Whole Milk Ricotta from a Vermont Kitchen

August 7th, 2012 / comments 3

Wine c egbert Whole Milk Ricotta from a Vermont KitchenWine is often used to add flavor in cooking, but whining is not a good addition to any dish, EXCEPT when it results in a new and wonderful recipe. Here’s the story:

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

2011 Top Ten List & Free Prints

December 26th, 2011 / comments 9

I’m reposting last years list of favorites for a few reasons, first because I’ve been busy working on my first eBook Bread and Crackers that is for sale on  Amazon – Here’s the link.

bread cracker kindle listing cover 190x305 2011 Top Ten List & Free Prints

Second because there are free prints in this post that you can download and print as a little gift from my studio to you; and the third because this is still a list of my favorite things.

This is the time of year for lists, not shopping lists, but lists of virtually everything else – lists of the most important world events, top fashion trends of the year, the biggest storms, the sexiest man, the best movies, the most popular celebrities, the most reviled despots, the biggest disasters, the best selling books, and even a list of  top time-wasters.

tree winter c egbert 2011 Top Ten List & Free Prints

Print Winter Tree

With these lists as inspiration, I’ve compiled my top ten list of food favorites for 2010, and in a nod to Mr. Letterman, they are listed in reverse order of delight. To celebrate the New Year, I’ve created four prints that celebrate the seasons of the year. They can be downloaded and printed by clicking on the links below each image.

#10 Butter Poached Rhubarb – Combining the best of Julia Child, butter, and the best of James Beard, cream, I melted a stick of butter in a skillet, sprinkled in one cup of granulated sugar and cooked it for about five minutes. When the sugar had begun to caramelize and turned a light brown, I added four cups of rhubarb, cut in two inch slices, shook the pan vigorously to coat the rhubarb and cooked it until it was starting to fall apart. I took the pan off the heat, stirred in two tablespoons of dark rum, and transferred the rhubarb to a bowl set in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Topped with List Entry #4, whipped, it made a gorgeous dessert. This would be closer to #1 if fresh rhubarb were available from my garden year round and if this recipe were not loaded with sugar, butter and cream.

#9 Carrots – I’ve been eating lots of carrots this year, in soups, salads, in fritters, cakes and muffins. Organic carrots, scrubbed and slow roasted with salt, pepper and olive oil complement most any meal. Any leftovers can be mashed with a bit of mayo and garlic and spread on toast for lunch or a rustic hors d’oeuvre.
tree spring c egbert 2011 Top Ten List & Free Prints

Print Spring Tree

#8 Cappuccino – Alas, this is one thing on my list that I don’t make in my kitchen; but, the adventure of searching for a café and finding a perfect cappuccino with just the right amount of foamy milk on top merits a place on my list.

#7 Recipe Police – When I wrote about the absence of fish in my pot of chowder I boldly proclaimed that the recipe police would not come to my kitchen to give me a ticket. Little did I know that a Recipe Policeman, in the form of a phone call from an anonymous reader, would phone me and issue a warning that I had neglected to add thyme to the pot. I got away with a warning but I have been careful to add thyme to chowder since then.

#6 Pasta with Raisins and Pine Nuts – So simple, so quick, so delicious! While I waited for the pasta water to come to a boil, I sauteed one clove of garlic in a large frying pan with one tablespoon of unsalted butter and one tablespoon of olive oil. When the garlic had softened but not browned, I added a quarter of a cup of pine nuts. When the nuts where toasted, and the pasta was al dente, I drained the pasta, reserved a quarter of a cup of pasta water, added the pasta, generous handfuls of chopped flat leaf parsley and raisins, and a splash of the pasta water to the pan. I topped the pasta with the mere suggestion of ground cinnamon. Finito!

#5 Chickpea Flour – I discovered that I could make a crisp flatbread by baking in a 450º oven a batter of one cup of chickpea flour, one and a half cups of water and a teaspoon of salt in a cast iron skillet with three tablespoons of oil. Seasoned with salt and a bit of curry powder, an ho-hum soup and toast dinner was transformed into a praise-worthy meal.

tree summer c egbert 2011 Top Ten List & Free Prints

Print Summer Tree

#4 Heavy Cream – My favorite comes from local dairies and is not ultra-pasteurized. I like it on oatmeal with brown sugar, whipped, with no sugar added, as frosting on deep, dark, moist chocolate cake, and as a cold topper for broiled apricots, (a treat I learned from my dear friend Didi).

#3 The Open Air Market in Ortigia, Sicily – Chatting with Angelo Cappucio about fish for dinner, choosing blood oranges, smelling the smoky roasted artichokes, sampling wild strawberries, olives, salami and chocolate from Modica is the best way to figure out “What’s for dinner?”

#2 Making Cheese in Sicily – Near the top of my list is the morning I spent in the cheese shop in Ortigia, making cheese with Andrea Borderi. I was welcomed into the small kitchen in the back of the shop, wrapped in an apron and put to work. I learned how to cut, ladle and knead curds as we made ricotta and mozzarella. I make a simple breakfast of a bowl of ricotta cheese, topped with a drizzle of Vermont honey and slices of orange when I’m wishing I were in Sicily.

tree fall c egbert 2011 Top Ten List & Free Prints

Print Fall Tree

#1 Contact from Friends – I am cheered and delighted when I hear from friends, whether old or new, by email, telephone and even snail mail. It doesn’t matter if the message is lavish praise, a complaint, or a correction – you are there, reading what I write, cooking what I cook, improvising, improving recipes and sharing your discoveries. You bring me joy. Thank you and please stay in touch.


Ortigia Fruit Parfait

March 5th, 2011 / Comments 0

fruit parfait1 Ortigia Fruit Parfait A sunny walk to the market, determined to keep things simple, our breakfast was a parfait with layers of ricotta mixed with yogurt and orange blossom honey and diced pears, blood oranges and strawberries. Without a toaster we had to settle for crusty bread toasted in butter.


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Musing on Sicily

May 17th, 2010 / Comments 0

As our airplane circled Mount Etna and descended into the airport at Catania, groves of dark green citrus trees came into view. We were landing in Sicily, an island that we would call home for two months. We had left four feet of snow and sweet Rosie, our golden retriever, in Virginia with our son Noah and his family. I was looking forward to learning new ways of cooking familiar and unfamiliar food. I had traveled to Europe but never lived there. Living in Sicily meant that we would not be tourists.

residence barone 01 Musing on Sicily

We looked out to the sea from the two balconies in the upper left corner of the creamy yellow building

We had rented a flat in Ortigia, a small island attached by a bridge to the city of Siracusa and surrounded by a sea wall built in the fourth century BC by the Greeks.

We spend part of each day getting lost. It wasn’t difficult, the narrow lanes, many impassable except on foot or scooter, twist and turn. There are ancient ruins, medieval, art noveau, art deco, and Mussolini era buildings. Each time I thought I was hopelessly lost, one of two things happened. Either I saw the sea or turned onto the via Roma. Since our apartment faced the sea and we were on an island, I knew I would get home eventually if I didn’t cross a bridge. If I found via Roma, I knew that it led to the Piazza Duomo, a sacred space with a cathedral that was originally a Greek Temple, and also the location of the best gelato shop in Ortigia.

piazza Duomo from cafe minerva Musing on Sicily

A view of the Piazza Duomo from via Roma

The ruins of the Greek temple to Apollo, near the Archimedes Fountain and the market, were where Charles and I met so that we could go to the market together after he had spent the morning writing at the library.

oranges Musing on Sicily

Along with heaps of lemons, blood oranges, and mandarins, there tomatoes and peppers that are grown in Sicilian versions of hoop houses, olives of all sorts, and local wines in recycled, two liter plastic bottles. There was also a wide variety of fish and seafood from the Ionian Sea.

I went to the market every day and just as my first friends in Vermont were the vendors at the Norwich Farmers’ Market, my first friend is Sicily were the vendors at the Ortigia market. . Click here to see the  vendors at the Ortigia market.

fish vendor 02 sicily2 Musing on Sicily

I met Angelo Cappucho who like his father and grandfather before him sold all kinds of fish including swordfish, tuna, cuttlefish, squid, eels, and shrimp. When a genuine troubadour appeared in the market, all of the men at Cappucho’s joined in singing Sicilian folk songs with him. For a glorious hour, we were part of a Sicilian opera. Angelo and his son Marco insisted that all of the nearby vendors put food into a large bag as payment for the music.

ricotta basket Musing on Sicily

A traditional Sicilian ricotta basket.

Click here to read about making cheese with Andrea.

It was Andrea Borderi who stole my heart. Andrea made fresh ricotta and mozzarella each morning. The cheese was the best I’ve ever tasted, but even more astounding than the cheese was his generosity. He fed people. Andrea’s knife had a twenty-inch blade that was in constant motion. He cut cheese and offered samples on the tip of his knife to passers by. He made sandwiches and insisted that shoppers sample them. He fed cannoli to giggling students and serious Nonna’s. He never stopped smiling, and his blue eyes matched his blue satin necktie.

Our lives were quite simple in Ortigia. We had a small apartment, a tiny kitchen and no car. We watched the sea, had small dinner parties, ate gelato every afternoon after a walk around the island, read and wrote each day.

The day before we left, I went to the market and said goodbye to Giuseppe who sold the best olives, Mario with the small plum tomatoes I liked best for pasta, Joseph who offered grilled peppers and artichokes, Francesco who sold traditional chocolate from Modica and of course the musical Cappucho fishermen. It wasn’t easy, but I managed until I saw Andrea. He smiled and offered me a piece of cheese. I began to cry. He put down his knife, kissed my hand, and I wept as we said arriverderci.

Mozzarella Torte – Cheese Maker in Sicily

March 9th, 2010 / comments 14

cb provolone 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in SicilyWhen 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.

cb Andrea 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

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.

cb ricotta curd 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

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.

cb curd 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

Andrea asked me to knead ottocento (800) grams of sea salt into it.

cb curd kneading 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

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.

cb curd rinsing 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

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.

cb curd testing 02 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in SicilyAfter Andrea turned it around, he placed my hands on it, put is hands over mine and together we stretched and squeeze the curd until “Ecco!” The curd had become stringy, tender, fresh mozzarella.

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.

cb curd shaping 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

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.

cb curd stretching 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

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.

cb curd filling 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

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.

cb mozzarella roll 08 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

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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Ricotta Burger a REAL Cheese Burger

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.

cow mucca c egbert  Ricotta Burger a REAL Cheese Burger

The only role an animal has in my diet is to provide milk that is the decorative element that tops  my cappuccino.

cappuchino 02 Ricotta Burger a REAL Cheese Burger

Or the liquid that is magically transformed into an extraordinary variety of fresh and aged cheeses.

ricotta patty 021 Ricotta Burger a REAL Cheese Burger

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

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