In late May I made a list of summery things that I was excited to cook — even new kitchen skills I couldn’t wait to tackle and share with you. I remember thinking, ‘this is the year I will become a grill master!’ It was probably right around that time that I talked with our friend Brandon about how I should pitch an article to a major magazine on wedding planning and how it’s really just like running a business: What’s all the fuss about, people? Just make yourself a checklist. Well, this summer has humbled me on both counts. There hasn’t been much innovative cooking coming out of our kitchen (although we’ve become true champs at the BLT sandwich. Sometimes, if we’re feeling really crazy we’ll add avocado). And wedding planning? Someone save me. Let’s get this show on the road already. When I made my bold assertion to Brandon, we’d taken care of all the big things (caterer, music, venue, cake) so it all seemed very, very under control. But as many of you know, it’s all the little details that move into your head and take up valuable real estate — for a chunk of the summer of 2014, as it turns out.
So today as I sit here with an acute acknowledgment that I’m far from a grill master (in fact, we still don’t own a grill), I’m feeling awfully proud to be sharing this recipe for homemade ricotta with you. It was on my ‘make this summer’ list and it really is even better than I could’ve imagined; I’m not really sure why we’ve been buying store-bought tubs all these years, especially considering we’re talking about four ingredients and a mere half an hour to make your own batch. And I’m here to report, too, that homemade ricotta is good on most things: toasts, sandwiches, omelettes, as a dessert with fresh peaches or cherries, in the morning over oatmeal, by the spoonful with a little flaky salt for a quick snack.
This recipe originally comes from my friend Rachael Coyle. She has a wonderful pop up bakeshop each Saturday here in Seattle called Coyle’s Bakeshop, where she bakes all manner of delicious things, from flaky savory croissants to dense chocolate cakes. She sent this recipe many weeks ago as part of her newsletter and I set it aside, knowing there’d come a time when I had an extra afternoon and could whip up my own batch.
The method is quite simple: you’re essentially heating milk and cream and encouraging them to curdle with the addition of acid (here, we’re using buttermilk, but you’ll see some recipes that call for lemon juice or vinegar instead). Then you simply strain the warm mixture, the curds stay behind and become the ricotta, and the whey strains away. Cheesecloth is certainly the easiest way to strain the two parts, but if you have a clean fine-weive dish cloth and a mesh strainer, you’ll be just fine.
I included a few few photos here of the past few weeks at our house — we had a good run of houseguests and visitors which was a nice break in routine. I got to catch up with my Bay Area friends Stacy and Kimberly, eat good cheese and olives, have big slices of nectarine raspberry pie with Andrea, and hang our new outdoor string lights (thank you, Sam).
There have been quite a few things that have happened this summer that weren’t on my list — I suppose this is how those things usually go. I’ve fallen in love with our picnic table all over again, planted a bunch of pretty mums; I’ve been working a really busy farmers market season for Marge Granola, started to turn over ideas for a new book, and planned our 3-week honeymoon. While the season hasn’t looked exactly like I thought it would, it sure hasn’t been half bad.
And amidst all those things, I’ve been eating many, many ricotta toasts. And I hope, now, that you will too.
As Rachael noted in her newsletter, this recipe takes just a few minutes of heating and stirring and then about half an hour of draining. Some recipes don’t add salt at all, and ask that you do so to taste, but I find that the amount here is almost perfect — I end up sprinkling a little additional salt on top, but the ricotta itself is seasoned well to my taste. If you’d prefer a bit more salt in your batch, feel free (but I’d taste it with these proportions first).
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine all four ingredients and set over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. When the mixture comes to a boil, turn off the heat and stir gently; small curds will begin to form. Let the mixture sit for several minutes then gently ladle the curds and whey into a (cheesecloth-lined) mesh strainer set over a bowl. Let drain for 30 minutes. Ricotta is now ready to use, or keep in the fridge for 3-4 days.
Slightly adapted from: Rachael Coyle
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.