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
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.