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Soft And Sweet Ricotta

Don’t baulk at this! I am going to suggest that you make your own ricotta. Ricotta is a soft cheese used in savoury dishes such as salads, pizzas, pastas (as a filling for ravioli for example), as well as in various desserts. It is surprisingly easy to make and yields a very sophisticated result – a lovely soft creamy texture with a natural sweetness. Unlike other cheeses, which use rennet or cultures to encourage the curds to separate from the whey, all that’s required is some form of acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice. For the recipe below, I use milk, cream, buttermilk, white wine vinegar and salt. The process takes less than half an hour and a little longer again for the cheese to hang – so why not give it a try.

You can buy ricotta for the two recipes suggested below but making your own gives a result several leagues apart and has all sorts of uses coming into the summer. One of my favourite ways to use ricotta is in a salad. Small blobs of ricotta on the plate partnered with mixed leaves and perhaps tomatoes, asparagus, broad beans, or beetroot, and a light dressing with herbs – there are so many possibilities.

This is also the season for courgette flowers. You may be lucky enough to come across them at one of the many organic food markets but if not, the easiest way to ensure a steady supply is to grow your own. Now I am no gardener but growing courgettes is so easy. They work really well in a grow-bag as this helps them retain sufficient moisture. Freshly picked courgettes are so sweet – they seem to bear little relation to the tired oversized ones that you buy in the shops. Sliced and tossed in a hot pan with a little olive oil just until they begin to colour, they make a lovely accompaniment to all sort of dishes.

Homemade Ricotta

Yields 400g ricotta.

1 litre whole milk
250ml cream
125 ml buttermilk
25ml white wine vinegar
5g salt

Equipment: a thermometer and a piece of muslin (or a fine teacloth)

Bring the milk and cream up to 87C/190F. Stir occasionally to prevent the cream sinking to the bottom. When it reaches the required temperature, add the buttermilk and bring back to the same temperature.

Turn off the heat and add the vinegar. Allow to curdle and leave to sit for 10–15 minutes. Place a piece of muslin in a colander over a bowl. Pour the curdled liquid into the muslin, tie the ends together and hang from a pole (or handle) allowing the whey to drip into the bowl underneath. Leave to hang for 10-20 minutes – the exact length of time will depend on how thick you would like the ricotta to be. You can open up the bag and check the texture before deciding that it is ready to use. I use the left over whey to add to pasta or braising dishes.

Stuffed Courgette Flowers in Tempura Batter

Once picked, courgette flowers don’t last long so you should really aim to cook them the same day.

Serves 4

8 courgette flowers

Filling
200g ricotta (see homemade ricotta recipe attached)
50g parmesan, grated
20g toasted pine nuts
Zest of 1 lemon
3 tsp sage & thyme leaves, finely chopped
20ml olive oil
Pinch of salt

Batter
100g plain flour
100g cornflour
100ml sparkling water (or extra if required)
Pinch of salt

Dressing
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil
Pinch of salt

Using your fingertips, gently remove the yellow stamens inside the flower and discard. Repeat with the remaining flowers.

Mix all of the ingredients for the filling in a bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Place contents in a piping bag. Pipe mix into the courgette flower and gently fold the leaves over each other to seal the filling.

Pour some sunflower oil in a wok, saucepan or deep fat fryer and heat to about 160C/ 310F. (If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test the temperature of the oil by dropping a piece of bread into the oil. It should sizzle and go golden in about 10-15 seconds) Dip each courgette flower in the batter and deep fry until the courgette flowers go crispy; allowing enough time for the filling to heat through. Serve with some scattered toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of the dressing.

 

Ricotta Pancakes With Mixed Berries & Vanilla Yoghurt

Using ricotta in the pancake batter means that you end up with beautifully moist pancakes with a much lighter and fluffier texture than you’d achieve with a standard pancake mixture. The combination of warm pancakes with vanilla yoghurt and some fresh berries or a fruit compote is a great option for breakfast, brunch or dessert.

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Yields 12 pancakes (10cm in diameter each)

Pancake Mix
225g ricotta
170ml milk
4 eggs, separated
140g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
50g butter

Mixed Berries
150g blackberries
100g raspberries
300ml red wine
200g sugar
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
½ vanilla pod

Vanilla Yoghurt
150g Greek yoghurt
½ vanilla pod
15g honey

Place the ricotta, milk and egg yolks in a bowl and whisk together. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Add this to the ricotta mix and combine.

Place egg whites in a bowl and whisk until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter until just mixed through. Lightly grease a large, non-stick frying pan with a knob of butter and drop two heaped tablespoons of batter per pancake into the pan. Cook until each pancake is golden on the underside, turn over and repeat on the other side.

For the berries, place the sugar, water, red wine, cinnamon stick, star anise and vanilla pod in a saucepan and bring it up to the boil. Add the blackberries and cook for 1 minute and then add the raspberries. Turn off the heat. If you wish to have a thicker sauce, remove the fruit with a slotted spoon and reduce the syrup to gain the consistency you need.

Add the yoghurt and honey together in a bowl and then scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and add them to the mix.

The pancakes may be wrapped in tin foil and held in a warm oven if necessary. Serve the ricotta pancakes with the mixed berries and vanilla yoghurt.

All content is © 2014 by Lynda Booth’s Dublin Cookery School. All rights reserved.

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