I just completed my third cooking class in five days – a hefty schedule for me. The best part of the classes were the new, wonderful and enthusiastic ladies I met – all interested in learning some new recipes and techniques. The starters, entrées, and sides were different, but all the classes had the same dessert – a luscious, fruit dessert, not too sweet, with fresh cheese as the centerpiece. Never made fresh cheese? It’s not hard and the results are healthy and satisfying. This recipe came from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells. The result is a cheese similar to ricotta that can be used like yogurt. It can literally be made in under an hour and will last covered in the fridge for a few days. You can eat it warm, room temperature, or cold. When I first tested the recipe, Sweet Shark liked it for breakfast with blueberries and nuts. You will need a few pieces of special equipment: cheesecloth, a fine mesh sieve, and a thermometer that attaches to the side of a large saucepan or Dutch oven. I use my small Le Creuset Dutch oven.
Promise me that you will try to make this cheese. You will be so proud of yourself.
Warm Figs and Raspberries with Fresh Cheese
For the fresh cheese (makes 2 cups):
2 quarts whole milk
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt (fleur de sel)
1. In a 3-quart stainless steel or enameled pan, combine the milk and vinegar. Over the lowest possible heat, warm the mixture to 205°F.* This will take 20-25 minutes on the lowest setting on a gas stove. During this time, stir the mixture only three or four times during the first few minutes to keep the curds small and delicate. You will see the milk bubble up and eventually separate into white curds and thin, milky whey.
2. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to stand, undisturbed, for 10 minutes. The resting period allows the curds to cool down and firm up, making them easier to separate from the whey.
3. Meanwhile, line a large fine-mesh sieve or colander with a double thickness of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl. Pour boiling water through the cheesecloth to dampen and sterilize it.
4. With a large, slotted spoon, carefully transfer the large white curds – spoonful by spoonful to the cheesecloth-lined colander set over the bowl. Note that there will always be some solids that are difficult to strain out by hand. When most have been strained out, pass the whey through another fine-mesh stieve set over a large bowl to collect any last bits. Add theses solids to those draining in the cheesecloth.
5. Sprinkle the cheese with the salt and let rest, undisturbed, until it has thoroughly drained, 2 to 3 minutes. At this point, the mixture should resemble very dry cottage cheese. Using a fork or a knife, break up the cheese to distribute the salt.
6. Serve warm, or spoon into molds and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days to use in recipes calling for fresh cheese, such as drained yogurt, drained fromage blanc, or ricotta. The recipe can be halved, if you prefer a smaller amount.
For the figs and raspberry dessert (about 6 servings):
1/2 cup lavender honey* (or substitute a favorite flavored honey)
1/3 cup dry white wine
8 ripe black figs — rinsed, stemmed, and halved lengthwise
1 pound fresh homemade cheese or ricotta-style fresh cheese
8 ounces fresh raspberries — rinsed and drained
mint leaves — for garnish
1. In a small saucepan, combine the honey and wine over low heat, stirring until the honey has totally dissolved with the wine. Set aside.
2. Heat a medium skillet over moderately high heat. With a pastry brush, brush the figs with the honey-wine sauce. Place the figs cut side down in the skillet. Sear for 2 minutes, regularly brushing the figs with the honey-wine mixture. Remove the figs to a large bowl. (I cut the figs in half again after removing them from the skillet – so much easier to eat.) Pour any remaining honey-wine sauce over the figs. Set aside. (The figs can be cooked up to 2 hours in advance.)
3. To serve, spoon a scoop of fresh cheese into each serving bowl. With a slotted spoon, transfer about 4-6 fig quarters to the edge of each bowl. Sprinkle with the raspberries. Drizzle with any remaining honey-wine mixture.
*I know that the lavender honey is oh so French, but I couldn’t find any. I used our Local Honey and it was just fine.