 quart buttermilk

Pour the milk and buttermilk into a large non-reactive pot and clip a thermometer onto the side. Rinse the cheesecloth and fold it to line a colander in the sink. Turn the heat to high, and stir the milk with a spatula to keep it from burning on the bottom. Once the milk is warm, stop stirring and continue to heat to between 175 and 180 degrees F. Curds should begin forming. Remove from the heat and use a fine skimmer to gently lift the curds into the cheesecloth. Let the cheese drain and cool until it gets to your desired consistency. 


michelle @ TNS said...

ooh, i made homemade ricotta once and it was so good, even though i think i pressed a leetle too much of the liquid out of it. i used it for some crostini though, nothing as luscious looking as those shells.

thanks for the mention, and i'll be on the lookout for your february entry!

Julie said...

Oh man, I am totally thinking of making stuffed shells tonight, and this makes it official. Although there won't be any homemade ricotta in there. Wish I had some of your sauce to put on it!

niagaragirl said...

Good post. I love kitchen experiments!

Joan Nova said...

Kudos to you for making your own ricotta -- that's much more satisfying than following a recipe. Curious where you are in FL -- I'm in Boynton Beach. Come visit my blog...maybe you'l join my Culinary Trip Around the World?

cakeitaly said...

Wow fantastic ideas for my next lunch with my friends.

Bye from Italy by - A taste of Italian sweets

If you want you cant add your blog in my blogroll All your recipes

Ingrid said...

Awesome job salaving everything! It didn't work out this time but atleast you still got a totally yummy dish out of it AND you did make homemade ricotta. That alone is terrific.