Making Ricotta Cheese

I was inspired by a blog post on Smitten Kitchen on how to make homemade ricotta cheese. I always like to experiment with new things and have never made cheese so decided I just had to try it.

We had some friends over to celebrate the 4th and figured this was as good a time as any. As has been tradition for several years, I made a Grilled Turkey for the main course, so ricotta bruschetta for an appetizer seemed like a good idea.

As with any good cheese, you start with good quality, high-fat content milk. I purchased whole milk and fresh cream at our Franklin Farmer’s Market on Saturday. Making the cheese is a simple four-step process and does not take very long.

Step 1 – Add 3 cups whole milk and 1 cup cream to a non-reactive pan. Heat over medium heat until a candy thermometer or instant read thermometer shows 175 to 185. Do not let it boil. The above recipe calls for 190 degrees but, after some research, I found that this range worked well for me.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Step 2 – Off the heat, add 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and stir twice slowly and gently. Set a timer for 5 minutes.

Step 3 – After 5 minutes pour the mixture into a colander lined with cheesecloth set over a large bowl. Leave undisturbed for 1 to 2 hours to allow the whey to separate from the curds.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Step 4 – Serve. (I put the cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator until I was ready to serve.) The cheese should be good for a couple of days.

I allowed guests to make their own bruschetta, serving a very good olive oil, wildflower honey from Whole Foods, and Balsamic Vinegar with sea salt. The salt does improve the taste. I also made shaved baby zucchini and shaved asparagus dressed with olive oil and salt and pepper to use as an additional topping.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

People were skeptical at first but changed their mind after the first bite. This will definitely not be the last time I make homemade ricotta. My next experiment will be to use it with homemade pasta. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Stir-Fried Sesame Asparagus

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons oriental sesame oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 pounds asparagus, ends trimmed, cut on diagonal into 2-inch-long pieces
  • 4 teaspoons sesame seeds

Preparation
Stir soy sauce and sugar in small bowl until sugar dissolves. Heat oil in heavy large skillet. Add garlic and stir 15 seconds. Add asparagus and stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Add soy mixture and toss until asparagus is coated, about 1 minute longer. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl; sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Blue Cheese and Caramelized Shallot Dip

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 1/4 cups thinly sliced shallots (about 4 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 4 ounces blue cheese, room temperature

Preparation
Heat oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add shallots. Cover and cook until shallots are deep golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool.

Whisk together mayonnaise and sour cream in medium bowl to blend. Add blue cheese. Using rubber spatula, mash mixture until smooth. Stir in caramelized shallots. Season dip to taste with salt and pepper. Cover dip and refrigerate until flavors blend, about 2 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.) Serve dip chilled or at room temperature.

Makes about 2 cups.

Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp

Ingredients

  • 20 uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined
  • 1 tablespoon (about) chopped fresh rosemary
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • 10 bacon slices, cut in half crosswise
  • Crumbled Stilton cheese, or other blue cheese

Preparation
Arrange shrimp on baking sheet. Sprinkle with rosemary, ground black pepper, and several splashes of vinegar. Wrap each in bacon, covering completely; secure with toothpick. (Can be prepared 8 hours ahead. Cover and chill on sheet.)

Preheat broiler. Broil shrimp 4 to 5 inches from heat source until shrimp are cooked through and bacon is browned, watching carefully to prevent burning, about 5 minutes per side. Remove toothpicks. Transfer shrimp to platter. Sprinkle hot shrimp with cheese and serve.

Makes 20.

Asparagus Risotto

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds asparagus
  • 5 cups (about) canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cups arborio rice or medium-grain white rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • Fresh rosemary sprigs (optional)

Preparation
Trim tough ends from asparagus; discard. Cut off asparagus tips and reserve. Cut stalks into 3/4-inch-long pieces. Place 2/3 of stalk pieces, 1 cup broth and 1 cup water in blender. Puree until smooth. Set aside.

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add rice and stir 1 minute. Add wine and cook until absorbed, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup broth and chopped rosemary; simmer until liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Continue to cook for 15 minutes, adding more broth by 1/2 cupfuls and allowing liquid to be absorbed before adding more, stirring often. Add remaining asparagus stalk pieces and reserved asparagus tips and continue cooking until rice is just tender and mixture is creamy, adding broth as needed and stirring often, about 10 minutes longer. Add reserved asparagus puree and stir until absorbed, about 3 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan and cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer risotto to bowl. Garnish with rosemary sprigs, if desired. Serve, passing remaining Parmesan separately.

Makes 6 servings.