Monday, February 2, 2009

Home Creamery Event: Makin' Cheese, Drinkin' Wine, and Ricotta and Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Gnocchi recipe at end of page

As fellow Home Creamery Event participant Dan Petroski stated, ricotta is "quite possibly the easiest and least timely cheese to make." It is also a strong contender for the least photogenic cheese ever. It doesn't ooze. It doesn't stack. It doesn't glisten in the right places- it just sits there, waiting for its white curds to be baked or drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. If there were paparazzi of the cheese world, they wouldn't waste time scaling ricotta's Berverly Hill's gated mansion. Ricotta does not look good in a bikini.

But bless the cheese, although it is not as succulent as Brillant Savarin or studded with diamond-like crystals like Beemster, it rolls up its sleeves, puts in full days at work, and only stops for cigarette breaks. In short, it is the ultimate cooking cheese.

For the first Home Creamery Event, the dairy product of choice was ricotta and the participant number was three: Dan Petroski, the assistant winemaker of Larkmead vineyards and Simona Carini of Bricole, blog and me.

Although the Home Creamery Event is based on Farrell-Kingsley's book, Carini made two types of ricotta. One was the buttermilk and whole milk recipe from the book, and the other she made from whey and milk she had leftover from an earlier home cheesemaking venture. I loved this. Anytime a recipe for the dairy product of the month other than Farrell-Kingsley's inspires you, by all means, use it in addition to or instead of the one in the book. The link to Carini's two experiments can be found here . Keep on eye on this girl's blog, she's a dairy master. Prior to playing ricotta with us, Simona's been crafting aged goat cheeses at home with milk from a friend's farm.

Makin' Ricotta
Now, instead of talking about my own ricotta making experiences, I'm going to share parts of Petroski's write-up about his time in the kitchen. I'm doing this because Petroski summed up the experience so well, and even though my own time with curds and whey was much more exciting than his (I alternated between watering the plants outside and visiting the local strip clubs during the acidification process) I like the way his words flow. Plus, he emailed me cool pictures that I swear I didn't shrink to make mine look better. Towards the end of this post is my ricotta and sweet potato dumpling recipe that I made with my homemade ricotta.

Petroski's Cheese: A Homemade Ricotta Experience

"My ingredients, as pictured, were pretty straight forward - Strauss Family Creamery organic whole milk and heavy cream, white wine vinegar and salt. After getting the temp up to 185F, I removed from heat and stirred in three tablespoons of the vinegar for thirty seconds and then half a tablespoon of salt for thirty seconds and let stand, covered, for about two hours.

As soon as the vinegar was added, the milk/cream mixture began its curdling and at that point, by smell alone, I knew things were going to turn out well. After the alloted time I moved the curds to the cheese cloth and let sit, wrapped for two more hours in a colander above a bowl.

While the cheese was coming together, I halved a couple of Roma tomatoes, de-seeded them and filled a pyrex glass dish with a half of cup of olive oil, placed the tomatoes, drizzled them with more oil added salt, sugar and oregano and baked them in the oven, cut side up, for one hour and then flipped them for another 15-30 minutes. I plated the tomatoes drenched in their own oil and juices; cut open the cheese cloth and sliced some ciabatta.

All the while, during the waiting period, I pulled the cork on a 2001 Val di Suga Brunello di Montalcino. Tasted for corkiness and then double decanted to let it develop, opened, in bottle until we were ready to snack, The Val di Suga translates to "Valley of the Sauce." With the vineyards slopped high on a hill facing the Tuscan sun, these Sangiovese Grosso grapes bake all day long, giving the wine a wonderful core of red and black fruit hidden under pepper and earthy terroir; the refined tannins and bright acidity confirms why Sangiovese is the king when pairing with tomato sauce drenched pasta. However, our little creation this night with a little extra sweetness coming from the tomatoes, the texture of the cheese and the crusty bread all helped round out this relatively young wine and allowed the food and wine to sing in concert."

After making my two cups of ricotta from a gallon of milk and quart of buttermilk (I choose a different recipe in the book from Dan), I decided to put the cheese to work. It had, after all, cost me around the same amount as high-end ricotta purchased from a store so I thought that I should get my money's worth out of the curds and create something in addition to the cheese. My dish of choice was sweet potato ricotta dumplings. Whether you choose to call them gnocchi or not is your choice. I've heard that gnocchi made from anything other than potatoes and flour are gnocchi impostors and should really be called dumplings. I'll let you decide if you want to shame yourself as I have in the title.


An Italian mother once told me that when boiling potatoes for gnocchi, always use the older ones laying around one's kitchen. Water won't be able to penetrate though the older, tougher skin as much as it would with a new tuber with thin skin. This is good because less water in the gnocchi mix produces a lighter, fluffier dumpling.
* a food mill or ricer is recommended for this recipe.
* have a small pot of boiling water ready to test the dumplings.

2 medium sized sweet potatoes (I used the standard orange guys found in supermarkets across the country)
1 cup ricotta, well drained
1/4 - 1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper

1. Put sweet potatoes in a medium-sized pan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, bring to a simmer and cook until a fork inserted into the potato slides out with little effort (about 20-30 minutes).

2. Once potatoes are cooked, remove from water and let set only until cool enough to touch. Peel, cut into thirds, and run through the food mill over a bowl. It is easier to put potatoes through the mill when they are still warm and the resulting puree will have a smoother consistency. Cool after milling.

3. Add the ricotta to the bowl and mix throughly with fingers.

4. Add a little flour at a time to the bowl until the mixture starts to cling together and sticks less to your fingers. I eventually used around a half a cup of flour. Use as little as you think might be necessary because the more flour used, the heavier the dumplings. Salt and pepper to taste at this point.

5. Now do a test run. Form an oval ball about half the size of an egg with your hands and make an indentation with your thumb unto one side of the dumpling. Drop into the boiling test water already on the stove and lower the heat to a simmer. If the dumpling rises to the top of the water and does not fall apart within 3-5 minutes , you're good. If it falls apart, you need to add more flour to the original batch and make another tester to check your progress.

6. When ready to cook the entire batch, bring a large, salted pot of water to a boil. Add only half the dumplings to the pot at a time so they will have room to move about and cook throughly. After 3 minutes, run a gnocchi under running water and then taste. If it tastes of uncooked four, continue cooking the batch for one to two more minutes.

7. Remove dumplings from water with a large slotted spoon or small sieve. Continue process with next batch.

8. At meal time (these gnocchi keep best uncooked in the fridge until ready to cook and serve), cook gnocchi and serve with sage leaves and browned butter.

I enjoyed this hearty dumplings with an arugula salad and an Uvaggio Vermentino from Lodi. The nose on the Vermentino was lightly floral, pear and lemon-laced, and crisp and dry on the tongue. Most times when I make a light sauce like browned butter and sage for a pasta or dumpling, I like to let the ingredients shine and keep the wine light, but I've been known to pour a Viognier or Rhone blend with this dish, which brings out the earthy and sweet butter and potato flavors.

This is the end of the ricotta home creamery edition. I welcome you to join us for the next Home Creamery Event and would love to hear about your ricotta experiences or any prefences for the next dairy product we tackle in the comment section below. Thanks for playing!

To sum up the event's guidelines again:
1) Make the dairy product of the month at home.
2) Either pair the dairy product to a wine or suggest a wine you think you might enjoy sipping with your milk creation. There are no limits here- it's okay if you want to make something with your creation beyond the raw dairy product, like ricotta cake, dumplings, or baked ricotta, or you can suggest a wine to sip with simply the fresh, buttery ricotta. Your choice. Also, I'll forgive you if you don't want to pair your goodness with wine, and just want to make join in on the dairy love.
3. Send me one of two things by the last Monday of the month (Jan 26th for the first month):
a) If you have a blog, send me the link to the post where you talk about your Home Creamery experience and I will feature it in on my Home Creamery post.
b) If you don't have a blog, email me a photo of your results ( by the last Monday of the month and a brief 2-4 sentence sum up of your experience and your delectable pairings, which I will feature on my blog post.

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Simona said...

Everybody was happy with the result of their efforts, which is good, because it encourages further explorations. I like your recipe for gnocchi. And I agree that taking photos of ricotta is not as satisfying as eating it. I am looking forward to the next edition of the event.

Apples and Butter said...

Sounds like the first event turned out great! I love the process for gnocchi. It's been awhile since I've made the little buggers at home. Thanks for the inspiration!

MaryBeth said...

WOW..these look amazing. I love the sound of a sweet tater gnocchi.

Kirstin said...

Simona- Good, maybe we'll get some more kitchen experimenters on board for next event!
Apples and Butter- That's funny, after I read other's gnocchi posts, I always feel the same.
MaryBeth-Certainly not an original idea, but delicious nontheless.

Cynthia said...

Oh those dumplings are just divine.

John Connors said...

Wine goes so well with cheese and if you ask me, fine meals go so well with fine cigars. People who know their cigars swear by Cuban Cigars . Cigar lovers are legion around the world. Their love of fine cigars bears ample testimony to their taste.