Spinach and Ricotta Naked Ravioli

Scandalous name for a post, no?

That’s just the kind of mood I’m in

Does that sound bad?

Eh, it happens

I actually got the idea for this recipe here

Only I upped the ante by making my own butter and ricotta for the ravioli

I’m so fancy

So what exactly is a “naked” ravioli?

Let me break it down for ya

You know when it’s summer, and sweltering hot, and you’re trying to sleep but your damn blanket is making you so sweaty so you end up throwing it off in a fit of rage in the middle of the night? Wel,l that’s how I imagine naked ravioli was born. The little spinach ricotta filling just got too hot one day and while baking in the oven split open its little pasta blanket shell. And whoever was making them thought “why don’t I just get rid of this shell and let this ‘oli breath?”

That’s why these are such an awesome summer recipe, they are comforting and creamy thanks to the ricotta and the spinach keeps it fresh. And because there’s no pasta, there is no carb overload to weigh you down.

But wait, the plot (or rather, the sauce) thickens!

I dressed these raviolis ever so lightly with a brown butter sage sauce

What you’ll need:

2 cups of fresh Spinach – when cooked…roughly 2 bunches

2 cups Ricotta

1 cup Parmesan, grated

1 Egg

1 tsp. Nutmeg

Salt and Pepper, to taste

1 stick Butter

1 bunch Sage, stems trimmed

What to do with it:

Preheat the oven to 500

Cook the spinach in 1 of 2 ways – wilt in a pan or boil for 1 minute. Don’t kill the spinach, you want it to retain some form, but you don’t want it to be stiff

Drain spinach thoroughly – squeeze it until you think it can’t be squeezed anymore. Excess water will ruin your ravioli’s curvacious figure

Once drained, roughly chop the spinach

Combine Spinach, Ricotta, Parmesan, Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg in a bowl and mix well with your hands. Don’t be afraid to get them a little dirty

Scoop out Tablespoons of the mixture and roll into a ball – I prefer them be oval, but if a round ball tickles your fancy, go for it

Place on a baking sheet lined with tin foil
Cook in the oven for 5-7 minutes until the tops are gently brown

While they are cooking, heat butter in a pan on medium heat

Allow the butter to brown ever so slightly then add the sage leaves, cooking until the leaves begin to crisp and curl

*I have added the sage at the same time as the butter and found that the leaves crisp up too much and end up tasting just a little too burned plus the burnt pieces break off and muddle the gorgeous color of the browned butter

When the naked raviolis are done place them on your serving platter and top each with a few sage leaves, then pour butter across the tops

Maybe pair it with a refreshing gin and tonic?

Just a thought

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Fresh Ricotta

If you had to pick your favorite food group, which would you choose?

Carbs are pretty wonderful

Salty sweet snacks like chocolate covered pretzels are addicting in a really scary way

But in my opinion, nothing pulls at my heart strings more than cheese does

Soft cheeses like fresh pulled Mozzarella, smooth and sour Chevre, rich Mascarpone, subtly sweet Buratta, whole milk Ricotta, tangy goat’s milk Feta, and creamy, oh so creamy, Brie. Not to mention hard cheeses like cave aged Gruyere, smoked Gouda, sharp Cheddar, and thinly grated Parmesan

If I could spend my life making and testing cheeses I would choose this career above all else. Probably.

I would also like to name paint colors – but I’ll save that story for another day.

Since I have had more free time this summer, I tried my hand once again at cheese making. Remember when I made Chevre?

I thought I would try again with a soft cheese so I set my sights on Ricotta.

Sweet Ricotta Spoon Bites – 1. Ricotta, Sliced Strawberry, and a dash of Dark Chocolate Cocoa Powder 2. Ricotta, Salted Pumpkin Seeds, with a drizzle of agave nectar

To make: Mound fresh ricotta into a Tablespoon or teaspoon, depending on your preference. Slice strawberry on the diagonal and place on top. Sprinkle dark chocolate cocoa powder on top for that finishing touch!

To make: Mound fresh ricotta onto Tablespoon or Teaspoon. Cover top of mound with lightly salted pumpkin seeds. Drizzle with agave nectar or honey – depending on your preference!

Why ricotta? Because pretty much every store bought ricotta is really flavorless, grainy, clumpy mush disguised as ricotta. And this is me putting my foot down.

Before embarking on my experiment, I did a little research on different cheese making techniques, types of milk, the differences in using white vinegar to curdle the milk versus lemon juice. I did this all while I was supposed to be helping Matt make a glass rack for our developing home bar. He was all like “hey get off the computer and help me saw these pieces of wood” and I was all like “CHEESE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN LIFE.”

So we compromised.

I grabbed my laptop and sat in the backyard with him, all the while complimenting his sawing skills.

So here’s what I learned about ricotta making

Milk Options:

First off, try to use organic milk when at all possible, most stores offer it these days and organic dairy means no added hormones. That being said, let’s continue.

Raw, unpasteurized milk will produce the most curds. And it’s the closest you will get to milk fresh off the farm. This is the most expensive milk, and it is often times hard to come across, but I believe it will give you the best chance at making good cheese because of its pure form.

UHT Milk (Ultra High Temperature), milk that has been heated to 275 degrees, should NEVER be used because the pasteurization process has killed every shred of life in the milk. Using this kind of milk will kind you tiny weak curds that don’t stick together.

Pasteurized milk is your best option if you’re on a budget, or if you don’t have access to raw milk.

Acid Options:

Buttermilk is a good option, other than the fact that you need to add a significant amount to make your milk curdle. 1 cup of butter milk to every 4 cups of milk. So what? This just means that your cheese will end up having a distinct sour tangy flavor, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless you are planning to use the ricotta in a sweet application or if you just don’t want your cheese sour.

Lemon Juice is one of the most popular choices, and I have used it many times due to the fresh flavor it imparts into the cheese. But there are a few arguments against using it as well. First, because not all lemons were born equal due to growing conditions and the variety of the fruit, their acidity levels can vary greatly creating a guessing game about ratios and leaving you will a potentially inconsistent product. Also, if you end up having to use more lemon juice your cheese will have a strong citrus tang – which is pretty delicious and lends itself to a ricotta that you will want to dress with fresh herbs and eat by the spoonful, but like with the buttermilk, this cheese won’t do your sweet dishes or your ravioli any favors.

White Vinegar is my favorite acid to use. It has a consistent acid level so the measurement will be the same every time. You also won’t have to use a significant amount so your ricotta will have an ever so slight tang, but not enough to overpower the gorgeous clean flavor of the milk.

Temperature Options:

Some people swear by a specific temperature of 180, which is all good and fine, but I have discovered that there is virtually no difference between 170-185. I just aim for 180 and hold it right around that temp.

Too much lower than 170 and the curds won’t set correctly, anything higher and you risk scalding the milk – and trust me, nothing is worse than try to clean burned milk from the bottom of a pan.

This is what you want your pot to look like, easy clean up means more time to stare at your baby ricotta curds.

Ok, now that I have given you all a brief lesson in cheese making, let’s get started!

What you’ll need:

1/2 gallon of milk

8 Tbs. Distilled White Vinegar

1 tsp. Salt

Cheesecloth

Thermometer

Colander

Pot

Bowl large enough to hold colander

What to do with it:

Place milk in a pot with your thermometer and heat on medium to roughly 180 degrees, this will take about 20 minutes

Make sure to stir every minute or so to decrease the chance of your milk burning on the bottom OR boiling over

Remove from heat and add vinegar, one tablespoon at a time, stirring gently

Add salt, stir once more, very carefully

Let sit for 5 minutes

Line a colander with cheesecloth and place inside a large bowl

Slowly pour what is now curds and whey into the cheesecloth and allow the whey to drain for 20 minutes

I would say 20 minutes is the ricotta sweet spot, at this time you will have small, tender curds that will spread with ease and won’t be super runny. This is the ricotta to use in things like ravioli, lasagna, or on pizza.

For even softer cheese, only allow to drain for 5-10 minutes. This will give you extremely creamy ricotta that you will probably eat straight from the cheesecloth…and without a spoon. That’s how wonderful it will be.

If you want your ricotta to be super firm, let it sit and drain for about an hour. I haven’t ever let my ricotta sit this long, but from what I’ve read this is the best ricotta to use for pastries and gnocci.

Don’t let it drain for much longer than an hour otherwise you will end up with ricotta that is just too dry.

Tip: If you accidentally drain your ricotta too much for your liking, you can use some of the whey that has drained out to rehydrate your cheese. Simply pour it back over and allow to drain for just a minute. It’s not the perfect solution, but it definitely will improve your ricotta more than anything else.

You can also save your excess whey, because you will have a ton of it, and add it to your oatmeal for an extra protein boost. I’ve also heard of people mixing it with fresh pressed juice and even with powdered chocolate milk and Tang. I’ve never done any of these things, so if you do, please let me know what you think!

Sauteed Zucchini, Fresh Ricotta, and Lemon Rind
Get the recipe here

Homemade ricotta will last for about a week in the fridge…but mine has never lasted more than a day.

And I suspect yours won’t either.

Parmesan Thyme Crackers

Sometimes I think we take the carbs in our lives for granted. Breads, crackers, chips, ect. They are always there when we need them, they last for a considerable amount of time, come in a multitude of flavors and pair nicely with TONS of stuff.

So, this post goes out to the crackers of the world. I salute you and your ability to accompany cheese so delightfully.

But first, let me introduce you to someone special. Someone that I rarely get to spend time with due to distance and my busy schedule when I do come into town.

I’d like you all to meet my mother’s Kitchen Aid Mixer.

It’s big, blue, and beautiful and my mother has adorned it with a many fantastic attachments.

If anyone was to ever bestow upon me this fine piece of machinery, I very well might die of excitement. I just don’t know what color I would want yet…mint green, royal purple, copper? With over 20 different colors how is a girl ever supposed to choose!?

I would surely feel the need to buy every attachment as well; the pasta maker, the meat grinder, the ice cream bowl, the citrus juicer, the ravioli maker. Yea, Kitchen Aid would make a lot of money off of me.

Anyway, moving on.

Crackers. I don’t make a habit of keeping them in my house. But they are one of those things I have always wanted to make myself.

I thought to myself, if I’m gonna take the time to make crackers, they are gonna be fancier. Personally, I think that anything containing fresh herbs are automatically elegant. And, as you may know, I adore anything with cheese.

Parmesan Thyme Shortbread Crackers seem to fit the bill.

Adapted from: Ina Garten

Makes about 46 crackers

What you’ll need:

2 sticks Unsalted Butter, at room temp

6 ounces finely grated Parmesan Cheese

2 1/2 cups Flour

1/2 tsp. Salt

2 tsp. Fresh Thyme Leaves, chopped

1 tsp. Black Pepper

1 Tbs. water*

What to do with it:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1. Mix butter with an electric mixer or a hand mixer until creamy

2. Add in the Parmesan, then the Thyme, salt and pepper

3. Slowly add the flour 1/4 cups at a time

*if the dough seems a bit dry, add water

4. Flour a cutting board and when the dough has been well incorporated place it on the board and divide into 2 evenly sized mounds

5. Roll into 9 inch long logs (2 logs total)

6. Wrap each in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 25-30 minutes to firm

7. Take out of the freezer, unwrap and cut the dough into 1/4-1/2 inch slices with a very sharp knife. I got about 23 crackers per log

8. Place on a baking sheet and put in the oven. For a moister, breadier cracker, bake for 24 minutes, for a drier, crisper cracker about 32 minutes. Check on them all the while, I wanted my crackers to develop some extra color, so I left them for the 32 minutes.

Put a little salami on top for a protein filled snack

Smear a little cream cheese over it and top with a baby sprig of thyme for a creamy and cooling afternoon treat.

Or because I know you all to be crafty little foodies, make both of them, turn ’em in on each other and have a mini meat and cheese sandwich.

These crackers are herbaceous and savory and wonderful and addicting and light (despite the butter) and unique and a crowd pleaser.

So make them. You won’t regret it.

Blueberry Scones

Up until recently, I have not been a big breakfast person.

I love cereal, but usually in the afternoon, or as a midnight snack.

The typical breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, and hash browns followed by an overwhelming food coma is a rare occurrence for me.

It was really only after doing my raw food challenge that I discovered the beauty of raw overnight oats and have since incorporated Greek yogurt, nuts, almond flour, and berries into the mix. Some variation of this is now my breakfast staple. I love the crunch of the nuts and oats, the bright tartness of the berries and the rich and filling creaminess of the Greek yogurt.

Isn’t it just gorgeous?

BUT something must be said about a breakfast pastry every once in a while. Not the overly decadent ones with globs of glaze or doughnuts that have sprinkles or Lucky Charms adhered to the top.

Although sometimes pastries like this Apple Pecan Bun with a maple glaze is much appreciated.

No, no, I talking about a good old fashioned pastry, like a scone.

A blueberry scone, to be exact.

Perhaps a scone with a fantastic blueberry goat cheese spread.

Yes, that’s my kind of pastry.

I adapted this recipe from my homegirl, Martha Stewart, ’cause sometimes, nobody does it better than Martha.

What you’ll need:

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sugar, plus more for sprinkling tops

1 tablespoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/3 cup low fat milk (2%)

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Here’s what you do with it:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

In a bowl, mix together flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, and salt

Make the work easier by cutting up the butter into small pieces and incorporate

Then toss in your blueberries and zest

In a separate bowl, whisk together cream and egg

Slowly incorporate your wet mixture into your dry mixture

Stir lightly with fork just until dough comes together

Place mixture onto a floured cutting board and knead gently a few times

*I opted to make round scones by scooping out a heaping tablespoon of batter onto a baking sheet

Brush tops with cream, and sprinkle with sugar

Bake for 20-22 minutes

 

Aren’t they beautiful?

Now, onto the spread!

These are rough measurements, but basically:

4-5 oz goat cheese, softened

3/4 cup blueberries

Release the days frustrations on these blueberries, squishing them in your hands letting the juice drip onto the goat cheese

Then scrap the peels and seeds off your hands and add that to the cheese

Mix together with a spoon

That’s it

Spread generously on top of your cooled halved scones

Yea, they were perfection in the morning.

And in true breakfast food form, I ate them in the afternoon, and at midnight too.

What’s your favorite breakfast, pastry and otherwise?

Sea Urchins: An Aphrodisiac I’ll Stay Away From

This is an article I originally wrote for Xpress Magazine all about sea urchin, more commonly known as Uni, it’s history as an aphrodisiac, and my experiences with it.

I hope you enjoy!

Forget chocolate covered strawberries, champagne, and oysters the next time love, or lust, is in the air – there’s a new aphrodisiac in town. Well, maybe not so new, more so under represented as such.

Sea Urchin, or Uni, has been used to inspire desire for centuries. Considering the part that’s eaten is in fact the sex glands of the urchin, it’s not surprising the effects carry over.

It is certainly not hard to believe that the art of seduction has been on the brain since, well, pretty much the beginning of time. The term aphrodisiac is derived from the Greek goddess of love and sexuality, Aphrodite. Over the years various outlandish items have been proclaimed to be the best in putting love seekers in the mood. In ancient days, starfish, dried human marrow, and menstrual blood were the hottest on the market. Later it was a drink that contained gold – perhaps that’s where Goldschläger got the idea. The list goes on with Uni being introduced only a few hundred years ago.

Despite the fact that it is a popular ingredient in many Japanese and Mediterranean dishes, this spiny fellow is extremely hard to track down in the city. A cashier at one of the Asian fish markets in the Sunset scoffs when she says, “That’s a Japanese thing.” Duly noted; they are a bit more accessible in Japantown, though at a steep price – expect to pay five dollars for one urchin, which may not seem too bad until considering that one urchin only yields five “steaks” the size of a chubby pinky finger.

“Sea Urchins have been established as an Asian dish with status because it’s a little pricey,” says Kai Chen, a waiter at All Season Sushi in the Castro.

If sex is still on the brain after shelling out about twenty dollars to get enough meat for two lovers to indulge in, then cracking them open is the next step. With a sharp pair of scissors and determination, cutting the bottom off the urchin is not a big deal, unless they are still alive. As soon as the scissors pierce their shell their spines go wild, moving faster than expected and elevating the threat of getting poked. Even after severing them into two separate pieces they still move with a vengeance. Running them under hot water should do the trick in finally sending them to a watery grave.

Now take a look at the half of the urchin with the meat, this is supposed to subconsciously put one in the mood because it should be reminiscent of the female sex organ. Consciously though, it looks like a massacred shell with orange colored meat lining. It may only look like female lady parts in an extremely abstract, not literal sense – that’s for sure. And that smell; once the shell has been punctured get ready for a pungent salt-tinged liquid to come streaming out into, hopefully, the sink.

The taste is at best, acquired. Though the texture is smooth and creamy, the flavor could be compared to what the bottom of the San Francisco Bay would taste like if licked. There is an inexplicable briny flavor to it, a deep bottom of the ocean flavor that to some may be enjoyable, but to others extremely off-putting.

Here the roe has been strained out to incorporate into a cream sauce

After a memorable experience a few years ago, sushi lover Lindsay Mayott has made a point to never let Uni touch her lips again. She’s not buying the hype that has surrounded sea urchin.

“It may be a delicacy, but there is nothing delicate about the taste,” says Mayott, 26, as she wrinkles her nose. “The texture reminds me of that goo toy from the ‘90’s ‘Nickelodeon Gak,’ basically it’s like eating someone else’s boogers.”

So after all this, what makes it an ingredient associated with increased sexual ability?

“Sea urchin is a dish that someone will order again and again because it’s an aphrodisiac,” Chen, 33, elaborates. “Not only that but its exotic and nutritious.”

The fundamental problem with aphrodisiacs is that there is little proof to back it up.  However, broken down, at the very least these little guys pack quite the nutritional punch with their high levels of vitamins A, B1, B2, D, E, zinc, and antioxidants and it is these vitamins that help encourage sexual activity, especially when used in conjunction. Each vitamin serves a part to create an extra memorable sexual experience, vitamin E promotes increased blood flow throughout your body and is needed for optimum endurance and stamina; vitamin B helps turn carbohydrates into the energy essential for prosperous sexual activity; vitamin A, and E for that matter, are antioxidants which fight off the free radicals that cause sexual dysfunction in men and some women; lastly increased levels of zinc in the body boosts concentration and sex drive. All of these vitamins in just a little sea urchin steak. Plus, as mentioned before, the visual look of it should keep the brain fixated on what’s to come after the dishes have been cleared.

Chen laughs as he looks around the restaurant as he says, “I’ll have to pay attention to new lovers who try Uni and then come back for more.”