Homemade Ricotta

If you follow any sort of food blog, you’ll know that just about everyone has written about how easy it is to make fresh ricotta at home.  “How easy?” do you ask?  Well, let’s just say it’s ridiculously easy.  There are four steps:

  • Heat milk
  • Add acid
  • Drain
  • Enjoy

and it will leave you wondering why you would shell out money at the grocery store for this…..

….when all you need are three ingredients that you already have in your kitchen. Some recipes for ricotta call for the use of heavy cream in addition to the whole milk, but I found that just plain whole milk is just fine and results in a nice light fluffy cheese.  Plus, who needs all that additional fat in their diet?

When you’re making this cheese, after separating the curds from the whey, I found that it is much more efficient to spoon the curds into the strainer, rather than to simply pour everything in from the pot.  By spooning it in, you’ll minimize the amount of whey you put in, therefore shortening the total drainage time.  Also, the longer you drain the curds, the thicker your cheese will be.  Here was my final product.  I let it drain for about 30 minutes, and it was a nice consistency, not too thick.

This recipe is very similar to the paneer cheese that I made a while back.  As with that recipe, you can add different herbs and spices into the curds for a nice flavor.

I ended up making Eggplant Rollatini with a nice tomato sauce — not my healthiest meal due to the amount of cheese called for, but I did use less than the original recipe required.  I have included the recipe for this Eggplant Rollatini below after the recipe for the ricotta.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

(about 2 cups)

  • 6 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Set a large strainer over a deep bowl. Line the strainer with two layers of cheesecloth.

Over medium heat, bring the milk and salt to a boil while stirring occasionally.  Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar.  Allow the mixture to stand for a minute and you will begin to see it separate into curds (thick) and whey (watery).

Pour into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for about 20 to 25 minutes.  The longer you let it drain, the thicker the ricotta will be. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, and discard the cheesecloth and any remaining whey. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep in the refrigerator for about 4-5 days.

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Eggplant Rollatini

(serves 8)

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large eggplants, sliced lengthwise for a total of 16 slices
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups marinara sauce, jarred is fine
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 cups homemade ricotta
  • 3 tbsp dried oregano, parsley, or basil – or any combination of the three
  • 1 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Divide the oil between two rimmed baking sheets.  Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on the baking sheets and turn to coat in the oil; season with half of the salt and pepper.  Bake until the slices are soft and start to brown — probably about 12-15 minutes.  Remove from oven and let them cool.  Reduce oven heat to 400 degrees.
In the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish, spread a half cup of the marinara sauce.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, ricotta, oregano/parsley/basil, parsley, 2/3 cup of the mozzarella, and  a little more of the salt and pepper.
Place about 3 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture on one end of an eggplant slice, roll it up, and transfer to the prepared baking dish. Repeat with the remaining eggplant slices and ricotta mixture.
Top the eggplant rolls with the remaining marinara sauce and the remaining mozzarella. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.
Bake until the cheese has melted and the sauce is bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

A Taste of the Middle East….Right at Home (Part II)

I went to my local library the other day and took out a few cookbooks that I wanted to flip through since I’d likely be indoors because they were forecasting extremely cold weather this weekend. One was called “The Iraqi Cookbook” by Lamees Ibrahim. It caught my eye on the shelf because it is a large, gorgeously photographed book:

It is filled with traditional recipes that have been handed down through the generations. The book was written with the goal of bringing these recipes to the diaspora — perhaps those who can no longer read Arabic cookbooks, or those who grew up in Western households who didn’t learn how to cook these traditional meals.

The author uses mainly ingredients available to Western readers, as well as gives useful tips. She also suggests appropriate substitutions when necessary. Each recipe is accompanied by a beautiful color photo, making this cookbook a feast for the eyes as well as the appetite.

One recipe that caught my attention was Eggplant Turnover (Maqloobat Bathinjan), a wonderful “turnover” dish made of layers of rice, ground meat, onions, tomatoes, peppers with eggplant at the bottom of the pot. The pot is then inverted onto a plate for an impressive presentation.

The first time I made this, I failed miserably by overcooking the rice. It’s not a hard recipe, however. So, today I tried again and it came out perfectly. I made about 1/3 of the recipe below, and it’s still enough for three people.

What I learned:

1. As you layer the saucepan with the different ingredients, press each layer down firmly, otherwise when you add the water , everything will float up and it will become a soup. When making this the second time, after I layered and pressed each layer, I took a small plate and placed it on top and pressed the ingredients down one final time.

2. Don’t add too much water. Use only as much as the recipe indicates, even if it doesn’t look like enough. Add it slowly.

3. Do not overcook the rice!

I skipped soaking the eggplant and used drained canned chopped tomatoes instead of the paste and fresh tomatoes. I added slivered almonds to the rice for additional texture. You could probably also add raisins or another dried fruit into the rice for a bit of sweetness.

The dish was delicious.

Eggplant Turnover (Maqloobat Bathinjan)

(serves 6-8)

  • 3 cups rice
  • 1 lb ground meat
  • 2 large eggplants
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp mixed spices (garam masala, see below)
  • 2 tbsp fresh or dried parsley
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 3 green peppers
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil
Slice the eggplants into round discs about 1/2 inch thick. Soak in heavily salted water for at least one hour.
Chop the onions and saute for a few minutes until soft. Add the ground meat and cook for a few minutes. Add the garlic, the mixed spices, the parsley, salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes until fully cooked through. Remove from pan and set aside.
Drain the eggplant and wash in cold water and dry. Place some olive oil in the pan and lightly fry the eggplant on both sides.
Line the eggplant slices at the bottom of a sauce pan. Add the meat mixture.
Chop the tomatoes and peppers. Mix together and add as the third layer.
Rinse the rice in cold water a few times. Add to the top of the tomato and pepper mixture.
Add 4 cups of water, or until the water is just above the level of the rice. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Using a large platter, place it on top of the pan. Hold firmly and turn it upside down. Serve immediately.
Garam Masala

There’s no need to run out and buy this spice. You can make it at home. It’s simply a mixture of spices you most likely have. I had all except the cloves, but that’s fine. The recipe below makes about 1/4 cup.

  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Mix all the ingredients together and store in an airtight container. Store in a cool, dry place.

Indian-Flavored Roasted Vegetables with Paneer

Roasted vegetables can be quite tasty.  I generally make mine drizzled with some olive oil, salt and pepper.  Their natural deliciousness comes out as they are roasted, making for a nice side dish.

However if you, like me, enjoy the flavors of Indian cuisine, then you’ll love this recipe, which includes a flavorful marinade.  It also calls for homemade paneer, which is an Indian cheese, that is quick, fast, easy, and delicious to make at home.  It’s similar to a firm ricotta and you can make with or without additional spices.

The recipe is not at all spicy.  Even if you’re not a fan of Indian cuisine, you’ll like this.  The nice part of this recipe is that you can adjust the marinade flavors to your liking.  Additionally, you can substitute any vegetable you’d like as well.

There’s a LOT of veggie chopping involved.  I’d recommend making the cheese first so that it can sit, then the marinade, then start the chopping.

Indian-Flavored Roasted Vegetables with Paneer 

(serves about 6)

Vegetables

  • 1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/4 inch semicircles
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch semicircles
  • 1 small eggplant (peeled, if desired), cut into 1/2 inch semicircles
  • 1 medium yellow onion quartered
  • 1 green pepper, cut into 1/4 inch strips
  • 1/2 rutabaga, cut into small cubes
  • 1 tomatoes, juiced and chopped into cubes
  • 2 large shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and wiped clean
  • 1 small portobello mushrooms, stemmed and wiped clean, caps peeled
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into 1/4 inch semicircles
  • 1/2 head cauliflower, cut into medium florets
  • 1 potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • Homemade paneer (recipe follows), cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Mint and basil chiffonade, for garnish.

Indian-Style Marinade

  • 1/2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tbsp chives, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1 tomato
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/8 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

Homemade Paneer

  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1.5 – 2 tbsp distilled white vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Spices, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Paneer Cheese:

Place a colander in the sink and line it with three layers of dampened cheesecloth, leaving a 2-inch overhang.  In a saucepan, bring the milk to a boil, reduce heat immediately to low.  Add 1.5 tbsp of vinegar or lemon juice and salt.  Stir gently around sides – the milk will evaporate into fluffy curds and watery whey.  If this doesn’t happen, add the remaining vinegar or lemon juice.  [If you wish to add spice to the cheese, you would add it here. Chopped garlic and chives are a good suggestion.]  Pour the curds into the cheesecloth-lined colander and drain for 10 minutes.  Gather up the corners of the cheesecloth and twist the cheese into a tight ball.  Tie the cheesecloth with string and transfer to a cutting board with the twisted, tied end off to the side.  Place a cutting board on the cheese, then a heavy skillet filled with tomato cans or something heavy.  Let the cheese stand at least 10 minutes until dry and firm before cutting into large cubes.  The cheese may be wrapped in a clean damp towel and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.

Marinade and Veggies:

In a food processor or blender, combine all of the ingredients and blend until smooth. 

Combine the vegetables in a large bowl.  Pour the marinade and toss until well-coated.  Check the vegetables for seasoning and add more salt if needed.  Spread the vegetables onto a sheet pan, so that they are in a single layer. Place in the preheated oven and roast.  After 20 minutes, remove from oven, stir well and roast for an additional 20 minutes or until almost tender.  Add the paneer to the vegetables and roast for an additional 2-3 minutes.

Place the vegetables and cheese on a platter and garnish with mint and basil chiffonade.