Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Baked Figs with homemade Ricotta Cheese

Ricotta cheese on roasted figs, with honey and nutmeg
Cheese is a wonderful thing. I love cheese, we love cheese - my family, dogs included. I love hard cheeses, like parmesan and sharp aged cheddar, gruyere reserve, asiago - I love semi soft cheeses, like fresh mozzarella, cottage cheese, farmers cheese, brie!! So many delicious cheeses. And you can cook with cheese, a melted cheese open faced sandwich is a delightful thing. A grilled cheese with a farm fresh tomato is a fabulous thing. A cheese soufflé is lovely. Cheese adds dimension to so many dishes, from lasagna to quesadillas - to gratins and mac-n-cheese, I don't think life would be as rich, as fun as enjoyable without cheese. There is fondue - there is warm brie with roasted garlic, there is cheese everywhere and I have not even begun to touch on this miracle of science...

Cheese cubes make fantastic dog treats - cheese slices, say 3 different types, arranged artfully on a platter with some decent crackers and/or grapes make a fantastic appetizer for humans...cheese is good.

Cheese is also really fun to make. Hard cheeses can be made at home, but soft cheese is so easy. Here's a simple cheese similar to ricotta (it isn't really ricotta, which is made from whey, its more a paneer - but it tastes and looks and cooks just like ricotta and it is SO EASY!

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

  • 1 gallon milk (use whole milk, and try to get a brand that is NOT ultra pasteurized)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup heavy cream (optional)

Heat the milk and cream (if using, gives a richer taste, adds calories - works really well if you intend to use the cheese in a dessert, say cannoli -- however it is quite good without it, particularly for savory dishes just use whole milk please!) in a heavy bottom pan until it almost boils - around 180 F. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar, one good stir  - stop stirring and let it sit, covered for a few hours (at least two). Drain in a colander lined with dampened cheese cloth. The longer you drain it, the drier the cheese. Stir in salt. Thats it. Practically instant ricotta, fabulous warm on toast (crostini) with a little olive oil drizzled over it. Use it in lasagna, baked ziti, manicotti, cook some spinach and squeeze the water out, chop it fine and add to the cheese with a little nutmeg and use it as a crepe filling, make gnocchi verdi, make cannoli, make a zuppa inglese - have fun with it!!

Serve it with figs -

you can roast the figs, or just leave them uncooked, sliced in half. Place a tbs or so of ricotta on each fig half and drizzle with a little honey. To roast the figs, slice in half lengthwise and pour a little melted butter with some fresh grated nutmeg or cinnamon on each fig, roast at 350 for 20-30 mins.

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