Vegetarian Lasagna

Vegetarian Lasagna

Speaking of signature recipes, just last night I made Marcella Hazan's butter tomato sauce. As I watched the tomatoes simmer and the house fill with the most wonderful aromas, I thought about the history of this particular recipe, about Marcella, and I wondered if her family feels the same excitement and enthusiasm that I feel each time I ladle a generous serving onto my pasta.

Fresh Homemade Ricotta

I imagine that I look pretty amazing on a treadmill. I've never seen myself in a mirror or in person, but this is what I imagine. Me running with my arms flailing in the air, a displeased look on my face. I hate running on the treadmill, but I also hate running outside, so no bigs. Last week I felt my pants to be a little tighter. In an attempt to get back into them, I started running. I could've taken my bike out for a spin, or something cool like that, but to be honest, I am still terrified of those rail tracks. 

Ok, so treadmills are lame. We're basically running to nowhere, but we have to do what it takes to look and feel our best. I have come to terms with this. Last week while on the treadmill, I turned on an old re-run of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. In this particular episode, he traveled with his wife to her ancestral home of Sardina. In one of the clips, he watched as some local women created pane carasau, a thin and crisp flat bread which was originally conceived for shepherds. 

After preparing the bread, they all sat down with a few bottles of wine and some fresh pecorino. Energy deprived and completely sick of the treadmill, I decided to go home and recreate this Sardinian experience in my house, but foreseeing a major problem in this plan, the lack of wood burning oven in my kitchen, I opted for a quick and easy 'sorta' ricotta, with fresh bread and olive oil. Albiet, not quite pane carasau and fresh pecorino, but assuming this will quickly fix my immediate desire for Italy, I was content.

Ricotta literally means 'recooked' in Italian. True Italian ricotta is made from the by product (left-over whey) from another cheese process, typically mozzarella. Initially, this confused me. I was under the impression that all cheese was made from the coagulation and curdling of casein. Apparently, ricotta is made from the coagulation of other milk proteins such as albumin and globulin, present in the whey. An interesting example of how people with a milk casein allergy are able to tolerate ricotta. 

This is why I am calling it 'sorta' ricotta. It's more like a soft paneer or queso fresco. Needless to say, it is absolutely delicious and tastes remarkably like true ricotta. I let mine sit for 20 minutes for a soft cottage cheese consistency. Spread this delicious cheese onto a fresh baguette, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt. If your in the mood for sweet, top with honey and toasted pine nuts. Whichever way you decide to indulge in this creamy cheese, don't forget the wine. 

makes 1 cup
recipe adapted from Salvatore Brooklyn Ricotta via The Tasting Table

prep time: 5 minutes + 20 min rest
cook time: 5 minutes

8 cups of whole milk
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup lemon juice
(half the recipe for a smaller batch)

Pour the milk and salt into a large non-reactive pot (clay, enamel, glass, plastic or stainless steel).  On medium-high heat, heat the milk to 190ºF using a thermometer. If you don't have a thermometer, heat the milk until it starts to foam just before beginning to boil. Continue to stir the milk preventing it from scorching on the bottom of the pot.

Remove the pot from the stove and slowly stir in the lemon juice. It should start to form curds within seconds. Cover the milk and let sit for 5 minutes.

Line a strainer with cheese cloth and place over a bowl (to catch the liquid whey). Gently scoop the curds and liquid whey into the colindar and let drain for under 5 minutes for a moist creamy consistency, 15 - 20 minutes for small tender curds with cottage cheese consistency, or 1 hour for firm crumbly curds similar to feta cheese.

Discard the whey and refrigerate the ricotta for up to 4-5 days. Serve on toasted baguette with olive oil and sea salt.