First times are exciting, if you achieve what you put yourself up to. I've had a lot of good firsts, and a lot of bad firsts. I remember the first time I rode my bicycle without training wheels (ask my dad, I hated those things!), the first time I rode a horse, my first day of college in Costa Rica, the first time I made lasagne (fail), and now… I made my first cheese.
The best news of all is, it has NO rennet in it (calf's gut lining, used to thicken some hard cheeses, for those of you who were unaware, as I was, until of recent). And, it's easy to make! I decided to use it as a filling for a spinach crepe cake.
- 2 quarts whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 TBSP fresh lemon juice
- You will also need a large sieve and fine-mesh cheesecloth (I got mine at the grocery store, it's an organic brand called "If you care").
Line a large sieve with a layer of heavy-duty (fine-mesh) cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl (I overlapped mine a few times).
Slowly bring milk, cream, and salt to a rolling boil in a 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally. Add lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles, about 2 minutes.
Pour the mixture into the lined sieve and let it drain 1 hour. You may need to empty the whey into another bowl. After discarding the liquid (try to make use of it in other things), chill the ricotta, covered. It will keep in the refrigerator 2 days.
Spinach crepe cake with mushroom sauce
Adapted from Vegetarian suppers from Deborah Madison's kitchen
Don't be scared away by the lengthy prep time, it's really not that hard and is worth the effort.
1 bunch of spinach (I used 2, they're a bit smaller here), washed but not dried (may use frozen- 1 cup cooked)
1 ½ cups milk
3 TBSP melted butter or oil (plus extra for the pan)
1 TBSP chopped basil
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups homemade ricotta cheese (recipe above), or store-bought whole-milk ricotta
1 cup grated parmesan cheese (from a block)
2 TBSP chopped parsley
1 TBSP chopped basil
1 TBSP finely minced scallion
2 TBSP butter, olive oil, or a mixture
3 scallions, finely chopped
1 lb mushrooms, thinly sliced
Freshly ground pepper
½ cup dry white wine
1 TBSP chopped parsley
½ cup cream
To make the crepe batter: Heat a wide skillet over high heat, toss in the wet spinach with a pinch of salt, and cook until spinach has wilted. Put the cooked spinach in a food processor with milk, eggs, butter and basil. Pulse a few times to puree. Add flour and 1 tsp salt. Puree until smooth. Let mixture rest for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the ricotta filling: Mix all the ingredients together and season to taste with salt.
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
When 20 minutes have passed since you made the crepe mixture, heat a little butter (or oil) in a 10-inch skillet. Stir the batter up a little, then pour enough batter into the pan to cover when the bottom when the pan is tilted (this takes a little practice). Cook over medium heat until golden on the bottom. Pry up the edges with a spatula and turn the crepe over with your fingers; cook the second side until it becomes dry enough to slide in the pan. Add a little butter or oil before cooking a new crepe.
When you have cooked all of the crepes, stack them one by one on a baking sheet, the greenest side up, spreading the ricotta mixture on them as you go (don't worry about it not spreading too much, it won't make much of a difference in the end). Cover the crepe cake with foil and bake until heated through, 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the mushroom sauce by melting the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and cook for a minute, then raise the heat slightly and add the sliced mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring/ tossing frequently, until they start to turn brown. Add the wine and let it reduce. Add the parsley and cream when the mushrooms begin to get tender. Taste for salt and pepper. You will want some sauce, so don't let it all cook away.
When the crepe cake has been baked, serve each person a slice and let them drizzle some of the mushroom mixture on top.