December 23rd, 2013 / Comments 0
August 7th, 2012 / comments 3
I was complaining to my son, Noah, that peach season had finally arrived and I couldn’t find fresh ricotta anywhere. “If I were in Sicily, I’d to walk to the market, and get as much as I wanted and, I’d have a cappuccino and maybe even a cannoli on the way.”
With absolutely no sympathy, he said, “Why don’t you make your own, instead of whining about it? It’s really easy. You only need whole milk and white vinegar and, if you make it in the microwave, clean-up is a breeze.”
I wasn’t convinced that any ricotta made in Vermont could compare with what I was missing but, decided to give it a try. Using Noah’s recipe, I made my first batch in less than five minutes and cleanup was a breeze. Here’s how I did it: … read more
November 4th, 2010 / Comments 1
Once I had mastered peanut brittle, I moved onto what I called caramel custard.
Years later, I learned that Julia Child called it creme caramel and in Mexico and Spain it was called flan. No matter the name, the process is the same. Here’s how I made enough for four people: … read more
July 14th, 2010 / comments 11
The only way I like to drink milk is when it is whirled into a smooth, rich, chocolate shake. On the other hand, I’ve always liked buttermilk. Icy cold, in a tall glass topped with a pinch of salt, it’s a cool refreshing drink on a hot day
Flowers for my Bubba
It was the grandmothers, the Babas, the Babcias and the Bubbas, who came to Pittsburgh from Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Ukraine, who were responsible for the presence of this favorite East European dairy product in nearly every kitchen in my childhood.
When is the last time you bought a quart of buttermilk? Is it the sour taste, the curdled smear that covers the inside of the glass as you sip it or the fear of drinking spoiled milk that turns you away? Buttermilk is a source of potassium, vitamin B12, calcium and phosphorus, is easier to digest than regular milk and has a quarter of the amount of fat of whole milk. I use it in marinades because the lactic acid in it is a tenderizer. It is the glue that holds the seasoned flour on chicken when I make Southern fried chicken, and buttermilk pancakes and biscuits fly off our breakfast table. If none of this convinces you to pick up a quart of buttermilk at the market, would the promise of cool, low fat, fruit sherbets do the trick?
Whether making ice cream, sherbet or sorbet, the process is the same. I begin with a base, for ice cream it’s a custard of heavy cream and eggs, for sherbet it is milk or buttermilk and for sorbet it is fruit juice or fruit purée combined with water. I add a sweetener to the base and flavoring like vanilla, chocolate or spices. Sweetened pieces of fruit, chocolate bits or chopped nuts are not added until the mixture is semi frozen. Air is the crucial and final ingredient. Without it, I would end up with a rock hard, flavored block of ice. When I’m freezing sherbet in a shallow pan, I use a fork to break up the ice crystals every thirty minutes as the base freezes. If I have forgotten, I used a blender to break up the icy chunks. My ice cream maker freezes and aerates at the same time. The first time I made pineapple sherbet I had two reasons, I was curious about how it would taste and even more curious about whether I could trick my sister into eating buttermilk. Here’s how I made it: … read more
March 9th, 2010 / comments 14
When I was shopping in the market on Friday, I bought a chunk of flavorful, slightly aged provolone at the stall that also sells fresh mozzarella, ricotta, cannoli, ricotta salata and other cheeses that I look forward to being introduced to. Gaetano, the man behind the counter with a scruffy beard and fairly good English, saw me looking at the cauldrons in the small, utilitarian workroom behind the counter.
He explained that most mornings, he and his father Andrea Borderi, the man with the blue silk tie, the sunny smile and the big knife, made ricotta and mozzarella.
I hesitated for less than a minute before I asked if I could watch the next time they made cheese. He frowned, shook his head and said “No,” and then with a smile he said, “Ma (but), you can come and work if you come at seven on lunedi.” I said yes, of course, I would come. A quick check in the Italian/English dictionary confirmed that I had a date for Monday morning at seven.
I started the day by watching the sunrise over the sea. The colors would have inspired Maxfield Parish. Then, Charles and I had to hurry across the empty Piazza Duomo to the cheese shop. We were greeted with smiles, and with a sweep of his arm, Andre invited us into his kitchen. He quickly looped an apron over my head and tied it around my waist. Charles stepped back from the action, camera poised so as not to miss a shot. I washed my hands and was ready to work.
My first task was to help with the caldron of ricotta. We used ladles to skim the warm curds into slotted, one liter, plastic containers that were then put on trays. When full, the trays were put into the refrigerator. When ricotta is sold, the slotted container is put into a double plastic bag and the whey continues to drain from the curd making it thicker each day until it has all been eaten.
The curds for the mozzarella had been started before we arrived. Whole milk and rennet had been mixed in a huge stainless steel pot and then heated slowly until it reached 32 degrees centigrade or 88 degrees Fahrenheit. It took about 15 minutes for the curd to form. The curd was in a bucket, a dense mass covered with whey. It was large as a watermelon with texture similar to raw liver. Andrea handed me a knife with a blade that was at least two feet long. To cut the curd, I held the knife with its blunt tip resting on bottom of the pail and pulled the blade through the curd again and again. When it had been to cut it into irregular pieces that were about the size of walnuts, it was drained and put into a large basin.
Andrea asked me to knead ottocento (800) grams of sea salt into it.
When he decided that it had been sufficiently kneaded, the curds were rinsed with water until his taste test determined that enough salt had been washed away.
The next step involved stretching and shaping. The curd was covered with very, hot water and I was given a three-foot long wooden tool. I mistakenly thought that what looked like the handle was a handle.
With amazing speed and skill Andrea stretched, cut and braided cheese to form ten braided loaves called treccia. It would be smoked later that morning and offered for sale as affumicata the following day.
Then he pulled a coconut-sized piece of cheese from the mass still in the basin and indicated that I should flatten it into a disc as thin as I could manage. My memory of Lucy and Ethel trying to twirl pizza dough in the air provided the restraint that kept me from trying to do the same thing with this piece of cheese.
I patted, poked and pulled it until Andrea indicated with a quick nod that it was a good size.
I followed him and the cheese to the large cutting board where he handed me two tomatoes, a handful of mixed olives, a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley and a knife longer than my arm. He covered the cheese disc with two thin slices of ham, used signs and smiles to indicate that I should cut the tomatoes, seed and chop the olives, chop the parsley and put it all on top of the ham.
When I had finished, he splashed it with olive oil, and it took four hands, his and mine, to lift the cheese and its toppings onto a large piece of foil. The last step was for me to tightly roll the cheese into a cylinder with the ham and vegetables inside. That done, he put the cheese roll in a bag and gave it to me.
I shared it and the story of its creation with two new friends who came to our first dinner party in Sicily.
If you would like to recreate the tastes without the travel you could make a mozzarella torte by layering the freshest mozzarella you can find, with the tastiest bits of vegetable and/or cured meat you can imagine, in a straight-sided bowl. Covered, weighed down and chilled it will be perfect served with a smile and a toast to Andrea, THE premier cheese artisan of Siracusa.
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March 4th, 2010 / comments 8
Beef, chicken and pork seem to have disappeared from my pantry. The market in Sicily is filled with fish, fruit, vegetables and cheese. There are stores that are more similar to American grocery stores where virtually everything is wrapped in plastic including cuts of beef, pork and chiken; but, none of it appeals to me.
The only role an animal has in my diet is to provide milk that is the decorative element that tops my cappuccino.
Or the liquid that is magically transformed into an extraordinary variety of fresh and aged cheeses.
I remembered hearing about using ricotta to make a cheese burger and so decided to give it a try. It was quite simple to do. I put the usual burger toppers, lettuce and tomato, under it added a few olives, and skipped the sesame seed roll and mayo. Here’s how I did it: … read more