Mon 18 Apr 2011
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I live in a small town. Not small by Irish standards, but small by my Los Angelino standards for sure.
While there are many benefits to living in such a place (people are friendly, there’s little traffic, it’s easier to get to know your neighbors, etc.) there are a few drawbacks as well, one of which is finding certain ingredients at the grocery shops in town. For example, it’s impossible to find chocolate chips here. For that, I’d have to go to Dublin.
Recently I was on the hunt for ricotta, a pretty basic Italian soft cheese that most people use in lasagnas. I hit all the shops in town and no one had it. I then remembered someone once telling me it was fairly easy to make, so I went home, did some research on the Internet and got a few recipes. Not only is it easy to make yourself but it tastes about a zillion times better than the store-bought variety. The stuff from the shops is grainy and slightly sour; homemade ricotta is fresh, rich and perfectly smooth. All you need is some milk, cream, sea salt, lemon and cheesecloth (or muslin cloth, which you can find here in the baby section of Tesco).
Though I made the ricotta for dinner party appetizers (see recipes for those here), it was so good I had to reserve a bit for myself. About an hour after it set, I had it with my croissant for breakfast. Let me tell you: the still-warm, creamy ricotta spread atop a lightly toasted croissant is absolute HEAVEN. I can honestly say that I will never, ever buy ricotta from the shop again.
Another ingredient that I made myself recently is the flour tortilla. While I can find them in the shops here, they only come in burrito size – too big for me. I suppose I could cut them into smaller sizes but in about the same amount of time I made my own tortillas, exactly in the size I needed. I was making madras curry for dinner and wanted them as a side; sometimes I find naan bread too stodgy so I figured tortillas would be a better choice. I simply mixed together some flour, salt, oil and water and rolled out a few small discs and cooked in a dry pan on the stove top. They were gorgeous and the whole process took all of 10 minutes!
My old rule used to be, “When all else fails, do it yourself!” Now that’s changed to, “Just do it yourself!”
2 quarts whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Line a large strainer with a layer of cheesecloth/muslin cloth and place it over a large bowl.
Slowly bring the milk, cream and the salt to a boil in a large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Add lemon juice. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly. The mixture will start to curdle, meaning the milk starts to separate into little bits and pieces. Continue stirring for about 2-3 minutes.
Pour into the lined strainer and let drain for 1 hour. After discarding the liquid, chill the ricotta, covered, though you can eat it straight away – it’s SO good while warm. It will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days.
Homemade Flour Tortillas
180 grams white flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
50 ml vegetable oil
80 ml warm water
Sift together the flour and sea salt. Add the oil and water and mix until a dough forms. Tear off a small handful of dough and using a rolling pin roll out to desired thickness (you can also just use your hands to pat it down). Heat a dry pan over medium setting until hot – place the tortilla in the pan and cook for about a minute on each side or until little brown bubbles start to form. Serve warm or store for 2-3 days in an airtight container.