Home Sweet Home

What is home? Is it a place or a person, a feeling or an emotion, a smell or a taste? Sometimes living this expat life it can be hard to determine what is home. Even though I have one here in London I get homesick for the people, places, smells, tastes and comforts of California.

After a recent visit there, I returned to London feeling decidedly homesick. The trip had been lovely in every way: wonderful weather, visits with friends and family and gorgeous scenery, making my return to this gray, chilly city even more difficult.

Around this time I had a chance meeting with a perpetual traveller – someone who roams the world as a professional pet sitter trying on different countries as home for brief periods before moving on to the next doggie in another town. I asked him how he made a place feel like home when the bed, the street and the city weren’t his. He mentioned that the smell of a chicken roasting often created the ambience of home and I could immediately relate: the aroma, taste and process of creating a favorite food can evoke the feeling of a cozy nest.

I remembered that one of the best things during my California trip was visiting the Meyer lemon tree in the garden of our house in San Rafael. As usual, it was bursting with sweet blossoms and laden with golden fruits ready for any cooking task.  I went on a hunt for lemons to cook some California sunshine with and found gorgeous beauties from the bright coast of Italy. They were plump and juicy with big green leaves still attached, perfect for a microwave version of lemon curd that I had cut out of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

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This is an intriguing recipe that caught my attention because it uses olive oil as the fat and honey as the sweetener.

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The method is way easier than the usual curd recipe, which involves lots of whisking in a double boiler set- up and fretting about the egg getting scrambled! Was it all too good to be true?

I simply whisked the juice and zest of those tart and tangy Sorrento lemons with the honey, olive oil and an egg then popped it in the microwave for short bursts at 50% power. After each burst of 30 seconds or so, I stirred and then took the temperature of the mixture until it reached 170F/77C and coated a spoon.

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The process was fun and easy and the result was very good. I used the curd for a dynamite lemon cheesecake and for petite lemon tarts to go with afternoon tea, and still have some left for toast.

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If a simple custard like this can bring me back to California, at least in my mouth and mind, then I’ll keep making it – at least until I can get comfortable with where my feet are planted right now.

Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Curd
Adapted from a recipe by Maria Speck from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat

2-3 lemons (any type will do), about 250 grams

2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 tablespoons mild honey, 50 grams

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 40 grams

1 large egg at room temperature

Finely grate the yellow part of the lemon skin until you have 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons of zest. Juice the fruits, straining the seeds, until you have 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon juice. Whisk together the honey and oil in a medium microwave-safe bowl then whisk in the egg, zest, juice and a pinch of salt until smooth. Don’t worry if the honey hasn’t completely dissolved at this point. Set your microwave at 50% power. Heat the mixture for 1 minute, then stop to whisk and scrape around the sides of the bowl. Repeat, then continue heating and checking every 30 seconds, whisking and scraping in between; the mixture will foam and gradually thicken. The custard is done once it coats the back of a spoon and a path remains when you slide your finger across. This should take about 3 minutes total, depending on the power of your microwave. The temperature of the custard should register at least 170 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. Let cool in the bowl for about 15 minutes, whisking a few times. Strain the zest out if you wish for a silkier texture or leave as is if you like the golden bits of skin. Spoon the curd into an 8 oz. glass jar. Chill until completely cool then seal with the lid.

 

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Green grass and springtime

I was lucky enough to go on a tour recently of Bellwether Farms sheep creamery. The Callahan family has been making a variety of dairy products using both sheep and cow’s milk for almost twenty years on the property. Some of their most popular offerings are ricotta, creme fraiche and fresh and aged Italian style cheeses such as pepato and crescent.

During my visit, cheesemaker Liam Callahan was making a batch of ricotta in two 250-gallon steam kettles. Here is the moment the mixture started to form curds.IMG_1798

The ricotta is ladled into baskets and left to drain before packaging.

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The sheep milk ricotta (they make jersey cow milk version as well) is luscious and creamy without a hint of the grittiness often found in commodity ricotta. Once home, I set about creating a simple pasta that highlights this delicate cheese and incorporates the bounty of spring produce at the market now.

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Bow tie pasta is cooked with shelled English peas and asparagus then drained – be sure to save a little pasta water for the sauce!

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The drained pasta is mixed with the veggies, Meyer lemon zest, ricotta and grated Parmesan. A splash of pasta water creates just the right texture while the ricotta melts in to the ingredients resulting in a light, creamy sauce.

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Buono Appetito!

Spring Pasta with Sheep’s Milk Ricotta

1/2 lb. farfalle pasta

1 c. shelled English peas

1 cup asparagus, woody ends broken off, cut in 1″ pieces

1 heaping teaspoon of Meyer lemon zest

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese and more for serving

1/2-12 oz. basket of Bellwether sheep milk ricotta

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of fiercely salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and peas, stir and set your timer for 7 minutes. When the timer goes off, add the asparagus and set the timer for 4 minutes. Taste the pasta and vegetables for doneness then drain, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water as you go. Put the drained pasta and veggies back in the pot and add the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine and add a little pasta water, if necessary, to loosen the dish and create a saucy texture. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Divide amongst plates and pass extra Parmesan for the top. Yield: 4 servings