Fallen on Chard Times

Unable to sleep last night, I tottered down toward the kitchen for a night owl special.

The once overflowing refrigerator was now a safe haven for a sad little apple, which had sat in there so long, it resembled a shrunken head more than a healthy snack.
Friends, you may think I’ll eat anything that isn't moving, but even I have my standards.

Upon further inspection, I squealed at the sight of a bowl of homemade ricotta and a jar of tomato jam. Things were looking up.

A few slices of homemade semolina bread, a pretty little silver spoon and butter knife (because nothing says CLASS more than a meal served with fancy silverware, while wearing J's camo pajama pants) and this midnight jamboree was now in session.
Unhinging my jaw like a boa constrictor, I proceeded to chomp into the bruschetta when...


“Hmm. Probably just an owl.” I thought, trying to convince myself.“
Of course, I soon began to wonder, if owls are truly shy and elusive creatures, then what was that eerie sound just outside my kitchen window?
I turned off the lights and peered out the window. My mind was racing, conjuring up all sorts of creatures lurking amid the shadows in the nearby woods.

The lights flickered, then I heard it again,

“Hoo hoo”

Gracious! (Ok, so that's not exactly what came out of my mouth). I dropped the bruschetta. Ran back up to my room, still clinging to my butter knife, as if clasping onto the mighty Excalibur, and called it a (devil’s) night.

All in all, nothing was as interesting as Purry Mason's view out the window.

Anyway, please make the ricotta. Use it in the following recipes, or share it with your ghoul-friends.

Swiss Chard and Ricotta Crostata 
These were baked in an antique cast iron pan. But the recipe is meant to be shaped into a free-form tart. You could also bake this in a 9-inch pie pan.

1½ cups AP flour
½ cup grated Parmesan
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening, chilled

Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 bunch Swiss Chard, stems removed, leaves cut into 1-inch lengths
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and finely chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons water
Kosher salt
2 cups fresh ricotta
1 cup grated Parmesan
2 eggs
Pinch cayenne pepper
Egg wash: 1 egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons water

Combine the flour, parmesan, salt, cayenne, butter and shortening in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons ice water over flour mixture. Adding up to a tablespoon of water and pulsing until dough just begins to come together. Gather dough into a ball and flatten into a 4-inch disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Coat a large saute pan generously with olive oil. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and bring the pan to a medium heat. When the garlic becomes aromatic, add the leeks and 2 to 3 tablespoons of water and season with salt.
When the water has evaporated and leeks are soft, add the Swiss Chard leaves. Season the leaves with salt and saute until they are soft and wilted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

In a large bowl combine the ricotta, Parmesan, eggs, cayenne and the Swiss chard mixture. Mix thoroughly. Adjust seasoning if needed.

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

To assemble:
Roll dough on a floured surface into a large circle about 1/4 to 1/8-inch thick. Transfer dough to a large sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Put the filling in the center of the dough leaving a 3 to 4-inch border. Fold the edges up around the filling. Brush the dough with egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until crust is golden brown, about 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool 10 to 15 minutes before serving, to allow the filling to firm up for easier slicing. Serve hot or at room temperature. Adapted by a recipe from chef Anne Burrell.
Makes: 8 to 10 servings

I've been making ricotta cheese for a couple of years, and have tried vinegar, lemon juice and even buttermilk as the acid that separates the curds from the whey. They've all turned out excellent. The heavy cream adds a nice richness to the ricotta, but it's just as outstanding without it.

Ricotta Cheese

1 gallon whole milk
1 cup heavy cream, optional
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt *

In a large nonreactive saucepan pour whole milk, heavy cream, lemon juice and salt. Heat over medium-high heat and stir occasionally, making sure to cover the whole bottom of the pan. When the mixture reaches 180°F, remove pan from the heat. Cover and leave it in a warm spot (an oven with the pilot light on is fine) for 2 to 3 hours.

Line a large strainer with a thin piece of muslin, or several layers of cheesecloth (I prefer muslin because it is a durable, washable material, unlike cheesecloth). Set strainer over a large bowl and ladle the curds into the strainer. Refrigerate overnight to drain.

Discard the whey.  Keep fresh ricotta covered and refrigerated. Best if used within 2 weeks.

*If you plan on using fresh ricotta in desserts, do not omit the salt, just reduce it by half.

Tomato Jam

2 pounds ripe tomatoes, such as Romas, seeded, cored and coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan, Bring to a boil over medium heat and stir often.

Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thick jam, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Cool and refrigerate until ready to use; this will keep, refrigerated, for several weeks.
Yield: About 1 pint. Adapted from a recipe by Mark Bittman.

Happy Halloween! And may this day find you all in "good spirits!"

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