Monday, May 25, 2009

Ruby Jewels

There clearly is an army amassing of locavores rallying around the supporting and sustaining local agribusinesses. I definitely count myself as part of that infantry of consumers shaking the dirt off my meal. But I must come clear and admit my role in this movement did not come from some greater calling – rather it was a selfish need for flavor. The longer something can stay on the branch sucking up nutrients through a tangle of roots and basking in the sunshine the more potent my dish.

Certain foods drove me to seek pedigrees that where locally grown, again only to satisfy my mouth’s cravings. I remember the trio of tomatoes my Mom would bring into the house always cradled in a plastic container and loosely wrapped in shrink-wrap. It did not matter that it was the dead of August and a New Jersey farm grown tomato was an easy road-trip away. It seems those vile, anemic orbs from my childhood have been replace by genetically mutated strawberries that seem to only come from Driscoll anytime, anywhere – but not for me. These are one of nature’s offerings that must be allowed to dangle as long as possible on its stem developing in the warming sun to ripen into an explosive crimson berry. Good luck ever getting a sweetly, scent gem on your table if you don’t seek them out locally.

Strawberry Compote with Homemade Ricotta Cheese - yields 6 servings
for ricotta
2 quarts whole milk
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar

In a four quart sauce pan bring the milk to just below the boiling point, approximately 180 degrees and remove from the heat. Stir in the vinegar giving the milk about three stirs only. Allow the mixture to sit for 20 to 25 minutes at room temperature. You should notice the milk starting to curdle almost immediately. If the milk does not start to curdle within the first five minutes add in an additional 1/4 cup of vinegar.

Line a sieve with about 4 to 5 layers of cheese cloth and place over a deep bowl or pot. After the milk has sat for the prescribed amount of time gently pour the curds and whey into the sieve. Allow the cheese to sit for 30 minutes to drain off the whey. The curds are your ricotta. Use immediately or store, refrigerated for a few days. You should store the ricotta in a glass bowl with a piece of plastic placed right down on top of it to prevent a skin from forming.

Strawberry Compote
1 quart of strawberries
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup lemon balm - leaves only, roughly chopped (or use mint, hyssop or lavender)

With a damp towel wipe the strawberries clean of any dirt. Cut off the green tops from the strawberries, known as the hull. Then cut the strawberries in half or quarters depending on their size.

In a large bowl mix all the ingredients together. Allow the strawberry mixture to sit in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.

To serve place a dollop of the ricotta on the plate and then spoon over the strawberry compote.

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