Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ricotta Herb Spread with Grilled Bread, Asparagus Salad, and Spicy Shrimp

I'm so happy to see the sun shining today!  After days of rain, we Coloradans miss our sunny blue skies.  I'm especially glad it's sunny today, because Jamie and I are going to be celebrating his birthday today (a week early), and rain just would not work for the day's activities (but more about that later, because he doesn't know yet where we're going...).

For dinner last night, we made homemade ricotta, then mixed it with fresh herbs to make a creamy spread for thick slices of grilled bread, ribbony asparagus salad with lemon and parmesan (which I can't take credit for--this pretty salad was inspired by Smitten Kitchen), and spicy skewered shrimp.

To make the ricotta, you simply need whole milk, heavy cream, salt and an acid; either lemon juice or white wine vinegar will work (scroll to the bottom of this post for a recipe).  In a saucepan over medium heat, slowly bring the milk, cream and salt to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer, then add your lemon juice or white wine vinegar; simmer for two minutes, stirring constantly, as the mixture curdles.  Now at this point, I thought that mine hadn't curdled, because I was expecting to see a more dramatic separation of curds and whey (more like the appearance of cottage cheese);  the curdling appeared to be so subtle, that I wasn't sure anything would be left behind after pouring it through the cheesecloth.  But after pouring it through two layers of damp cheesecloth, through a sieve and into a bowl beneath, to my surprise and delight, what was left in the cheesecloth was exactly what ricotta should be.  I only let mine drain for about 12 minutes, since I wanted a creamier spread for the bread, but it can be drained for up to 25 minutes for a dryer texture.
After the ricotta had drained, I transferred it to a bowl to chill in the refrigerator for about an hour, then added chopped dill, scallions, pepper and fresh lemon zest (there's no need to add additional salt, since the cheese has already been salted during the boiling/curdling process).  We sliced fresh bread from the grocery store bakery and toasted it on a cast iron grill pan;  the fresh ricotta spread over the warm toasty bread was a perfect combination!  And with our lemony asparagus salad and spicy shrimp, it was a wonderfully light and flavorful dinner for a relaxing Friday night at home.

A tip for your leftovers...  make an omelette for breakfast the next morning with mushrooms and onions, leftover shrimp and ricotta cheese, or make some scrambled eggs, then make breakfast wraps with shrimp, ricotta cheese, scrambled eggs, and any veggies you have on hand, in a tortilla.  Jamie added some leftover marinara sauce to our wraps this morning for a southwestern style breakfast wrap, and it was yummy!

 Ricotta Herb Spread Recipe:
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 lemon (for juice and zest, or 3 Tbs White Wine Vinegar)
  • 2 Tbs freshly chopped dill
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • Pepper, freshly ground

1.  Dampen two layers of cheesecloth and place over a fine sieve.  Set sieve over a large bowl.

2.  In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk, cream and salt to a rolling boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer, and add the juice of 1 lemon (or white wine vinegar).  Stirring constantly, simmer for 2 minutes, as mixture curdles.  (Curdling may appear subtle, but if you touch the mixture, it should feel like soft clumps between your fingers.)
 
3.  Slowly pour mixture through the cheesecloth.  Allow to drain for 12-25 minutes, depending on whether you like your ricotta more creamy or more dry.  Once it has reached your desired consistency, transfer ricotta to a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and chill for about an hour in the refrigerator.

4.  Chop the dill and scallions.  Add to the chilled ricotta, and season with freshly ground pepper.  Zest about half of the lemon over the mixture, and stir until blended and creamy.  Serve generously over freshly grilled bread.