Monday, March 7, 2011

olive bread, warm ricotta and fleur de sel

The key to this recipe is definitely the warm, homemade ricotta, a fresh, no-rennet cheese that is surprisingly easy to make at home. I've never warmed to store-bought ricotta and have always considered it a kind of lackluster, sub-par cheese that I avoided unless I needed it in a lasagna, but my recent introduction to fresh ricotta completely changed my way of thinking about it.


There are a number of ways to make ricotta at home. For the most part they involve heating some combination of whole milk, cream, or buttermilk to about 200 degrees. As you heat the milk, the curds and the whey will separate naturally. Some recipes call for a bit of lemon juice or vinegar to be added once the milk reaches 200 degrees. These acidifiers intensify the curdling process, but the heat alone will do the trick.

After the milk has curdled, let it sit for a couple minutes. In the meantime, line a colander with cheesecloth. Continue by gently ladling the curds and whey into the cheesecloth. Be very gentle during this process, as the curds don't like to be disturbed. You can put a bowl beneath the colander to catch the whey as it passes through. The whey can be reserved to add to smoothies, breads, and a variety of recipes. It's got a ton of protein, so it's often used to build muscle. You can also reserve it for further cheesemaking projects.

You then let the curds sit undisturbed in the cheesecloth for about 15 minutes, more or less, depending on how dry or moist you want your ricotta to be. I add a bit of salt to the final product.

I'm still working on my own ricotta recipe, which I'll post soon, but in the meantime here's the one I've been using. This recipe suggests you heat the milk to 175, but I've preferred the results I've gotten when I've allowed the temperature to get a little higher (190-200).

Olive Bread

The recipe I used to make the olive bread comes from Planet Green, and I couldn't have asked for results. Since I've been making a lot of bread and pizza lately I finally caved and invested in a baking stone, a ceramic stone that distributes heat evenly throughout the bread while drawing moisture out of the bread's crust. This process creates an similar effect to that of a brick oven and leads to perfectly crusty breads. If you don't want to buy a baking stone, you can make your own using an unglazed quarry, terra cotta, or ceramic tile. It's very important that you don't use a glazed tile, as glazes contain lead, which make them extremely dangerous to consume.

Fleur de Sel

My friend Tristan recently gifted us a jar of olive-infused fleur de sel, and I will never forgive him for this generosity. After trying this delectable, mineralicious garnish, the whole rest of the world tastes bland and disappointing. I don't think I can ever go back to the way things used to be, and honestly I don't know what I'll do when the supply runs out. I think it's going to become an expensive addiction, which I will justify by considering how much labor goes into harvesting the salt. Fleur de sel (AKA "the caviar of salt") is harvested by hand daily from the salt fields of Brittany by what are called paladiers, or salt-harvesters. Once you read a little bit about the process, 20 dollars a pound feels like a pretty good deal. That said, not everyone has an extra disposable salt income, so I have a feeling after I finish my supply I'm going to have to crawl back inside my bland, table-salted existence.

To make the zucchini, simply fry some over medium-high heat in a skillet using a bit of olive oil and salt, stirring occasionally until the zucchini begin to brown.

To make these crostini, toast some slices of olive bread, spread the warm ricotta on top, and garnish with zucchini and fleur de sel.


Anonymous said...

Ah-mazing! Makes me hungry. X

Madm Fia said...

nam nam nam nam

Leah Franqui said...

Do you think I could make low fat ricotta this way?

Mirabella said...

Yes! I sure do ... (though why???) Actually I believe the recipe here is relatvely low fat because it uses buttermilk rather than cream. You could experiment by replacing the whole milk with low fat milk. I think in that case it would probably be necessary to add a squeeze of lemon or vinegar to help the curds separate. I'm going to experiment with this soon and let you know the results!

Mirabella said...

And you could also try low-fat buttermilk or low-fat yogurt en lieu of the buttermilk;)