Recipe: Fresh Ricotta and Preserved Lemon Spread

April 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

Are you a kitchen experimenter or adventurous eater? I don’t mean in the Andrew Zimmern “Bizarre Foods” kind of way (although if stinky tofu or rat hearts are your thing, rock on; I’ll hold off, thanks). No, I’m talking about a willingness to try food combinations or flavors that are just a touch out of your comfort zone. Maybe that means ordering something you wouldn’t usually get from your favorite restaurant, testing out foods in à la Waste-Less Wednesday style, or that WTF moment when you throw some random ingredients together in a pan and see what happens. Thinking differently about ingredients or food combinations or preparation techniques broadens our food options considerably, and the discovery process is just plain fun — especially when you find something you want to share.

Which leads me to an inspiring reader comment about preserved lemons and feta cheese:

I’m just circling back to let you know how we used our preserved lemons. The gremolata was delicious — it fed a whole family very happily. But the biggest discovery was what happened when we combined the lemons with feta. We’ve been buying our feta from Rose International Market on Castro St. in Mountain View for 20+ years….The other day I lightly mixed a wedge of preserved lemon with a little bit of leftover Bulgarian feta and served it with crackers and lavash (also from Rose Market). The resulting spread was just heavenly. I didn’t think it was possible to improve Bulgarian feta, but I guess you never know!

Wheee! Gotta love that! “Two great tastes that taste great together.” And how did this happen? Simply putting some leftovers together for a family dinner. (By the way, thanks for sharing, Monica!) What’s the key here? Starting with ingredients that you enjoy, and saying “what if…?” Sometimes you come up with a winner, sometimes you don’t. If the combination isn’t as delicious and craveable as you’d hoped, shrug it off and try something else. (Not-so-big secret: Most professional chefs don’t nail a new recipe the first time. It’s an ongoing process of testing and tweaking over time.)

After I read Monica’s comment, I started thinking about the combination of salty, sweet-tart preserved lemons with a creamy cheese, soft cheese. Mmmm. I’ve been crushing hard on some Petaluma-made fresh ricotta lately (note to self: stop eating it out of the container). Sheep’s milk ricotta would be a nice, less salty stand-in for the feta — although cow’s milk ricotta would add a buttery richness that could play off the tartness of the lemons. I’ll save you the suspense: both versions are lick-the-bowl good. (And don’t get me wrong, the feta/lemon combo is creamy-sweet-tart mouthbomb, but if you can’t get your hands on creamy Bulgarian or French feta, fresh ricotta is a stellar partner.)

As for the lemons, you can use 7-day or 30-day preserved lemons for this recipe, although the flavors will be a bit different. The 7-day lemons give you a brighter, sweet-tart, lemon flavor, while the 30-day lemons are mellower, but have the added flavor dimension provided by the spices preserved with the lemons. Either way, if you’ve been waiting for a reason to make 7-Day or 30-Day preserved lemons, this is it!

Recipe: Fresh Ricotta and Preserved Lemon Spread
Yield: About 7 ounces

Fresh ricotta is essential here, so try to buy a locally made version — or get adventurous and make your own ricotta at home. Homemade preserved lemons are best, but store-bought will work in a pinch. A good, peppery olive oil and some crunchy, toasted pistachios are the finishing touches to this spread, adding flavor and texture. Serve with crisp crackers, lavash, or on a sturdy piece of toast.

Ingredients

6 ounces fresh ricotta
1½ – 2 wedges preserved lemon, to taste
1 tablespoon toasted pistachio pieces
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Fresh sheep's milk ricotta, olive oil, 30-day preserved lemons, toasted pistachios

Fresh sheep’s milk ricotta, olive oil, 30-day preserved lemons, toasted pistachios

How to:

  1. Place the ricotta in a small mixing bowl.
  2. Finely chop the lemon wedges — skins and flesh — and add them to the ricotta, mixing gently with a spoon or rubber spatula to combine.
    Add chopped perserved lemon to the ricotta

    Add chopped perserved lemon to the ricotta

    Start by chopping 1½ wedges and adding those pieces to the ricotta. Give it a taste. If you prefer more lemon, chop the remaining ½ wedge and add it to the mixture. Return any unused lemon pieces or wedges to the storage container.

  3. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
    You probably won’t need much salt, as the lemons themselves provide a good amount of salt from the preservation process, but a little accent of a delicate salt, such pyramid or Himalayan pink, can balance the flavor if your mixture is too tart.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and top with toasted nuts. spread-in-serving-bowl
  5. Store leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 5 days.

Waste-Less Wednesday: Preserved Lemons

February 25, 2015 § 8 Comments

Last December, during one of my it’s-the-holidays-so-I’m-indulging excursions to Whole Foods, I spied containers of preserved lemons. Nothin’ fancy, just small, whole Eureka lemons, juice, salt, and citric acid in plastic deli containers. I’ll admit it was a total impulse buy. Preserved lemons weren’t even on my radar, but eh, it was the holidays, after all. (You see how that kind of thinking can get a person into trouble.)

Over-the-fence Meyer lemons: local and organic

Over-the-fence Meyer lemons: local and organic

Turns out that preserved lemons are my new favorite condiment. For the rest of December and through the early part of January, I was finding ways to work preserved lemons into every savory dish I made: baked fish with herbs, roasted vegetables, and pastas. My favorite combo? Soba noodles tossed in olive oil and this twist on gremolata: roasted garlic, sautéed preserved lemon, minced parsley, and a sprinkling of crushed red pepper. Topped with freshly grated cheese, of course.

If you read my post about Lemonpalooza a couple of weeks ago, let me tell you that the abundance of over-the-fence Meyers and backyard Eurekas continues! After some hemming and hawing about it, I finally decided it was time to make my own preserved lemons. I’m still baby-stepping my way into preserving foods. If you’re in the same boat, preserved lemons are a good place to start. There’s no cooking involved, although it’s a good idea to sterilize the jars in which you’ll store the lemons while they do their thing for 30 days. Oh, yeah, that’s the kicker: you have to wait 30 days.

There are a few variations of preserved lemon recipes floating around the interwebs, but Paula Wolfert’s version seems to be the mother recipe; you can find it on Epicurious and Leite’s Culinaria. The Leite’s Culinaria version is more concise, while the Epicurious version provides more detail and includes notes from Wolfert. Read both to get the full picture. To paraphrase one comment I read: “if you’ve got salt and lemons, you can make preserved lemons.” Yep, it’s that easy.

I decided to go with the spices-added version from Epicurious. Because I have 24-ounce jars and plenty of lemons, I scaled up the recipe to make 1.5 times the amount (just multiply every ingredient by 1.5). I don’t have permission to post the recipe here, but I can give you the peep-show version of what I did.

First up: the mise en place. Make sure you’ve sterilized your jar(s) and assembled your ingredients. Tip: Sharpen your knife before starting. It’s a lot easier to slice through citrus peels with a sharp knife.

Ingredients for 30-day preserved lemons: Meyer lemons, Meyer lemon juice, salt, cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, and bay leaf

Ingredients for 30-day preserved lemons: Meyer lemons, Meyer lemon juice, salt, cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, and bay leaf

I used the muddler from my home bar to press the salt-stuffed lemons into the canning jar and force out some of the juice.

Layering lemons, salt, and spices

Layering lemons, salt, and spices

After I layered all of the lemons and spices into the jar, using the muddler to press down each layer, I added lemon juice to cover everything. (Remember those 10 Meyer lemons I zested to make limoncello? I used the naked lemons for the juice to cover my preserved lemons.) Et voila!

And now we wait...

And now we wait…

Preserved lemons should be stored in a warm spot, so I went up — storing the jar in the wasted space on top of the upper cabinets in my kitchen. (Ah, see — another way I’m reducing waste in the kitchen!)

There’s also a recipe for a seven-day version of Paula Wolfert’s preserved lemons on Epicurious. Not as highly rated, but easy-peasy to make. Hey, I had more lemons, juice, and another jar… not to mention all of that above-cabinet storage space, so I knocked that one out, too. It will be interesting to compare the quickie version with the long, slow version.

Mise en place: no spices in this one, just lemons, salt, and juice.

The seven-day version: simpler and faster. But does it taste as good?

The seven-day version: simpler and faster. But does it taste as good?

Another difference? The prep is super quick. When making the seven-day version, you cut the lemons into slices and toss them with salt. In the 30-day version, you cut the lemons just enough to stuff them with salt.

Toss lemon wedges with salt before packing them in a jar or container

Toss lemon wedges with salt before packing them in a jar or container

Next week I’ll have the quickie version ready for taste-testing. You’ll be able to check out the results on 650Food’s Facebook page! Have you made preserved lemons? What are your tips or favorite recipes using this flavorful condiment?

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