A month ago, reading Barbara Kingsolver's latest book, I was inspired to order a beginner's cheesemaking kit from Cheese Queen Ricki Carroll, billed as the "30 Minute Mozzarella & Ricotta Kit." I looked forward to creating two of my favorite cheeses from home, dreaming about how cute it would be to make caprese salad with cheese I'd just stretched myself. I tend to get carried away.
Yes. Well. The first time I made cheese, prompted by Mark Bittman's vegetarian undertaking, it was a complete flop. It wasn't meant to be a feta, but it had feta consistency with none of the taste. Yuck.
Now, after receiving my kit from Carroll, I realize that it flopped because I was using ultra-pasteurized organic milk. With the easy guidelines that came along with my kit, I bought a gallon of milk and proceeded to make half a batch of mozzarella. (I'm not dieting, just in transit and have only a 3-quart saucepan.) Even though it was difficult to knead a handful of boiling hot cheese, the mozzarella turned out glossy and melty. We ate it immediately with some of Virginia's homegrown tomatoes. Ricki's directions even include a recipe for bread made from they whey. I felt better about using only about a quarter of each batch of milk for cheese, since I wasn't dumping all of the rest. She also says that you can strain whey and use it in recipes in place of buttermilk.
With my confidence up, I used the second half of my gallon o'milk to make a batch of ricotta. Even easier. Light, fluffy and super creamy, this tastes ten times better than any store version I've ever tried.
Inspired to use my ricotta in homage to summer, I created this warm tart with a cornmeal crust, yellow squash, fresh corn, ricotta & lots of herbs. It uses slices of pan-fried summer squash and onions, with corn folded in at the last minute, then layered with ricotta and bathed in herbs. Even in the unevenly-heated oven at our rental, it turned out beautifully.
Warm Cornmeal & Summer Veggie Tart
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 T butter, cold
2-3 T cold water
2 cups ricotta
1/4 cup fresh herbs, minced (I used basil & oregano, but dill have been nice)
1 large or 2 medium yellow squash, sliced
1 red onion, sliced
1 ear of corn
oil for sauteing
salt & pepper
1 oz cheddar cheese, cut into small pieces or grated
Heat oven to 350º and oil your pans. I used two 9"x5" loaf pans for this, simply because I made George his own with bacon on top. But a typical tart or pie pan will work great.
Mix the dry crust ingredients together, then cut in the butter until the mixture looks like clumpy sand. Add enough water to allow the dough to hold shape when you pinch or ball it up. Press the dough into your pan of choice and about 1/2" up on the sides. Stick the pan into the oven for 10 minutes while you get your filling ready.
In a small bowl, mix your ricotta and eggs. If the mixture is pretty stiff and thick, add 1-2 T of milk to thin it down a little. You don't want to have to spread it over the crust, which will tear. Make sure your filling is pourable, then add the herbs and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
Heat a saute pan over high heat until your smidge of oil starts to smoke. Slice the squash and onion while you wait. Add them to the hot pan and saute until mostly browned. Cut the corn off of the cub directly into the saute pan and turn off the heat. Move everything around the pan a bit, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
When your crust comes out of the oven after 10 minutes, pour the ricotta filling over it, then spoon the squash/corn/onion mix over the top. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, until ricotta filling has set up and the cheddar topping is melted.
Use whatever veggies & herbs you have that you think would mix well and this recipe will work. If you have goat cheese instead of ricotta, substitute that, just watch your salt. If you have a storebought crust or a favorite savory tart recipe, use it!