Last week was a whirlwind of truffle recipes! And while I love and adore truffles, they tend to go best with French and Italian inspired dishes and I was starting to miss working with Asian flavors in the kitchen. This week, starting tomorrow, will bring us back to those flavors.
This week I’m going to do something a little bit different than what I’ve done in the past. I’m going to introduce a “build a meal” concept and each post we’ll make one component to one of my favorite Asian dishes: Saag Paneer. Saag Paneer is an Indian dish that consists of spinach and cheese in a thick curry sauce. It’s traditionally served with either roti, naan or rice. And while, I admit, it might bear an uncomfortable resemblance to baby food, I can assure you that the flavors of the dish are nothing like it. It’s rich, hearty, and packed full of as many nutrients as it is spices.
We’ll begin this week with the cheese portion of the saag paneer. But, for the sake of efficiency, creativity, and just plain fun, I’m going to double the cheese amount that we make and repurpose half of it for a distinctly different dish from the saag paneer – the ricotta crostinis pictured here. These crostinis are the perfect party snack. The fresh, creamy cheese that tops them is sure to wow guests. It’s hard to beat fresh cheese in my book! And as if that weren’t already enough, they’re then topped off with crunchy pistachios and drizzled with raw honey.
But don’t get too taken away with these crostinis because we’ll need at least half of the cheese we make for the saag. Indeed, ricotta, a type of whey cheese, is the same “base cheese” that is used in the saag paneer, which makes it a versatile ingredient to prepare fresh. (Of course, if you want cheese for only the crostinis or only the saag paneer, just cut the recipe below in half. Or make the full amount and enjoy double the dish!)
Be sure to stay tuned for the rest of the saag paneer components later this week. Next up: Garlic naan!
- 1 gallon of whole milk (16 cups)
- ½ cup of lemon juice (+ more as needed)
- salt, to taste
- ½ cup of ground pistachios
- ½ cup of honey
- 1 loaf of French bread
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
While oven is heating, pour milk into a large stock pot and heat over medium until it begins to boil. Stir frequently so that it does not get stuck to the bottom. Be patient. Getting anything to heat, using medium heat, will take a while. This process took me approximately 35 minutes.
While milk is heating, place a colander in the sink and line it with doubled up cheesecloth.
Slice bread into ¼ inch thick pieces and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 5-10 minutes or until bread is slightly crispy. (I actually prefer my bread to have a tiny bit of chew to it, so I only leave it in there for a few minutes.) Remove from oven and set aside.
Once you notice the milk beginning to boil, pour the lemon juice in and stir gently. Turn heat down to low and continue stirring until you notice the curds beginning to form. It shouldn’t take more than 15-20 seconds for you to notice this. Pour the contents into the cheesecloth-lined colander. (If you plan to make something like pizza dough or naan bread soon, reserve the yellowish water for later use. It is natural whey and adds fantastic flavor to certain foods. See here for additional uses.) Rinse the remaining curds with cool water to remove the lemon flavor. Gently squeeze the liquid out of the cheese. If you are using this cheese as ricotta, sprinkle with sea salt and see remaining directions in the next step. If you’re making this for a paneer (see this post), you’ll want to get a bit more of the liquid out. Let it rest in the colander for 5-10 more minutes, squeeze it again, and then smooth it out onto a plate in the shape of a rectangle. It should be approximately ½ inch high. Place another plate on top of it and top with cans or juice bottles so that it forms a nice flat piece of paneer. Refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
For the ricotta honey crostinis, top each piece of toasted bread with fresh ricotta, pistachios and drizzled honey.