Posts tagged cheese

What a Difference a Year Makes: The Carroll Gardens Farmers’ Market

I know it might seem crazy to write about food with all this election madness going on, but I can’t help it. I just got back from voting, I’m too jittery to sit still, and I can’t bring myself to watch any election coverage just yet. So, in an effort to calm myself down while hoping for the best, I thought I’d write a post about a subject I’ve had on my mind for the past few months: my local farmers’ market.

As some of you already know, last year Carroll Gardens finally got its own farmers’ market. Starting in July 2007, a few tables of vegetables and fruit lined a short stretch of Carroll Street between Court and Smith Streets every Sunday through last November. While I lamented the lack of cheese, meat, and fish vendors, I remained optimistic for these changes in the future. I figured that once the market became more established, perhaps we would see more vendors on the block.

Well, it pays to think positively, because our little market has expanded quite a bit in just one year. Now when I make my weekly visit to Carroll Street, I bring two bags and indulge in a variety of local food products.

Similar to my shopping pattern from last year, I begin by stocking up on fruit from Fishkill Farms. While over the summer I focused on fresh plums and peaches, in October I scooped up apples and pears. My next move is usually towards the piles of fresh greens and other vegetables from Alex Farm as I supplement my CSA shipment with whatever other produce I might need for the week. Jim seems to prefer the vegetables from W. Rogowski Farm, so in the end we actually wind up supporting several stands at the market. I can’t forget my weekly chocolate croissant from Amy’s Bread, although sometimes I try to be healthy and buy a loaf of whole-grain bread as well.

But in addition to all of the wonderful produce and baked goods, we can now peruse products from various local meat, fish, dairy, and cheese vendors. About a month ago, Jim and I bought grass-fed, spicy Angus sausages from Grazin’ Angus Acres for the first time. We broiled them, sliced them up, and cooked them on top of one of our homemade pizzas. Raised without antibiotics or hormones, this beef was happily enjoyed with less guilt than usual. Grazin’ Acres’s sausages were so earthy and full-flavored that Jim and I went back for one of their grass-fed chickens a few weeks later.

I’ve yet to buy fish from Seatuck Fish Company, or pasture-raised eggs from Fishkill Farms, but both are on my list. Once in a while I’ll pick up some goat cheese from Consider Bardwell Farm, and a few weeks ago local honey was for sale. There are so many options, I find it’s impossible to try them all at once.

On another note, I’ve also enjoyed seeing how our farmers’ market has increased its role in the community. Every Sunday the lines seem to stretch longer and longer at each stand. A few months ago a chef from the soon-to-open restaurant Buttermilk Channel prepared a fresh vegetable pickle for the market’s shoppers. On this past Sunday, piles of mussels from Seatuck Fish Company were being prepared at one of the stands, encouraging people to linger and enjoy the day with each other.

So as you can see, our little farmers’ market has grown quite a bit in a year. I may not have tried the wares from every stand, but it’s not a problem; I have something new to look forward to every week. I just hope I can get through the rest of election day…

The Carroll Gardens Farmers Market, located on Carroll Street between Smith and Court. It runs on Sundays from July through November.

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Ricotta Pancakes

Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberries

For someone who used to hate ricotta cheese, I sure am making up for lost time. A few months ago I fell in love with Cook’s Illustrated’s Ricotta Gnocchi. Then last Sunday I discovered that my new favorite way to make pancakes now includes this creamy, once-loathed dairy product.

Food & Wine’s recipe for Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberries reminded me how ricotta cheese imparts an airy sweetness to a variety of dishes. These pancakes were fluffy and moist, a welcome combination of breakfast and dessert. Thinner and more delicate than regular pancakes, they weren’t the most handsome ones I’ve ever made, but they certainly made up for their sorry looks in the flavor department. 

“Ricotta” means recooked in Italian. According to Steven Jenkins’s Cheese Primer, ricotta isn’t even a cheese. It’s actually a by-product of cheesemaking, as it is made from leftover whey. Interestingly, whey is not disposable. If dumped into bodies of water or sewers, it can wreak havoc by increasing the growth of algae and killing the existing fish. Who knew that cheese could be so evil?

I’m glad someone thought of an appropriate use for this wily whey. Italian ricotta uses the whey from sheep or water buffalo milk, while American ricotta uses cow’s milk, creating a very different effect from the sweeter and drier Italian ricotta. I’ve definitely noticed a difference between the packaged supermarket stuff and the fresh batches I buy around the corner at my Italian specialty store. When possible, always go with the fresh, Italian ricotta.

In fact, I think I’ll buy another container this weekend. Like I said, I have a lot of ricotta to catch up on. And more pancakes to make.

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Lunch at Pizzeria Mozza

Squash blossom, burrata, and tomato pizza at Pizzaria Mozza in Los Angeles, California

 

Even as the end of 2007 approached with the typical abundance of holiday food and wine, I still wondered what treats I’d encounter in 2008. Luckily I received a tasty hint during New Year’s Eve lunch at Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles with our friends Joanne, Jon, and Justin.

Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery partnered with New York restaurant kings Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich to open Pizzeria Mozza in November 2006, and her airy, crispy pizza crust, cooked in a wood-burning oven, has been lauded from coast to coast. And while it certainly lives up to the hype, the toppings–particularly the amazing array of fresh cheeses–also blew me away. From a look around the restaurant, I wasn’t alone.

But then again, it’s impossible to be alone at Mozza. As soon as we walked into the rather small, maroon-hued space, we noticed that the room was packed. Everyone in LA had the same idea about how they wanted to start the new year, and for once it included carbs.

After we sat down at a large, circular table, we perused the lengthy Italian wine list and experimented with a few quartinos (.25 liters of wine served in small carafes, equaling about a glass and a half) while we waited for our antipasti. We devoured the arancine alla bolognese, small, fried balls of gooey rice and cheese topped with a light meat sauce, as soon as they arrived, while Justin declared his serving of bufala mozzarella the best he had ever tried. As he passed the plate around the table and allowed the rest of us to taste slivers of the gleaming, milky orb, we all agreed, and subsequently stole a second bite.

And then the personal-size pizzas started to arrive. The boys went with a variety of meat-lover’s pies, with ingredients including (but not limited to) bacon, salami, and house-cured fennel sausage, as well as chiles, pineapple, and jalapenos. Leaving the men to their meat-induced ecstasy, Joanne and I did a slice-swap, allowing me to taste her pie of speck, bufala mozzarella, olive tapenade, and oregano ($18).

I had ordered the squash blossom, burrata, and tomato pizza ($18). As I took my first bite it was clear the cross-country praise was justified. The crust was indeed incredible–flaky, crispy, airy, chewy, you name it–but I was also enthralled with the burrata cheese, a creamy, milky mass of freshness adding to the rustic effect of the charred greens and hand-pulled pizza crust.

Steven Jenkins’s Cheese Primer describes burrata as a Southern Italian cheese made from remnants of mozzarella and cream enclosed in a “bag” of pulled curds, creating a smooth, cool cloud of creamy delight. Get ready New Yorkers: Burrata dominated California’s menus from Sonoma to Los Angeles. I have only seen burrata advertised at my Italian gourmet market, but I’m hoping to welcome it to my favorite local restaurants as soon as possible.

We ended our pizza feast with a variety of house-made gelato and then poured into our cars for the next destination. (I felt so very LA.) I hoped that our Pizzeria Mozza experience indicated positive things for the rest of 2008. With amazing pizza, a new favorite cheese, and great friends, how could the year go wrong?

Pizzeria Mozza, 641 North Highland, Los Angeles, California  T: 323-297-0101. Osteria Mozza is located next door with a more formal menu and a mozzarella bar. Reservations are recommended.

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