Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Homemade ricotta

I always describe myself as a morning person, but there's a caveat. I'm a morning person, provided said morning involves a decent breakfast. Again, "decent" is a term that requires clarifying. Such a breakfast should take at least twenty minutes, and allow me to eat at the speed I choose, read the paper or one of the many food magazines that accumulate in a large pile on the floor next to my desk, check my emails, and generally wake up and prepare myself for the things I have to do during the day. I am not one of those people who will sacrifice a good breakfast in exchange for half an hour longer in bed. If I know something delicious awaits me, I can spring out of bed at 6am, and have been known to set my alarm half an hour earlier than I really have to so that I can ruminate over a bowl of steaming porridge or berry-topped muesli before heading out into the big wide world. I have never, in my entire life, skipped breakfast, and view people who regularly do so as a different breed, as aliens masquerading as part of the human race, and best avoided. Never trust people who skip meals.

I normally eat porridge for breakfast, made with milk and water and topped with whatever fruit looks and tastes nice at the time: a summer favourite is a compote of apricots poached in orange juice with cloves, cardamom and star anise, with chopped dates and raisins mixed into the oats. In winter I substitute the apricots for plums. When fresh berries are plentiful, I'll have them - a mixture of chopped strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants is wonderful, particularly when the strawberries start to disintegrate slightly in the heat, infusing their delicious sweet juice throughout the blanket of oats. Also good is chopped pear, drizzled with honey and lashings of nutmeg, or a compote of early bright pink Yorkshire rhubarb in late winter. Sliced peaches and a generous handful of blueberries works too, or apple and blackcurrant. The possibilities are pretty much endless, if you're as obsessed with fruit as I am. Sometimes, if I have a lot of good fruit to eat up, I chop it all up to make a fruit salad, and spoon it over a bowl of muesli, or make it into a smoothie.

I don't have milk on my cereal. I wish I could get this tattooed on my forehead, because the amount of times I've sat down to breakfast with new people and had someone exclaim after five minutes "Oh my god, are you eating dry cereal?"continues to grow and infuriate me. I'm not the only one. It's not that weird. Get over it and carry on guzzling your cornflakes saturated in cow juice.

I don't eat bread for breakfast often, and if I do, I have to make it myself. I don't know why this is. I think it's because I don't trust shop-bought bread. It's full of additives and salt and other weird preservatives, and I generally feel it has the nutritional value of cotton wool. Scientifically speaking, home-made bread is probably not going to have me living until I'm a hundred, but at least I know what's gone into it. It also means I can put nice wholemeal flour and seeds and other tasty and nutritious things into it to make myself feel better. My friends thought I was a bit mad when I told them I was making bread "because I have some nice jam so I need to make bread to go with it". Apparently it would be more normal to think "I need to purchase jam to go with this (bought) bread". I don't care if I'm weird. I prefer to eat home made bread.

There's nothing quite like freshly baked bread for breakfast. Admittedly, I don't always have the time to make fancy bread in the morning, but I've become a bit obsessed with this soda bread recipe. It takes about 40 minutes from waking up to having it ready in the oven, and it is absolutely incredible. The inside stays so moist and nutty from the wholemeal flour, while you get a gorgeous knobbly, oaty, crunchy crust. It's brilliant with jam, because the bread is quite savoury so works well with the intense sweetness of sugary fruit. Having been brought up on shop-bought soda bread (I always used to call it 'granny bread', because we would have it for breakfast when staying at my granny's house), I can't stress how much better this version is.

I've recently discovered the joys of ricotta for breakfast, ever since I experienced the real thing from Laverstoke Park Farm. It made me realise there is more to this cheese than the bland white puree you find in Tesco, good for nothing much apart from cheesecakes. Since I did some reading and realised how easy it is to make yourself, I've been dying to have a go, and I finally got round to it a couple of days ago. It's easier to make the cheese than it is to make the bread to go with it, which should entice you to have a go yourself. The result is thick, crumbly, with a very slight tang. Its cheese flavour is mild enough for it to serve as a creamy blanket for other flavours: it's wonderful spread onto bread and topped with sliced fruit, particularly strawberries and peaches, and also the incredible honey mangoes around at the moment. The contrast between sweet, ripe fruit and tangy, crumbly cheese is the perfect pick-me-up in the morning, especially when spread onto dense, nutty, still-warm bread.

Making this cheese is about as much effort as making a bowl of muesli (with milk...shudder). You pour a litre of whole milk into a pan, bring to just below the boil, add 250ml yoghurt and a squeeze of lemon juice, and watch as it magically separates into curds and whey (à la Little Miss Muffet). You pour it into a muslin-lined sieve and drain off the whey, leaving it for about 30 minutes and squeezing the muslin around it to extract the whey, and you're left with glorious cloud-like morsels of ricotta cheese. You can even be ultra-frugal and use the whey for breadmaking as a buttermilk or water substitute - the soda bread recipe calls for buttermilk, but I substituted the whey, marvelling at my home-economist ingenuity. The resulting loaf was the best version of this bread I've made yet, and for so little money and effort. The whey made the crumb extra moist, perfect for spreading with the dry, crumbly curds. Some sliced fruit, a good large cup of tea, and my day was off to a fine (and frugal) start.

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  1. I make my own cheese and therefore I have whey taht I use to mace ricotta.Nothing beats homemade and it has so many uses.You found a good one;)

  2. Is ricotta making that simple? It sounds pretty straight-forward to me! Would it work with semi-skimmed milk too do you think?
    As for breakfast, I agree, I discovered porridge 2 years ago and have been having it every day since. It's the only breakfast that keeps me full for a long time too!

  3. I'm not sure about semi skimmed - I think you'd get less cheese because it's the fat that forms the curds and with semi skimmed some of it has been skimmed off. Best to use whole but google it - you never know. I used low fat yoghurt though.

  4. Love that you made your own ricotta and can't believe how easy it is! Ricotta is one of my favourite cheeses - wonderful texture and surprisingly high protein concentration. Great post Elly!

  5. I didn't know about the protein concentration - that would explain why I'm full for about six hours after eating this breakfast!

  6. I'll google it :)

    By the way Elly, what recipe do you use for soda-bread? I'd like to make some as I really miss it here!


  8. Thanks! If it's Elly approved then it must be good! x


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