It was early in the afternoon. I finished a work project much sooner than expected and a small part of the sunny day was mine. Naturally, my first inclination was to head south, across the border into South Carolina for a gallon of raw cow's milk. I say naturally, as if this is a perfectly normal thing to do. As if this is everyone's first thought.
I'm pretty sure most people get excited to get out of work early so that they can go to the pool or mow the lawn or take a nap. Me? I was excited to finally make the ricotta cheese that had been bumbling in my head for the last couple of weeks.
I do these things. Random things. All the time.
Food is like that for me. Impulsive. Ideas steal over me like a thief in the night, recipes logged in the recesses of my brain finally make their way up the limbic queue and announce themselves. Flavor combinations, formed by the multitude of books, blogs, experiences and occasional stroke of genius, tell me to "go there" or "make this." I imagine this is what creativity feels like. A little pushy, a lot impulsive and completely unscheduled. I dig it. I'll take it.
Of course, this post is only about ricotta cheese. But, let's rewind for a second. This is raw milk ricotta. Pure, unadulterated, full cream ahead kind of ricotta. Not some Polly-O block of blandness. Although, I spent many, many years thinking that ricotta cheese came from the Polly-O container.
I grew up in an Italian household, the New york Italian kind. You know, the one that says mozzarella like "mootza-rell." Still, a pasta and tomato sauce loving, loud-mouth Italian family. But, like many of my generation, I was baptized in the church of convenience, taught to sanctify the supermarket. I didn't know much about slow food or that I could make things like ricotta cheese with my own hands.
Which brings me back to impulse and illegal border crossings. The hankering for raw cow's milk ricotta descended upon my psyche- how or why, I'm not sure. But, there it was, stapled to the bulletin in my brain, front and center, so that when I had a free moment, I was inclined to make cheese. So be it.
There are multiple ways to make ricotta cheese. Many recipes call for whey or rennet. This version, which I got from 101 Cookbooks, is simply one gallon of whole milk (raw cow's milk) and one quart of good buttermilk heated to 175 degrees, when the curds and whey separate and then strained in cheesecloth. Since I used best-quality milk, I kept it simple. I wanted the unadulterated version first time around. I'd like to try this recipe next and compare the two.
Just around this time, the zucchini started producing in the garden. Once production begins, the race is on to find a million and one ways to use all of the zucchini. Luckily, I stumbled upon this savory cheesecake recipe which incorporated a good portion of my fresh ricotta and plenty of zucchini. Instead of dill, I substituted lemon thyme. Below is my recipe slightly modified.
Zucchini Ricotta Cheesecake adapted slightly from 101 Cookbooks
This turned out to be a perfect quick dinner, but could also double as a breakfast, brunch or a snack. Honestly, it wasn't around long enough to become breakfast. I'd like to increase the recipe twofold to see if I could create a cheesecake with a little more height and heft. Also, bacon. Always, bacon. If you're not into bacon, think about other additions to make it your own. Don't forget about ricotta's sweet applications too- lemon ricotta pancakes (my favorite), with honey and figs, in scones or as an addition to other sweet cake recipes.
- 2 cups zucchini, coarsely grated (about two large zucchini)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 1/2 cups freshly strained ricotta
- 1/2 cup fresh parmesan
- 3 tablespoons lemon thyme
- zest of one lemon
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1/3 cup fresh goat cheese, for topping
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8-inch springform pan or similar pan of your choice. Place the zucchini in a colander and toss with the salt. Let it sit for at least ten minutes to coax the moisture out of the zucchini. Then, press and squeeze the zucchini to extract as much moisture out as possible. Set aside and prepare the rest of the filling. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, add the shallots and garlic and saute until softened and lightly browned, about three minutes. Combine shallots, garlic, ricotta, parmesan, thyme and lemon zest in a bowl. Mix well and add the eggs. Stir until combined and then add the zucchini. Add the mixture to your buttered springform pan, place the pan onto a baking sheet and then into the oven. Bake for one hour. After one hour, crumble the goat cheese over top and return to the oven for another 20-30 minutes. You are looking for the top to turn golden and you want minimal jiggle in the center of the cake. Once the jiggle was gone, I set the cake under the broiler to finish browning to my satisfaction. If you are going to do this, keep a vigilant eye and don't walk away. Cakes can go from perfectly browned to pitifully burned in a moment's time. Remove cake from oven and let cool completely. Serve at room temperature.