It has been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been occupied with another web project. (Check out www.HungryInTopeka.com, if you’re so inclined. It is about the local/independent food scene here in Topeka, featuring a directory, an events calendar and a blog.) Anyhoo… I decided to focus on sourcing ingredients from local businesses for a special meal and this is what I came up with. Fresh ricotta cheese with basil, sun-dried tomato sea salt, olive oil and bread.
The plated meal–hot bread with fresh ricotta, basil, sun-dried tomato sea salt and good olive oil–was fairly simple in the grand scheme of things. (And I really must give a shout out to Sweet Paul Magazine, who posted the inspiration behind this meal.) I was fortunate enough to be able to get some exceptionally good local ingredients. I keep hearing on cooking shows like Top Chef that, if you’re going to keep it simple, you need to make sure the ingredients are excellent. Topeka businesses did not fail me!
First up, I decided to try my hand at some simple cheesemaking. Ricotta cheese. I paid a visit to Iwig, a local dairy with stores in Topeka and Lawrence. (Read more about them on their website.) I picked up whole milk for this purpose. The other ingredients–vinegar and kosher salt–I already had in my pantry.
Making ricotta is really very simple. Heat milk to a certain temperature, introduce an acid to cause coagulation and drain it off. You can use direct heat (a pan over heat) but I decided to break out my sous vide circulator to be able to control the temperature precisely. What you see below is 1/2 gallon of Iwig whole milk in a sealed freezer bag. It is in a 172°F/78°C water bath. I let it come up to temperature for approximately 30 minutes, then removed it and added 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar. I stirred gently to combine, resealed it and then put it back in the bath for another 15 minutes.
The coagulation took place quickly and nearly instantly. This is what it looked like immediately after dropping the sealed back back into the water bath. The separation of curds from the whey is basically complete.
After the 15 minutes back in the bath, I drained it by pouring it into a cheesecloth lined strainer set above a large pot for an hour.
I let it drain for an hour before putting it in the refrigerator to chill overnight. It did release a good deal of whey, which I collected and also put in the refrigerator. I’ve read that it makes very rich stock and I plan to use it for making some soup later this week.
Earlier that day, I also stopped in at Moburt’s, a local shop offering spices, herbs, vinegars and oils. (820 S Kansas Ave, here in Topeka.) After chatting with the clerk, I picked up some of their season and exceptional Olio Nuovo and sun-dried tomato sea salt. I sampled the oil at the store and it was perfect for serving with the ricotta. Light and floral.
And this… is the finished product. Fresh ricotta, sprinkled with the sun-dried tomato sea salt and drizzled with the Olio Nuovo. Oh my. Smeared on chunks of a hot baguette with fresh basil? The only word I can come up with is otherworldly. It was just otherworldly good. The oil was light, fragrant and floral. The salt gave a surprisingly strong tomato taste and the basil a nice green note. I’d have to say this was one of the best meals I’ve made in recent history.