Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bye-Bye Philly

It’s May - the month of innumerable graduations.  As old as I am, one would think I’d be done with that sort of thing by now.  In fact, I thought I was … at least until my younger son Eric decided to start law school at the ripe old age of 26!

So last week we headed to Philadelphia to attend his graduation from Penn Law.  Way to go, Eric! 

Of course, if you are me, you will use an occasion like this to book a table at the best restaurant in Philly.  In my humble opinion, that would be Vetri, which is probably one of my favorite restaurants on the planet.

I’ll spare you my description of the place, since their website does a far better job than I could.  Take a look at it and put it on your radar screen if you find yourself in Philadelphia.  It's like no other dining experience I've ever had .  Because it’s situated in a lovely brownstone, you might think it’s stuffy and formal, but it’s not.  Instead, it’s warm, personable and fun!  Menus are presented to everyone, but you don’t really order – you just tell them if there is anything you don’t like, then they create a beautiful meal especially for you.  Every course is a surprise and of course, it goes without saying that the food is phenomenal. Particularly if you pair it with their recommended wines or beers (yes, a beer pairing – Andy and Eric were happy campers).

One of our favorite dishes was the Sweet Onion Crepe with White Truffle Fondue.  Our wait person casually mentioned that the recipe was in Marc Vetri’s first book, il viaggio di vetri.  Need I tell you what transpired the next day?  Suffice it to say that both Andy and I now have copies of the book!

Now I have not yet found time to tackle the aforementioned recipe, but I did manage to make Jenny’s Ricotta Cheesecake from the book.  Jenny was Marc Vetri's grandmother.  This is another one of those recipes where the sum is greater than the whole of its parts.  It is also unlike your usual cheesecake (of which I am the queen, as you may remember).

No, this one is light, ethereal and addictive in its simplicity.  It’s not particularly gorgeous, but make it anyway.  Trust me!

Jenny’s Ricotta Cheesecake     (adapted from Mark Vetri's il viaggio di vetri)

2 pounds fresh ricotta cheese (see below for recipe)
5 extra-large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
About 1 ½ - 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Butter a 2- to 2 ½ quart glass baking dish (preferably round).  Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, eggs, sugar and lemon juice until well combined and free of lumps.  Pour into the prepared baking dish and dust with enough cinnamon to lightly cover the entire surface.

Bake the cake for about an hour, or until just set.  It will puff up like a soufflé and when you remove it, it will fall and form a delicious top crust.  Let cool completely, cut into wedges and serve.

Serves 10 – 12

See?  I told you it wasn't pretty!

Homemade Ricotta     (adapted from Ina Garten's  How Easy is That?)

2 quarts whole milk
1 quart heavy cream
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/3 cup good white wine vinegar

Place a large strainer over a large bowl.  Line strainer with 2 layers of cheesecloth.  Set aside.

Combine the milk and cream in a large stainless-steel or enameled pot.  Stir in the salt and bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar.  Let mixture stand for 10 minutes until it curdles and separates.

Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and allow it to drain for about 30 minutes.  Pour off the liquid and allow it to stand for 30 minutes more.  Pour off liquid again, then cover with a piece of waxed paper or plastic and place in refrigerator to drain overnight.  This will result in a thick ricotta.

When ready to use, transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth and any remaining whey.  Ricotta will keep refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Yield:  2 pounds

OK, Liz - bring on the comments!  Here they are ....

*  Take the time to make your own ricotta for this recipe.  It makes all the difference.  Besides, since the cake recipe is so easy, you can devote a small amount of time to make the ricotta!

*  As I said before, this is not a pretty cake.  In fact, it looks downright awful.  While in the oven, mine rose on the sides and stayed sunken in the middle.  Uh-oh.  I thought about trashing it, but persevered.  Glad I did, as the sides deflated as the cake cooled and then it didn't look quite so bad.  And the taste quite made up for it's lack of "gorgeousness."

*  I was dubious about the lemon juice in the cake and the ground cinnamon on top of it.  Cinnamon and lemon juice?  Not necessarily a combo I would embrace.  Nonetheless, the lemon juice gives the cake its brightness and the cinnamon helps create a lovely "crust" on top of the cake when it cools.  Trust me, it works.

*  I tasted this cake both after it had cooled to room temperature and after it had been refrigerated overnight.  Both were delicious, but I prefer the unrefrigerated version as it was lighter and just sort of melted on the tongue.  Nonetheless, I would happily consume this at either temp!

*  Unlike most cheesecakes, this one does not need to be baked in a bain-marie (water bath) and is a snap to put together.  To quote Ina Garten, how easy is that?

*  Lastly, I made a blueberry and raspberry compote to serve with the cake.  Don't waste your time on such adornments.  This thing is best standing on its own.  No fruit or embellishments required.  So what if it isn't pretty?

Now let's talk about that homemade ricotta.  It's absolutely delicious and it has a ton of uses.  Mix it with fresh herbs and Parmesan and use it as a topping for crostini.  Use it in your lasagna.  Mix it with a little pesto and toss it into warm pasta.  My favorite is to dollop some on a round of toasted baguette and top with a drizzle of truffle lavender honey.  Heaven!  Here's where you can buy the honey:

I'm going to miss Philadelphia and its restaurants.  Now it's on to DC, since that's where Eric will be moving over the summer.  Recommendations, anyone?

1 comment:

  1. Nice to see you on the blogosphere again and congratulations to Eric. Can't believe he is that old.

    In DC I would recommend

    Jose Andres' Jaleo

    and Tabard Inn - great breakfast and donuts

    but your are probably familiar with both already