It’s been hard for me to take a restorative day, the kind where I drive out to my friend Maggie’s place in the country, hang out and cook. We have a tradition of selecting a recipe or technique that has piqued our interest, and embarking on a day-long kitchen adventure. A couple of weeks ago, I found the time, and we had a project: mozzarella.
Or so we thought. Mozzarella making is both easy, and not.
To begin, you must have some key ingredients that are likely not in your pantry: citric acid and vegetable rennet. Easily remedied: visit a cheesemaking shop, or order from an online source. I went to a local shop.
Critical, too, is organic milk that has NOT been ultra-pasteurized. Here’s where plans went awry. Maggie’s co-op, which sells raw milk (for pets, wink-wink) couldn’t fill her order. When Maggie texted me: “Can you bring the milk?” I didn’t pay attention to our book’s instructions that ultra-pasteurized would not work. (The curds won’t properly form and separate from the whey.) On my way to Maggies, I purchased a gallon of the “ultra” whole milk from the market.
Instead of heating milk, separating curds and stretching cheese, we sat on her front porch. We watched the territorial hummingbirds buzz one another away from the feeder. We chatted, mused and caught up. Over coffee, and toast spread with her homemade raspberry jelly, we plotted our next kitchen adventure. We would not be thwarted again.
At our following get-together, we made up for lost kitchen time. In addition to the homemade mozzarella project, we added Farinata and Onion Jam. An ambitious roster, no?
Today I am going to share with you two of the three. The mozzarella deserves its own post. And, while we were fairly successful, Maggie and I both agreed that making mozzarella is like baking bread or making pasta. They are all very basic, yet at the same time require practice. It is not so much the recipe, but the technique that makes the difference. In this case, it’s in heating the milk to the right temperature(s) straining the curds, getting the right feel for the heating and stretching the cheese. We did well–but believe we could do better.
However, the other recipes were simply done and absolutely delicious. And, I am confident in sharing them with you now.
The first is called Farinata. It is a rustic savory pancake originating from Liguria Italy, and uses 4 basic ingredients, 1 optional:
Garbanzo Bean (chickpea) Flour
I call it a deceptive recipe because of its simplicity. You cannot believe how tasty this is, from such spare and humble ingredients. There is not much of a technique either. You can whip up it in a snap, and bake in a hot-hot-hot oven–best in a cast-iron skillet.
The texture of the pancake is so pleasing–a golden toothsome crust with a custardlike interior. The chickpea flour lends a slightly sweet somewhat nutty taste. Use your best olive oil, as the farinata provides a fine canvas for it.
In places like Genoa, farinata is sold in pizzerias and bakeries, and is best eaten fresh and hot, with a generous grinding of black pepper over the top. Along the Cote d’Azur, it is known as Socca, and served as street food. The Italians will sometimes add fresh finely chopped rosemary to the farinata. The French often prefer a pinch of cumin.
Either way, it is a protein-rich dish that will please anyone, with any dietary preference. Gluten free-check. Vegan–check. Truly Delicious–check! And, you can add other vegetables, and make it a one-dish meal. Check out this example Asparagus, Tomato, and Onion Farinata on Cooking Light. Creative. Seasonal. Gorgeous.
The second is Onion Jam. We all love the caramel sweetness of onions long simmered in a skillet. This recipe carries it just a little further, with salt, turbinado sugar, white balsamic vinegar and a petite bouquet garni of fresh thyme and chives.
It’s one of those recipes that needs little tending–saute the onions; mix in the remaining ingredients; cover and cook on low. Yes, you’ll want to check on it occasionally, give a stir—make sure nothing is sticking. You could also process the onion jam in a hot water bath, just as you would fruit preserves.
Maggie and I relished a dollop of onion jam with the farinata. I can well imagine it with steak or on a grilled burger, or spread over a round of Camembert.
And, yes, I promise to post about the mozzarella. We did enjoy eating it. And we’ll make it again, only better. Soon!
FARINATA adapted from Food Wishes
1 1/2 cups Garbanzo Bean Flour (also called chickpea flour)
2 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
fresh ground black pepper
cast-iron skillet (or any oven-safe skillet)
Place flour into a medium bowl, and whisk in the water. When the batter is smooth, cover it with a plate and set it aside for about an hour, room temperature. After an hour, skim off any accumulated foam off of the top and discard.
Place your skillet into the oven and preheat to 500 degrees.
Whisk salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil and finely chopped rosemary into the batter. Let the batter sit for about 10 minutes.
When the oven is preheated and the skillet “smokin’ hot” add 3 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet. When that hot sheen forms over the pan, pour in the batter. Carefully place the skillet onto the middle rack in the center of the oven.
Bake for 25-30 minutes. The farinata will have a beautiful browned crust, and a yellow, almost custardlike center.
Serve immediately, cutting into wedges. Grind fresh black pepper over the top.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large yellow or white onions (4 medium) coarsely chopped
1/4-1/2 cup turbinado sugar*
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 bundle fresh thyme
*start with 1/4 cup if the onions are sweet. Increase to 1/2 cup if they are not.
Heat a large skillet on medium. Add the olive oil, then the chopped onions. Stir, to coat the onions. Cover and cook undisturbed for 10 minutes.
Uncover, and stir in the sugar, vinegar, and salt. Add the bundle of thyme. Cover and continue cooking for another 15 minutes.
Uncover and reduce heat to low. Continue cooking until the onions are dark caramel colored, very soft and jammy.
Makes a pint