Sunday, September 27, 2009

I made lots and lots of fresh cheese...

From N.

This was going to be a beautiful post with lots of messy pictures of the cheese-making and pasta-making process. Then my phone died. So instead, it will be a long, beautiful post about the making of cheese and pasta without pictures. (And if you really need a visual, imagine big pots of simmering milk.)

I arrived at my friend E.'s house last week bearing a bottle of Maker's Mark whisky, two gallons of whole milk and prosciutto. The party was bound to be good.

E. had invited me to her house for an end-of-summer Garden Party. It's her first year gardening and she has been plying me with zucchini, gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and herbs from her backyard bounty. I'm ridiculously jealous of her green thumb.

Being the type to think with our stomachs first, we decided to make everything from scratch. The menu: salad, homemade pizza topped with homemade fresh mozzarella and ricotta, fresh pasta stuffed with ricotta and tossed with homemade pesto and cherry tomatoes, mojitoes and mint juleps with mint from her garden, and a pear crisp for dessert.

If it sounds like a lot, it was. Flour flew, mint was muddled, milk curdled, whey was drained, a toddler was fed. The only real secret to pulling together that dinner in 2 1/2 hours is E. is a whiz with the food processor.

The cheese was both simpler and harder than I thought. Ricotta uses easy-to-find ingredients and mainly takes time and comes out all lovely and pillowy. Mozzarella, however, requires citric acid and rennet only available at cheese stores. You have to gauge temperature carefully, heat it in the microwave and knead it while wearing rubber gloves. Whey and curds are messy. And for all that work, you get the equivalent of about two balls of fresh mozzarella. It wasn't as smooth as the stuff in the stores, but it was extremely delicious.

We put cheese on everything. We topped one pizza with ricotta, pesto and prosciutto and another with fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes and parmesan. Sometimes it's better not to know what goes into your food; I probably drank the equivalent of half a gallon of whole milk that night.

But the tomatoes and cucumbers were divine, and the ricotta raviolis were amazing. The pizza was addicting. We even managed to throw a pear crisp in the oven in the midst of Garden Bounty Madness and I put away a bowl, despite my stomach's protests.

The next time lasagna makes it onto my menu, I'll invest the time to make fresh ricotta. But I'll probably buy the mozzarella. Even crazy people have to draw the line somewhere.

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