As fresh as a spring cheese

Say "cheese!"

While spring is definitely all about what's happening in the garden, it's also when most dairy animals have their young.

Coinciding with the spring flush of growth, there is an abundance of milk and we welcome the return of fresh seasonal cheeses.

Fresh cheeses such as ricotta, goat's curd and buffalo mozzarella have such a delicate flavour that it makes them perfect to use with the fresh tastes brought to us by spring.

I never bother buying ricotta because it is so simple to make; the process takes only a few minutes. Superbly versatile, ricotta goes with just about anything, either sweet or savoury, and making your own at home also allows you to adjust the consistency to best suit your needs.

When choosing goat's curd, be guided by your own tastes.

I prefer curds that are not too strong, but others like a bit more kick with a prominent goat's milk flavour coming through.

Most of the smaller producers do not milk their goats through winter, so it is an exciting time for everyone concerned when their animals start birthing and producing milk again.

Fresh New Zealand buffalo mozzarella is a revelation and a beautiful way to treat yourself.

It is expensive and hard to find because buffalo milk is costly to produce. Real buffalo mozzarella also has a very short shelf life of about eight or nine days, so almost all imported examples tend to be frozen, which changes the texture and flavour quite dramatically.

Mozzarella is superb with strong decisive flavours such as olives, anchovies, herbs and dry-cured meats such as prosciutto. Ripe tomatoes and basil are also natural partners but as they are still a little while off, we'd better stick to using what's ready right now. All these cheeses combined with produce from the garden make for great seasonal eating so get cooking and enjoy fresh cheese combined with the taste of spring!

 


Roast baby beetroot with goat's curdPhoto by Fiona Andersen
Serves 2

Ingredients

600g baby beetroot
80ml olive oil
salt and pepper
1 head garlic, cut in half crossways
5-6 sprigs fresh thyme
½ cup water or chicken stock
100gm fresh goat's curd
30ml extra virgin olive oil

Method

Heat oven to 180degC.

If beetroot are bigger than a golf ball, slice in half lengthways through the stem, running down to the tip.

Place beetroot on a small oven tray lined with baking paper, drizzle with 50ml olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper. Scatter thyme and garlic over beetroot before adding water or stock to the tray.

Cover and seal sides with aluminium foil and roast for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender.

To test beetroot, simply skewer with a small sharp knife.

When cooked, remove beetroot from oven and allow to cool completely before removing aluminium foil.

Remove skin by rubbing with your fingers or using a sharp knife.

When ready to serve, place beetroot on an oven tray lined with baking paper and drizzle with remaining olive oil and a little salt and pepper.

Place in oven for five minutes to reheat before transferring to a serving bowl.

Crumble goat's curd over beetroot and finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

 


Veal and ricotta meatballs with tomato sauce and herbsPhoto by Fiona Andersen
Serves 4

Method

40g unsalted butter
80ml olive oil
2 brown onions, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely sliced
½ tsp dried mild chilli flakes
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
700g veal mince (or lean beef mince)
2 tsp sea salt
100ml cream
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
200g ricotta
1 cup dried breadcrumbs
80g grated parmesan
½ cup mint, finely chopped
1 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 recipe tomato sauce
300g capellini pasta, cooked
extra virgin olive oil to serve

Tomato Sauce

60ml olive oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 tsp sweet-smoked Spanish paprika
pinch of mild chilli flakes
3 400g tins Italian chopped tomatoes
1 tsp caster sugar
salt and pepper

Method

Heat butter and 30ml of the olive oil in a large heavy base saucepan over a medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook without colour for 10 minutes or until soft and opaque. Add spices and cook for a further 1 minute before removing from heat and transferring to a large bowl. Allow to cool completely before adding mince, salt, cream, eggs, ricotta, breadcrumbs, 50g parmesan and half of the herbs. Mix well together and form into golf ball-sized meatballs.

Place meatballs on a baking-paper lined tray and refrigerate for at least two hours to allow them to firm up.

Heat oven to 200degC. Heat remaining olive oil in a large heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat and fry meatballs in batches until nicely coloured, turning as required. Place browned meatballs into a large oven-proof dish with two-thirds of the tomato sauce. Cover the dish tightly with tinfoil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until meatballs are cooked.

In a small saucepan heat remaining tomato sauce and keep warm. Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water before draining well and dividing between four plates. Remove meatballs from oven and serve on top of the pasta. Finish with a little more tomato sauce, remaining Parmesan and fresh herbs. Serve immediately.

Sauce

Heat olive oil in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 10 to 15 seconds without colour before adding paprika and chilli. Cook for a further 10 seconds, add tomatoes and sugar, reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Place sauce into a blender and process until smooth.

Return to saucepan and bring back to the boil. Season to taste with a little salt and pepper and reserve for later use.

 


Buffalo mozzarella with prosciutto, fennel and salsa verdePhoto by Fiona Andersen
Serves 2

Ingredients

120g ball fresh buffalo mozzarella
6 slices prosciutto
small fennel bulb, very finely sliced
½ cup flat-leaf parsley, picked
2 Tbsp fennel herb, picked
cup baby rocket leaves (optional)
salsa verde

Salsa verde
Makes half a cup

½ clove garlic
2 tsp baby capers, rinsed and drained
2 good quality tinned anchovies, roughly chopped
½ tsp salt
1 cup mint
1 cup flat leaf parsley
60ml extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tsp cabernet sauvignon vinegar
½  teaspoon Dijon mustard

Method

Remove mozzarella from container and drain on an absorbent kitchen towel.

Slice in half with a sharp knife and give a plate to each. In a small bowl, toss fennel, parsley and rocket together and divide between each plate. Gently finish with prosciutto and a generous drizzle of salsa verde.

Salsa verde

Place garlic, capers, anchovies and salt into a mortar and pestle and grind to a paste. Add mint and flat-leaf parsley and grind until smooth. Add olive oil and muddle with the pestle.

Mix in vinegar and mustard and reserve for later use.


Bevan and Monique Smith own the multi-award-winning Riverstone Kitchen restaurant on State Highway 1 in North Otago, just south of the Waitaki bridge.

www.riverstonekitchen.co.nz.