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Let’s Talk about Cheese: Homemade Ricotta is Spring Comfort

Spaghettini w/homemade Ricotta, Sauteed Mushrooms with Sage and Parsley Panko Crumbs Spaghettini w/homemade Ricotta, Sauteed Mushrooms with Sage and Parsley Panko Crumbs
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Spring has finally sprung in Ottawa, bringing with it warm weather, farmers’ markets, and tulips. In Ottawa, blooming tulips mean the Canadian Tulip Festival should be in full swing, attracting 500,000 visitors each year. This year, the festival opened May 4th and closes May 21st. The annual festival celebrates the tulip as a symbol of a friendship that began with Canada sheltering Dutch Princess Juliana and her daughters during the Second World War.

In Prince Edward Country (PEC), blooming tulips mean Georgs Kolesnikovs will again dawn his cheese hat to launch the Great Canadian Cheese Festival (#TGCCF). The second annual festival will again showcase Canadian artisan, farmstead, and specialty cheeses, paired with locally-produced food and drink. Kolesnikovs, the Cheese-head-in-Chief, founded the festival to promote and celebrate Canadian cheese artisans who, according to him, are beginning to produce cheese comparable to their European counterparts.

Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs

As last year, Crystal Palace in Picton, Ontario, will host events from the festival’s two-day artisan cheese and fine food fair to tutored cheese tastings and popular Cooks & Curds Cheese Gala. It begins June 1st and ends June 3rd.

The cheese tasting seminars operate concurrently with the food fair. One particular tasting, the “Taste of Quebec”, will be led by Ottawa’s own Vanessa Simmons, cheese sommelier of Savvy Company.

The Cooks & Curds Gala features noted Canadian chefs, preparing tasting dishes with cheese and either fine wine or craft beer. Noted chefs include Toronto’s Jamie Kennedy and Ottawa’s Michael Blackie.

But, more about the Great Canadian Cheese Festival in a later post. The foodiePrints team attended the Ottawa launch last Friday, previewing the dish Chef Blackie will be preparing during the gala.

Let’s talk about cheese. Let’s talk about making a very simple cheese that can be used to prepare a very comforting spring dish, ricotta pasta. Now, ricotta is Italian. Pasta is Italian. Mixing the two together with herbed panko bread crumbs may not necessarily be Italian, but homemade ricotta contributes a distinct creaminess.

There are many methods to prepare ricotta, a fresh cheese made from straining curdled milk. The curdling agent can be anything from vinegar to fruit juice (usually lemon). Following the advice of Executive Chef Michael Moffatt of Play Food and Wine and Beckta Dining and Wine, I went with buttermilk. A little research on the web produced the ratio I used (4:1 milk:buttermilk by volume) and a recommendation the cheese be strained overnight.

To make ricotta, I used 5 cups of whole (homogenized) milk, 1 cup of table cream (18%), and 1 1/2 cup of 2% buttermilk. First, I heated the milk and cream in a heavy bottomed pot set to medium-low heat to 185°F (approximately 85°C). Then, I added the cold buttermilk to the pot. I stirred the mixture conservatively. I covered the pot and took the pot off the heat for 20 minutes. Afterward, I strained the curds from the whey using a doubled layer of cheesecloth and a strainer. Covering with plastic wrap, I left the curds, enrobed in the cheesecloth and contained in a wire mesh strainer, in the fridge overnight.

Mixing the Ricotta with PastaCurds Draining

This method produced approximately 1 1/2 cups of creamy ricotta cheese.

To make ricotta pasta, I took a handful of panko bread crumbs (1/3 – 1/2 cup) and fried them up in melted butter (2-4 tbsp) until they went golden. These, I set aside in a metal bowl with some torn sage (half dozen leaves) and parsley (half dozen leaves). The residual heat wilted the leaves.

Mise

Mise

Then, I took one serving of dry spaghettini (2-4 oz) and placed the noodles in a small pot of boiling salted water set to medium heat. Meanwhile, I sauteed a handful of sliced mushrooms (approximately 4-6 oz) with some olive oil in a cast iron skillet set to medium heat. When the pasta reached the super-aldente stage, a little harder than toothsome, I drained the pasta, reserving a 1/2 cup of the pasta water. I placed the pasta back in the pot and positioned it on a burner set to medium-low heat. To this, I added half the pasta water, a handful of ricotta cheese (approximately 3/4 cup), and the sauteed mushrooms. After stirring to mix everything together, I seasoned to taste with kosher salt and ground on a little pepper.

RicottaMixing the Ricotta with Pasta

If the pasta does not coat with ricotta, add more cheese and a splash of the remaining pasta water as necessary.

Everything CombinedJust Plated

I plated the mixture with the panko/herb mixture.

Served

Served

That’s it, plain and simple.

Consider this dish of creamy pasta and crunchy breadcrumbs a healthier alternative to carbonara. Though, carbonara is imminently more satisfying.

Want to try something more complex than fresh cheese? Consider the Great Canadian Cheese Festival. Already, Grace and Paul Mussel of Clarmell on the Rideau Farms gave attendees of the festival’s launch a taste of the goat gouda they have in store for the festival. The gouda was made in partnership with Glengarry. It was exquisite, not nearly as sharp or nutty as cow’s milk gouda, but slightly cheddar-y. It should go wonderfully with a craft beer.

Grace and Paul MusselClarmell on the Rideau Farms' Goat Gouda

Update: We demoed this dish on CTV Ottawa Morning Live, April 8th, 2013.

Mild-mannered IT professional by day and food blogger by night, I founded foodiePrints with a single intention, to share my love of all things food. My first post shared a recipe. Many followed. Eventually, I learned Ottawa prepares and serves great food. Thereafter, I started meeting restaurateurs, chefs, cooks, farmers, and other local producers, all good people. Ideas for food-related content swirled in my head. foodiePrints grew into a place to put them. From exploring foreign and domestic cuisines to shopping for exotic ingredients and cobbling together my takes on dishes in my meager kitchen, there are stories to tell. Welcome to foodiePrints. Here, you will find stories about food and drink, cooking, and eating in Canada’s capital. Be it food-related or just food-for-thought, I hope you find something tasty here.