Monday, March 2, 2009

Score: Tied

So, I am now an accomplished cheesemaker. Delightfully, I made cow's milk ricotta following Julia Moskin's Fresh Ricotta recipe, originally adapted from “Michael Chiarello’s Casual Cooking,” and the whole experience was amazing. I had a moment of ricotta trancendence.

I've used ricotta in the past, for instance, beaten with eggs to lighten frittatas or to give lasagne that perfect creamy, but toothy texture. However, I looked at ricotta as more of a flavorless, bland filler and not something that I sought out for flavor. That has all changed.

This ricotta practically burst with fresh milk flavor. Imagine the most perfect creamy, round flavor achievable from a glass of milk and then intensify it beyond any dairy-like thing you've know before. It's that good.

Making fresh ricotta has also taught me about transcending stress and anxiety. As much as I'd like to believe I'm the type of person that loves change and craves adventure, I'm actually really set in my routine. I like predictability. I like recipes that work when you follow the directions exactly to the letter. I like that every time I mince garlic or chop an onion or peel a potato I do it exactly the same way.

So, as hard as it was to deal with being un- and under- employed for five months, it's been just as hard to switch gears to full time work. Now that I'm back in the restaurant world, my meals are sporadic, my work hours are long, and there's quite a bit of pressure I'm fronting from both diners and managers. All this has left me more stressed than I really should be, and stress for me manifests itself in the pit of my stomach. Constant, seething worry under the surface of seeming calm has been my emotional life lately.

Whenever I get stressed, and get the upset stomach to go with it, the only things I want to eat are starchy and creamy. Golden bowls of mac and cheese. Grilled cheese sandwiches. Scrambled eggs with toast slathered in marscapone. Mashed potatoes. Polenta. In my fragile state, anything more aggressive, more mature would certainly send shudders down my entire esophagus.

So, Thursday, when I got off work (a split shift from 11 am to 10pm), I was exhausted, and only wanted dairy products and carbohydrates. I made Ricotta Crostini with Fresh Thyme and Dried Oregano. It took me 10 minutes, and as Kent was at a friend's house watching, Lost. I had it all to myself. That was my entire dinner. Nothing but ricotta cheese and crostinis.

It was one of those perfect meals that happen when just the right food is consumed in just the right setting, at just the right time. After a harried day of dealing with lots and lots of was soul-gratifying to sit, and devour this simple meal.

Ricotta Crostini with Fresh Thyme starts with a batch of homeade ricotta, which is then whipped w a little milk and sea salt. Before serving it gets a sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves, a dash of dried oregano, a pit more sea salt, fresh ground black pepper, and a drizzle of richly green and fruity olive oil.

The crostini comes together just as quickly, slices of baguette brushed with olive oil and broiled. Then, the moment they come out of the oven, I rubbed them with the cut edge of a clove of garlic. The garlic really does play nicely with the woodsy pungency of thyme and oregano. The contrast of crunchy bread and creamy spread, too, is something quite delightful.

A few days after making this recipe, I was craving it again. I found myself with a three-day "weekend" on my hands, and knew I needed to cook for friends: thoughtful and funny friends who bring me gorgeous flowers, delicious bottles of not-too-grapefruity Sauvignon Blanc, and knit me warm fuzzy mittens. Ricotta Crostini is a great appetizer, the kind that is not fussy, and that my friends devoured, with wine glasses in hand, while I finished the last of the meal preparations (chicken dumpling soup, but there will be more on the chickens' dinner parties soon).

While I'm sorry I don't have any original recipes or recipe adaptations for you, my whole cheesemaking experience seemed a trial of finding just what I needed by leaning on the wisdom of other great cooks--so I urge you to click through to the recipe links, they're worth trying. And, I know that in a few months, when my garden is overflowing with fresh herbs, I'll make this recipe my own. I'm already imagining how it will be just the right thing with chervil or dill or even chives.


Anonymous said...

I love that picture of the flowers and Henry. What great photography! I am so hoping your stress level goes down. I feel so bad for you. And I too love the comfort food when I am stressed. I am so glad that your cheese making was a success. Do you still make your own baguettes? Mom

Anonymous said...

Jim has consistently been sharing your blog with me. So I have kept up though lazy in responding. I loved you cake nest, empathized with your cheese failure, and now I am delighted to learn about your discovery of Ricotta. I was especially excited because you mentioned Michael C. Yes, we are first name basis since he kissed me on the cheek. We were in Napa and went to his new restaurant for my (your) birthday. He is great! Hey, lets do our birthday together next year at his restaurant. I get him to kiss you too.

I think of you often...

Frivolous Diane said...

One of your best pieces thus far - really lovely. Beautifully written.