Monday, August 19, 2013

Cheese, Glorious Cheese

I compulsively bought fresh ricotta at the salumeria when I was in town this weekend, even though I had no real plan for it. The ricotta here is sweet and creamy and a totally different product from Polly-o or, God forbid, Sargento (why is it always sour, with the consistency of clay??), back in the states. I was so fed up with the state of available ricotta when we were stationed in Texas that I started making my own. It was better than Sargento, but nowhere near as good as what they sell here in Italy. The kind I made still turned out kind of gritty, and it smelled like the vinegar I used to separate the milk. It didn't taste like vinegar, but it did smell of it. Point is, I'm fully aware that these three years will be my Golden Age of Ricotta, and it will never be this good again. So now I'm trying to find recipes that will use my little block of splendor, because it would be a sin against all that is good in the world to allow this cheese to spoil in my fridge (it doesn't have a long shelf life.)

I threw together No-Bake Lasagna with Ricotta and Tomatoes (pg 289) for dinner last night. As an added bonus, this used up a box of no-boil lasagne noodles that's been in my cabinet since last Christmas. If you've ever wondered if you can boil no-boil lasagna noodles, the answer is yes. They would have stuck together if I hadn't immediately moved them from the water to the sauce, but otherwise they were fine.

Lasagne is sacred food in my house. We had it once a year, at Christmas, and my Dad would spend the whole day and evening on Christmas Eve stirring that pot of sauce, skimming sausage and meatball grease off the top, periodically bellowing, "Never again, Margaret! Never again!" Every year. Now that he's gone, lasagne has become my Christmas ritual.

I didn't expect this free-form version of lasagne to compete with the real deal, but I hadn't quite realized how firmly I believe that lasagne is more than its individual components. Lasagne is lasagne because of the layers, the denseness, and the merging of cheese with sauce with meat, not because you happen to use a noodle that defines itself as lasagne. I think of this more as a pasta dish, and not as lasagne. It's not lasagne. It is, however, delicious.
The sauce is quick and easy, and I'd happily eat a big bowl of pasta with just the sauce if I had no cheese. Brown thin-sliced garlic in oil. Throw in a heap of halved cherry tomatoes. After they're soft, add stock and simmer. I totally overlooked the fact that the tomatoes were supposed to go in in two separate batches, presumably so that some would mush and some would remain firm. I dumped all of mine in at once. No harm done. Add pasta and basil to the sauce, plate, dollop with ricotta and shaved Romano cheese. I also added mozzarella, because what's a lasagne without mozzarella? Lesser, that's what.

Conclusion: Liked it. The sauce was really sweet and delicious. If you have garlic and some tomatoes, you can make this. No real shock, but Charlie DID eat his noodles and the cheese after carefully picking off each and every bit of basil. No tomatoes, but that also was not a surprise. He did pluck a raw tomato out of my fruit basket and eat it, unprompted, the other day. He only ate the one, but he didn't spit it out (or if he did, I haven't found it yet) or lick my leg to scrape the skin off of his tongue, so that gives me hope for the future.

Furthering my quest to use my ricotta, I had Fresh Ricotta with Lemon, Basil, and Honey Bruschetta (pg 63) for breakfast today. This is as easy as it comes. Mix lemon zest with ricotta. Smear on toast. Top with basil and a honey drizzle. I used whole wheat bread, because I didn't have anything more bruschetta-ey, but that's okay.
Mmmm...maybe you'll be my lunch, too.
Basil and honey is a delicious flavor combo. Who knew? The ricotta and lemon provided a very subtle background flavor. All in all, this was tasty and satisfying. I can't imagine eating it as a "starter for a larger meal," as Martha indicates. It screamed, "Breakfast!" to me. Or, it could also pass as an afternoon snack.

Conclusion: Liked it.


  1. If you keep this up, I am driving to your house right away for your leftovers.

  2. Leftovers? What leftovers? I just finished the last of our bread making a grilled cheese for the boy, so if you come, I can make you a ricotta, basil, honey English muffin. Doesn't have the same flair as bruschetta, does it?