Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Weekend Update/ Lasagne with mushrooms, peas and "sausage"

I haven't been posting anything new for awhile, mainly because I do occasionally cook something I've done before, and because I've been spoiled by Trader Joe's Supermarkets. Perhaps corrupted is a better word since I've discovered that some of TJ's prepared meals taste every bit as good as anything I can make, and sometimes it doesn't pay to resist that. Take our Friday meal as a perfect example. TJ's makes a Tuna in Red Panang Curry which is excellent. We have very good Thai restaurants in New York so I can say I know what a good Thai curry should taste like. This meal is every bit as good as anything I've tasted in the better Thai restaurants. It comes packed in tin foil and needs to be boiled in water for 5 minutes before eating. I usually cook some rice on the side and dinner is ready in 15 minutes. And, unlike many prepared meals,it's a perfect portion for two people. At $1.99, why pay a chef to make this? Why indeed? This is why I can't find any work.

On Saturday, we visited the Farmer's Market in Union Square and bought some greens, heirloom tomatoes and Jalapeno Cheddar Bread which formed the basis for our Saturday dinner, escarole and beans in brodo (in this case, organic vegetable broth from Stop and Shop, a bargain at $1 for a 17 oz.container)  with toasted Jalepeno Cheddar bread. I made beans earlier in the week, and they've found themselves in many of my dishes. 

On Sunday, I made lasagne again incorporating my latest "find" from Trader Joe. This time it was sausage patties made from texturized vegetable protein. I know, not very Italian, but I've been encouraging Neeta to try more protein sources (hoping she might one day dare eat a piece of chicken). Anyway, mixed with the sauce, cheese and vegetables the sausage patties were actually pretty good. I cooked them, then broke them up and layered them with  mushrooms,  peas and cheese . Very nice, if I may say. The last lasagne I made, I mentioned that readers should try using fresh ricotta instead of the stuff sold in the plastic tubs. I mentioned then that Lynn Rosetto Kasper has a good recipe for making fresh ricotta in her book, The Splendid Table. It's such a simple recipe that I thought I would reprint it to encourage you to try it. One pound will be more than enough to make a tray of lasagne. Remember, you have to mix the ricotta with Parmesana reggiano, one egg, s & p, some grated mozzarella and a pinch of nutmeg.

2 1/2 quarts whole milk
3/4 cup less 1 tablespoon heavy cream (not ultra- pasteurized or sterilized)
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt (optional)

Working Ahead: The cheese must be made in one session from start to finish; count on about 1 1/2 hours. Much of this time is semi-unattended cooking.You should be in the kitchen, but you don't need to be hovering over the stove.

Cooking the Milk into Curd: This recipe may seem daunting in its detail, but it is really quite easy. Because cheesemaking is unfamiliar to many, the instructions lead you through the process step by step. Keep in mind that slowly heating the milk mixture develops a soft ricotta curd. Fast heating hardens the curd, producing a very different cheese.

     Stir together all the ingredients except the salt in a heavy 6-quart saucepan with a nonreactive interior. Set the pan over medium-low heat. Cook 40 minutes, or until the
milk reaches 170 degrees F. on an instant read thermometer. Keep the heat at medium-low.
To keep the curd large, do not stir more than three or four times. If you lift it with the spatula, you will see sandlike particles of milk forming as the clear whey begins separating from the curd. As the milk comes close to 170 degrees F, the curds will be slightly larger, about the size of an uncooked lentil. When the temperature reaches 170 degrees F, turn the heat up to medium. Do not stir. Take 6 to 8 minutes to bring the mixture to 205 to 208 degrees F when measured at the center of the pot. The liquid whey will be almost clear. By the time the cheese comes to 205 degrees, the curd should mound on the spatula like a soft white custard. At 205- 208 degrees F, the liquid will be on the verge of boiling, with the surface looking like mounds about to erupt. Turn off the heat and let the cheese stand for 10 minutes.

Draining the Cheese: Line a colander with a double thickness of dampened cheesecloth. Turn the mixture into it, and let it drain 15 minutes, or until the drained cheese is thick. Turn the cheese into a covered storage container, add salt if desired, and refrigerate the ricotta until needed.

The finished cheese keeps 4 days in the refrigerator.

Source: The Splendid Table, 1992 by Lynn Rosetto Kasper, William Morrow and Company, p. 454

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