DIY Cheese and Fresh Pasta with Asparagus

Ricotta

My new book: DIY Delicious: Recipes and Ideas for Simple Food from Scratch will be published this fall by Chronicle Books. I just finished going over the final proofs and finalizing the cover. It looks beautiful! The designer did a wonderful job and the photos are by the fabulous Sara Remington. I’m very excited about this project. There is so much kitchen inspiration to share.

My idea of the book is to inspire people and give them the tools and confidence to make some of the food items from scratch that they would normally buy. The payoff is better tasting, more economical, more environmentally friendly, additive free food, and the pride of kitchen self- reliance.

Each DIY recipe is followed by one or more simple recipes that show readers how to use the DIY ingredient to create incredibly simple dishes that are super flavorful because the ingredients you’ve made yourself are so fresh and tasty.  For example, in the book, following this cheese recipe, and in addition to suggestions sprinkled throughout the other chapters, you’ll find the pasta recipe, a recipe for cheese crepes and a simple marinated cheese appetizer.

In celebration of sending my baby off to be printed, I’m offering one of my favorite spring dishes using a homemade, soft, ricotta like cheese and whole wheat pasta to make a simple, seasonal dish with fresh asparagus and lemon—two of spring’s stars.

I probably shouldn’t give away all the recipes in the book so I’m assuming here that you can figure out how to make the pasta (or buy fresh pasta from a good specialty store) Of course you can use dried pasta too, but the chewiness of fresh pasta makes this dish more interesting.

Fresh Whole-Milk Soft Cheese

It helps if you have a thermometer for this recipe (see below). Time Required: 10 minutes active; 1 hour mostly passive, yet watchful

You can create your own particular style of fresh cheese by adjusting the time you drain the cheese and the thickness of your cheesecloth. The longer you drain, the drier it will be. When moist, this cheese is good for spreading and using as a dessert filling. Drain it longer and it’s perfect for pizza and pasta.

Makes about 1 1/4 pounds, depending on how much whey you drain out

  • 1 gallon whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized as you may have trouble curdling it)
  • 1/3 cup white or apple cider vinegar or 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Non-iodized salt, such as kosher or cheese salt

Pour the milk into a large nonreactive pot (stainless, ceramic, or enameled). Over medium-low heat, slowly bring the milk temperature up to 185 degrees F, stirring occasionally.  Take your time, so you don’t scorch the milk. Stir occasionally and watch closely. This can take 45 minutes or longer.

While you wait, ready 2, 4, or 6 layers of cheesecloth, folded into a square of about 18 inches on each side. Place the cheesecloth in a strainer (the number of layers depends on how dry you want your cheese). Fewer layers will make the cheese drain more quickly and yield a drier, crumblier cheese.

If you don’t have an accurate thermometer, you can still make ricotta. The milk should be just short of boiling. Signs that the milk is almost ready include tiny bubbles on the sides of the pan and a shimmering, vibrating surface not yet broken by bubbles.

When the milk reaches the proper temperature, turn off the heat, pour in the lemon juice or vinegar and stir to distribute. Stop stirring and let the milk sit undisturbed for 5 to 8 minutes. You will see curds begin to form and separate from the whey. Using a slotted spoon or small, hand-held strainer, spoon the curds out into the cheesecloth-lined strainer. It will look a little like wet biscuit dough. Work the cheese a little with a spoon to release some of the liquid.

Draining

Tie the ends of the cheesecloth together so you have a bundle of cheese and hang it from a wooden spoon set over a big pot until it reaches the desired consistency (5 to 10 minutes). Reserve the whey (see Note), transfer the cheese to a medium bowl, and add salt to taste, if desired. If using for desserts, you’ll want to add little or no salt. Will keep, refrigerated, 4 to 5 days.

Pasta

Fresh Pasta with Asparagus, Homemade Cheese, and Lemon

Time Required: 15 minutes active (excluding cheese and pasta)

Serves 4 to 5

  • 1 bunch (about 3/4 pound) fresh, in-season medium-thick asparagus
  • 1 pound Fresh Pasta or store-bought whole wheat fettuccini
  • 2 tablespoons butter or store-bought butter, softened
  • 1/2 pound Fresh Whole-Milk Soft Cheese, drained to a moist, slightly crumbly texture
  • 3 tablespoons mixed chopped fresh herbs (parsley, mint, chervil, savory, marjoram, anything you like)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon, for zesting

Grasp 1 end of each asparagus spear in each hand and bend until it snaps at its natural breaking point. Discard (or compost) the lower fibrous ends. Cut the remaining parts of the spears into bite-sized pieces. In a vegetable steamer, steam the asparagus until tender but still vibrant green, about 2 to 3 minutes. Submerge it in ice water to stop the cooking, drain, and pat dry. Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, put the softened butter in a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients, and get the cheese, chopped herbs, and lemon zest ready, as this dish comes together quickly.

Add the fresh pasta to the boiling water and cook until it is tender but still chewy, 2 to 3 minutes (if using store-bought pasta, follow package instructions). Drain immediately, do not rinse, and add the pasta to the bowl with the butter. Toss to coat the pasta, and then add the cooked asparagus, cheese, and herbs to the hot pasta. Toss and add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the pasta to plates. Using a microplane, or the small holes of a cheese grater, grate lemon zest over each serving and top with a few grindings of fresh pepper. Serve immediately.

Note: What To Do with Whey
Don’t dump it down the drain! It provides nourishment for indoor and outdoor plants, and has many culinary uses besides. It can be used to cook porridges or grains for salads, in smoothies, as a broth for soup or beans, or you can drink it over ice.

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One Comment

  1. Posted October 3, 2010 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    Wow. I dream about making my own cheese after a mozzarella class in Napa, but thought it was beyond my kitchen. I’m giving this one a chance especially in the way you serve it. Thank you.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Cookbook Giveaway: D.I.Y. Delicious on September 30, 2010 at 10:11 am

    [...] you’d like a sneak peek, check out this recipe on Barrington’s blog and this video promo, these clips are currently all the rage among [...]

  2. By Homemade Cheese | BetsyLife on November 15, 2011 at 2:44 am

    [...] Fresh Whole Milk Cheese recipe from Vanessa Barrington [...]

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