It is tart week in my household with both sweet and savory tart recipes for yours and my pleasure. Because it is fig season, I am compelled to make something at least once using figs. I love figs. They are a beautiful fruit with its simple pear shape, deep purple color, and a seductive subtle but jammy interior. That rich eggplant purple is one of my favorite colors and I find anything with that color totally irresistible.
Fig and Almond Tart
Several years ago, I discovered this tart recipe on Food Network by Giada De Laurentiis but I thought it was very rich and sweet. Because I wanted to make a fig and almond tart, I decided to give this tart recipe another try with some minor changes. I adapted the tart recipe by reducing the amount of sweetener in the filling, so the sweet flavor does not dominate the fig and almond flavors.
The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of sugar in the pie crust, and one tablespoon of sugar plus 2 tablespoons of honey in the mascarpone cheese and almond paste filling. In my opinion, it was too rich, so I reduced the sweetener to only 1 tablespoon of honey in the filling. For me, this minor adjustment made all the difference.
I do like the sweetened pie crust and did not change the amount of sugar in that recipe. However, feel free to adjust the amount of sugar in the crust from 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 – 30 ml). The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of sugar and I believe the sweetness in the crust blends the crust with the filling. Otherwise, the strong flour flavor in the crust will compete with the figs and almonds.
My experience baking with almond paste is limited, but what I have learned so far is each brand tastes slightly different for both almond flavor and sweetness. Depending on your brand of almond paste could determine how much sugar you need to add to the filling. Before you begin mixing the filling, taste the almond paste to determine how sweet it is. Then mix it together with the mascarpone cheese and other filling ingredients, then taste again. Add more honey or sugar if you wish. I like the amount of sweetener I have in this fig and almond tart recipe, but if your almond paste is on the less sweet side, you may need more.
For another tart recipe using almond paste, make Almond Cherry and Peach Galette.
Another trick to get more almond flavor without adding extra almond paste is, add a few drops of pure almond extract. Be careful adding the almond extract because it is strong and only use pure almond extract. Imitation almond extract tastes like chemicals and not the real deal, just like imitation vanilla extract.
The most common almond paste brands available are Solo and Odense almond paste. Solo comes in a box or can, and Odense comes in a tube. You want to make sure it is pure or real almond paste. I have used both brands with good results. You will find almond paste in the baking aisle.
Almond paste and marzipan are two different ingredients and not interchangeable. Marzipan is made with almond paste and extra sugar and more egg whites. It is the almond paste that gives marzipan its characteristic almond flavor.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can make your own almond paste.
You want to use figs that are just starting to ripen and getting soft. I used black mission figs, but any type of fig will work in this tart recipe. Stay away from figs that are too soft and mushy. They are over-ripe and do not taste as fresh. I recommend inspecting the figs before you buy them because they often have moldy figs mixed in with the ripe figs. Figs are very perishable and quickly become over-ripe so use them as soon as possible after you buy them.
To store figs, remove them from the plastic container and place them on a paper towel-lined plate in one layer with space between each fig so they can breathe. Cover the figs in plastic wrap. You can keep the figs on the counter for a couple of days, but they will last longer in the refrigerator.
More recipes using figs:
Mascarpone vs Cream Cheese
What is mascarpone cheese? Mascarpone cheese comes from Italy and is similar to cream cheese, but it has a higher milk fat content because it is made with cream. Cream cheese is made in America and by law must have at least 33% milk fat and 55% moisture. Cream cheese also has additives, like gums to give the cheese a thicker appearance. They are not equally interchangeable in a recipe because of the differences in consistency, texture, milk fat percentages, and additives in cream cheese. You will find mascarpone cheese in the cheese department or deli department near the crème fraîche. If possible do not substitute cream cheese for the mascarpone cheese in this tart recipe.
Fig and Almond Tart
- 1 ½ cup 213 g all-purpose flour
- 1 -2 TB (12 - 24 g) sugar
- Zest from one lemon
- 10 TB ( g) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into half-inch (1 cm) pieces
- 3 TB ice water
- 3 ½ oz (101 g) almond paste, room temperature and cut into ½ inch ( 1 cm) pieces
- 1/3 cup (76 g) mascarpone cheese, room temperature
- 1 TB honey
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Pure almond extract to taste (if needed) a couple of drops
- 12 figs, stems removed and sliced into fourths lengthwise
- 2 tsp of Minced sprigs of Rosemary or Lemon Thyme optional
Make the pie dough
Food Processor Method
Add the flour, sugar, lemon zest, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is evenly combined. Add the chilled butter cubes and pulse until the mixture looks like large course sand with uneven clumps. Turn on the machine and add the water in a steady stream until large clumps form being careful not to overwork the dough. Tip the mixture onto a clean and lightly floured surface and pat into a disk. Wrap the pie dough with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour, or up to 2 days.
If making by hand, add the flour sugar, lemon zest, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Whisk together until the ingredients are evenly combined. Add the cubed butter and toss them with your clean hands until coated with flour. Smash the butter with your fingers to mix into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse meal with uneven sizes. Add the ice water and stir with your hands briefly until the dough comes together. Tip the dough onto a clean and lightly floured surface and shape into a flat disk. Wrap the disk with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
Mix the almond filling
In a clean bowl of a food processor, add the almond paste, mascarpone cheese, honey, and vanilla. Process until a smooth paste is formed. Scrape down the side of the bowl to blend and process again. Make sure there are no clumps of almond paste in the mix. Taste and add a couple of drops of almond extract if you want the filling to have more almond flavor. Go very light with the almond extract because it is very strong.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) with the oven rack in the middle position. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.
Assemble the Tart
Remove the pie dough from the refrigerator and if it is too hard, let it rest at room temperature for a couple of minutes. Remove the plastic wrap and place the dough on a lightly floured and clean work surface. Whack the dough with your rolling pin across the dough to soften it up and start forming a circle. Rotate the dough 180° and whack it again 4 times across the dough. Turn the dough over and repeat.
Roll out the dough with your rolling pin starting at the center of your dough and roll it in one direction away from you. Move the rolling pin around the dough circle and roll out in one direction. Turn the dough over and continue to roll and shape the dough until you have a circle with a 12-inch diameter and is ¼ inch (.5) thick.
Transfer the dough onto your prepared baking sheet by draping the dough over your rolling pin then easing the dough into place.
Spread the almond filling over the dough in an even layer leaving a 2-inch (5 cm) border. Layer the fig slices in concentric circles over the almond filling beginning at the outer rim and working inwards.
Heat the jam for 15 seconds to loosen it up and spread the jam over the figs. You might not use all of the jam, but you want an even layer that is not too thick.
Fold the dough border over the toppings to create an edge. Pleat the border to maintain the circle shape. You can bake the tart right away, but if it took you a while to arrange the tart filling over the dough and you are concerned about the tart expanding and opening up when baking, refrigerate the tart, loosely covered with plastic wrap for 30 minutes or freeze for 15 minutes.
Bake for 40 minutes or until the crust is a golden brown color. Transfer the tart on the sheet pan to a cooling rack and cool for 10 minutes. Loosen the bottom of the tart with a metal spatula or offset spatula and slide the tart off the parchment paper onto your serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Best eaten the day it is made.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
I have wanted to make a savory tart since the first signs of spring and it is about time I finally got around to do it. I am not sure why it took me so long, maybe I was just waiting for Swiss chard to come into season. No matter the reason this is a rustic looking savory tart that fits more into the galette category. What I love about informal free-form tarts is you don’t have to worry about having the right size tart pan. It is so frustrating to read a recipe and get excited to make it only to realize you do not have the right pan.
Originally, I wanted to make Joshua McFadden’s Swiss Chard Galette from Six Seasons Cookbook. I have linked to this cookbook many times as it is one of my favorites and provides me with six seasons worth of inspiration. The walnut pie crust for this savory tart comes from his book. However, I decided to make my savory tart using a different style featuring layers of sautéed vegetables over a ricotta cheese and goat cheese spread.
Savory Tart Success
The key to success making savory tarts with lots of vegetables is you must precook all the vegetables. Skipping this step produces a pastry dough with a soggy bottom and partially cooked vegetables. I also believe you need to chop up the vegetables in such a way that they are large enough to not get lost in the pile, but small enough to not weigh down the tart and fall apart. Mixing greens with chopped vegetables help the vegetables stay put as well.
It is the butternut squash that makes the flavors of the savory tart stand out. The concentrated sweetness complements the bitter flavors from the Swiss chard and gives the vegetable filling body. Without it, it is just Swiss chard spread over pie crust, which would taste fine, but won’t be as impressive.
There are two things I love to mix in with butternut squash, sage and smoked or cured pork like pancetta or bacon. These two pairings, either separate or combined, make up one of the best flavor marriages around. If you don’t eat pork, omit it, but the fresh sage is still a nice addition. I did not add a lot of sage or pancetta, so feel free to play around with the amounts. If you do not like sage, substitute it with fresh thyme or rosemary to your liking.
Another optional ingredient is the ricotta and goat cheese spread. I like it because intermittently you will get a creamy pop of goat cheese with your swiss chard, but it is not necessary. Also, spreading the ricotta and goat cheese over the pie crust prevents it from getting soggy while cooking. If you do not want the cheese, baste an egg wash layer over the pastry dough before you add the vegetables. Like the cheese, the egg wash becomes a protective layer between the pie dough and the vegetables.
Savory Pie Crust
The walnut pie dough is the same recipe used in my Tomato Tart with Ricotta and Mediterranean Seasoning. If you do not eat nuts, please substitute it with the pie crust recipe for my Irresistible Onion Tart.
Savory Tart with Swiss Chard with Butternut Squash
I have a thing for savory tarts and this one has a lovely balance of flavors. This tart is more like a galette with its free-form shape and informal attitude. The sweetness of the butternut squash balances out any bitterness of the Swiss chard and gives this tart character. Additionally, I love the butternut squash with sage and pancetta and use them as my main seasonings in this galette. The pancetta is optional but any smoky cured pork is a delicious complement to the butternut squash. The layer of ricotta and goat cheese is subtle. It melts into the pastry and acts as a barrier preventing the pastry from getting a soggy bottom. To make this a dairy-free galette do not add the cheese. Instead, brush a layer of lightly beaten egg over the pastry before you add the vegetables.
Walnut Pastry recipe is from Tomato Tart with Ricotta and Mediterranean Seasonings. If you do not want a pie crust with nuts, use the recipe from the pie crust in my Irresistible Onion Tart.
Serves 4 to 6
- 1 recipe for Walnut Pie Crust
- 3 TB extra virgin olive oil, divided plus more for the chickpeas
- 2.5 oz (65 g) pancetta chopped in ¼ inch (.5 cm) pieces (optional)
- 1 leek sliced into ¼ inch slices white and light green parts only
- 5-6 oz (150 g) butternut squash, about half of a small butternut squash
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 bunch (12 oz / 350 g) Swiss chard Cleaned
- A few rounds of freshly ground black pepper
- 4 sage leaves minced
- 3 oz (75 g) whole milk ricotta cheese
- 2-3 oz (50-75 g) creamy goat cheese
- ½ cup (3 oz / 84 g) chickpeas, rinsed, dried and skins removed
- ¼ tsp paprika
- Small pinch of dried ground garlic
Walnut Pie Crust
- ½ cup (2 oz/ 58 g) 58 g toasted walnuts
- 1 2/3 cups (7.25 oz / 208 g) all-purpose flour
- 4 oz (113 g) chilled unsalted butter, one stick cut into pieces and kept cold until mixing
- 1 TB (12 g) sugar
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- 2 TB (30 ml) ice cold water plus more if needed
Walnut pie crust
Place the walnuts in a food processor and pulse until a fine and even crumble. Be careful to not over-process the nuts into walnut butter. Pour the walnuts into a mixing bowl and add the flour, sugar and Kosher salt. Mix the ingredients together with a wire whisk until evenly combined. Add the cold butter pieces to the flour mixture and toss to coat the butter with flour. Smush the butter with your fingers with the flour until you get a pebbly mixture of all different sizes. Add 2 TB of ice water and using your hands briefly toss to mix and form a ball. If the dough seems dry add more ice water, one tablespoon at a time.
Lightly dust your clean work surface with flour and tip the dough ball on the surface. Starting at the upper edge of your dough ball, use the heel of your hand to press down and smear the dough away from you. Continue to smear the dough away from you into a pile until you have worked your way through the ball of dough, about 4-5 smears. Gather the dough and form a round disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days. The dough will keep in the freezer for 3 months.
Prep the vegetables
Meanwhile, peel and chop the butternut squash into ½ inch (1 cm) cubes.
Trim the stems off the swiss chard by slicing along both sides of the seam where the stem meets the leafy greens. Make a pile of the leaves and slice across the width in 2-inch strips. Repeat until all the leaves are sliced. Set aside.
Chop the stems into ½ inch (1 cm) pieces.
While you prep the vegetables, If using, brown the pancetta. Add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to a hot pan then add the chopped pancetta. Turn down the heat to medium-low and brown the pancetta until the fat has rendered and the pancetta is brown and crispy. When done, remove the pancetta from the skillet with a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with paper towels. Set aside.
Cook the vegetables
In a Dutch oven or large sauté pan (12 inches / 30.5 cm) add the remaining 2 TB of extra virgin olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the sliced leeks, butternut squash, and a ½ tsp of Kosher salt to the pan then stir so the vegetables get an even coating of olive oil. Cook for 2 minutes then add about a ¼ cup (60 ml) of water to the pan, then cover with a tight-fitting lid. Turn down the heat to medium and cook until the butternut squash just begins to get tender but not fully cooked, about 7 minutes.
Remove the lid and add the swiss chard, in batches. Cover the pan and cook until the swiss chard is wilted and soft about 3-4 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to cook until all liquid (if any) evaporates. Taste and add more Kosher salt if needed and a few rounds of fresh black pepper. Turn off the heat, add the minced sage and stir to mix. Tip the cooked vegetables onto a sheet pan to cool. Set aside.
Prepare the savory tart
Mix together the ricotta and goat cheese in a small bowl until smooth. Set aside.
Mix together the chickpeas, 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, paprika, and granulated garlic until evenly combined. Set aside.
One hour before you plan on baking the galette, preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) with the oven rack in the middle position. If you have a baking stone or steel, place it on top of the oven rack in the middle.
Place a piece of parchment paper on a large sheet pan, about 12 x 18 inches (30 x 45.5 cm). Set aside.
When you are ready to bake, take the tart dough out of the refrigerator and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Once rested, sprinkle your counter surface with flour and place the dough in the center. Whack the dough with a lightly floured rolling pin. Whack the dough moving from left to right to flatten it out. Turn the dough a quarter turn and whack 4 more times moving across the disk from left to right. Turn the dough over and repeat 2 more times. This process helps the dough start a nice circle shape. Roll out the dough with your rolling pin starting at the center and roll away from you. Turn the dough a quarter turn and roll across the dough beginning in the center. Repeat. Turn the dough over and roll out the dough until you have a 12-inch (30.5 cm) circle and the dough is about ¼-inch (.5 cm) thick. Dust the countertop with flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking.
Once you have completed rolling out your dough, place your rolling pin across the middle and lift your pie dough then drape it over the rolling pin towards you. Lift your pie dough draped rolling pin and place it across the center of your prepared sheet pan. Start at the end closest to you and roll the pin away from you while the pie dough eases into place. The edges should overlap up the sides of the rim.
Spread the ricotta and goat cheese over the pastry dough in a smooth and even layer, leaving a border of 1 ½-inches (3.5 cm). Tip the cooled vegetables on the pastry and spread in an even layer over the cheeses.
Top off with the seasoned chickpeas.
Fold over the pastry border up the sides of the vegetables. Pleat the pastry as you go around the circle to keep its shape. You do not need to make fancy pleats or edges. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or freeze for 15 minutes.
If the pastry dough is fragile and starts to break when you lift it up you have two options. 1) Refrigerate the tart for 30 minutes ( or freeze it for 15) until the pastry dough chills and solidifies. 2) I found lifting the edge of the parchment paper at the area where I needed to lift the pastry dough over the vegetables, was an easy way to fold over the pastry dough. Then by moving around the circle, using the parchment paper to lift and guide the dough, until done. Peel away the parchment paper from the dough so that it rests back down on the sheet pan.
Mix the egg with a fork until the whites and yolk are combined. Baste the pastry border with the egg wash in an even layer. Add flakey sea salt, or toasted sesame seeds, or leave plain.
Place the galette in the oven and bake for 45 -55 minutes. The galette is done when the pastry has a deep golden brown color and is flaky.
Remove from the oven and cool for 15 minutes before serving. Best eaten warm and the day it is made.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
This time of year, I want to eat fresh local tomatoes every day until there are no more. For some reason, the finality of tomato season resonates more than other vegetables. Maybe fresh corn is equal in its limited and anticipated season, but real tomatoes picked ripe tastes like summer and the ground from which it has grown. There is nothing like it.
As much as I love fresh tomatoes, roasted tomatoes are high on my list for having exceptional flavor, particularly roasted cherry tomatoes. Roasting cherry tomatoes concentrate their natural sweetness giving them an amazing punch of pizzazz. As a result, paring roasted cherry tomatoes with other foods, just makes everything taste better, especially creamy cheese, fish or grilled meats.
One of my favorite ways to use roasted cherry tomatoes is to mix them with pasta and make a pasta sauce. Other than chopping up fresh tomatoes and adding them to pasta, roasting cherry tomatoes are one of the easiest methods for making a pasta sauce. Just scatter the tomatoes over a sheet pan, drizzle olive oil and salt, then roast for 30 minutes or so. The other bonus to roasting cherry or grape tomatoes is there is no splatter on the stove or countertop.
Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
I started roasting cherry tomatoes after I saw a photograph of burrata with roasted cherry tomatoes drizzled with basil pesto. Immediately, I knew this appetizer was something I had to discover. Since then I roast cherry tomatoes whenever I get the chance. I especially like to roast them alongside tender white fish like sole, plaice or turbot. They give the delicate fish a much-needed flavor boost.
Roasting cherry tomatoes for pasta sauce requires nothing more than a generous dose of good olive oil and fresh herbs. When they bake together in the oven the juices from the tomatoes and olive oil blend and create a silky sauce that clings to the pasta. There is not a lot of this pan juice, so it is important to use the right size pan to prevent the pan juices from drying out. If that does happen, deglaze the pan with some of the pasta water or wine, then pour the glaze over the pasta.
This summer I never missed an opportunity to roast garlic or onions. So, whenever I roasted vegetables like broccoli, I scattered cloves of garlic, still in their papery skins and roasted the cloves along with the other veggies. Like roasted cherry tomatoes, roasted garlic is one of those foods that just make everything taste better. It does take some time to get the garlic browned and sweet, but I help the process along by slicing large garlic cloves in half. When all done, you can smear the roasted garlic cloves on bread, or spread it over the roasted vegetables for added depth of flavor.
For this recipe, the garlic will not get as caramelized because it only takes 20-30 minutes to roast cherry tomatoes. Yet, in this short timeframe, the garlic becomes soft and sweet. Once the tomatoes are finished I fish out the garlic cloves and remove the papery skins. From there you can decide if you want the garlic cloves left whole in the sauce or chopped up. I decided to chop mine up making sure there was roasted garlic throughout the pasta sauce. Feel free to prepare the garlic any way you wish. Yet, I do not recommend you mince the garlic before you roast it, as garlic burns easily. Burned garlic tastes very bitter.
How Much Pasta
I once read a note written by Marcella Hazan that when making a pasta dish, it is the pasta that is the primary ingredient, not the sauce or added ingredients. Therefore, the add-ins should be limited in proportion to not take away from the pasta. I love pasta as much as anyone, but I prefer my pasta meals filled with lots of add-ins. This way for every bite I get the fresh flavors of the added ingredients and pasta. Additionally, it is healthier to eat pasta with lots of vegetables because they help slow down the metabolism of the pasta from the extra fiber. This is a long-winded explanation for how much pasta to serve with 2 pounds ( 1 kg) of tomatoes. My preference is a half-pound of pasta, (250g), but use the amount you prefer.
Mix it Up
Add creamy goat cheese to the spaghetti and roasted cherry tomatoes. Scatter spoonfuls of goat cheese on each plate or on the serving platter after the spaghetti and roasted tomato sauce are mixed together.
Add fresh ricotta cheese to the spaghetti and roasted cherry tomatoes. Serve the pasta meal with a tablespoonful of fresh ricotta cheese on the side.
Add shrimp to the sauce. Five minutes before the tomatoes finish roasting, scatter peeled and seasoned shrimp on the roasting pan with the tomatoes. Roast until the shrimp are opaque and cooked through. Toss the shrimp and tomatoes with spaghetti or another choice of pasta.
Spaghetti with Fresh Herbs and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Roasted cherry or grape tomatoes develop a lovely concentrated sweetness and a melty and silky texture perfect for pasta sauce. In this recipe the tomatoes roast along with fresh herbs, garlic, and shallots for an extra flavor boost.
I listed two amounts of pasta in the recipe. Use either a half-pound or a full pound of pasta with 2 lbs. of cherry tomatoes. If you are in the camp that pasta is the main and featured ingredient, then cook the full pound. Yet, if you are like me and enjoy more add-ins with a pasta meal, then a half-pound is preferable. This way you get more tomatoes with each bite. A half-pound of pasta with the roasted cherry tomato sauce is enough for 4 servings.
- 2 lbs (1 kg) cherry or grape tomatoes washed and dried
- 8 cloves of garlic peel intact
- 4-6 small shallots peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
- 3 TB (45 ml) extra virgin olive oil plus more for finishing
- ½ tsp Kosher Salt
- A few rounds of freshly ground black pepper
- 2 sprigs of fresh herbs like basil or thyme
- ½ - 1 lb. (250 - 500 g) pasta like spaghetti linguine, or see note
- Romano Cheese for serving
Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C) and place the oven rack in the middle position.
Keep the skins on each garlic clove, but trim off the root end. This will make peeling the roasted garlic easier when the cloves are hot. If any of the garlic cloves are large, slice them in half lengthwise with the skins still on.
Depending on how large your shallots are, slice them in half lengthwise or in fourths lengthwise if they are too big.
Add the tomatoes, garlic cloves and shallots to a rimmed baking sheet or shallow flameproof baking pan, large enough to hold the vegetables in one layer. You do not want the pan to be too big or the juices from the tomatoes will dry up in the oven.
Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes, garlic, and shallots, then sprinkle them with Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Toss in half of the fresh herbs, then use your clean hands and mix until all the vegetables are nicely coated with olive oil.
Slide the pan into the oven and roast for 20 minutes. After twenty minutes check the tomatoes if they are soft and starting to split. Also, the garlic will look soft and starting to brown, along with the shallots. You can stop roasting now or roast an additional 5 -10 minutes more to really soften the tomatoes and garlic. Once done to your liking remove from the oven.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Cook the pasta al dente, just done with a little bite in the middle. Remove the pasta from the water and add to a bowl. Reserve some pasta water to deglaze the pan and add to the sauce. Ideally, you want to time it, so the pasta is done at the same time as the tomatoes.
Right after you take the tomatoes out of the oven, carefully (the garlic is very hot) remove the papery skin from the roasted garlic. You can add the garlic cloves back in with the tomatoes whole or chop them up.
Add the tomatoes, garlic, and shallots to the spaghetti scraping as much of the pan juices to the bowl. If your pan juices dried up, set the roasting pan over two burners then add some pasta water and deglaze the pan. Reduce the juices then add to the pasta and tomatoes.
Toss the spaghetti to get the tomatoes evenly mixed in. Add a little more pasta water if it seems dry. Sprinkle the remaining fresh basil over the pasta and drizzle with more olive oil. (This is a good place for adding your best quality olive oil.) Serve immediately with grated Romano cheese and fresh black pepper.
I believe just about any shape pasta will taste nice with the roasted cherry tomato sauce. Spaghetti and linguine are traditional choices, but tubular or unusual pasta shapes like campanelle are nice. I recommend shying away from flat pasta shapes like bow ties, farfalle, or ones that are small.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
What happens when a novel experience turns into a regular routine? You get to eat creamy homemade yogurt as part of your regular diet. For me, making the homemade yogurt phenomenon started as a curious experiment that quickly turned into something bigger than I could imagine. Not only did I learn about fermentation and a new cooking technique, I realized that the act of making yogurt at home, has additional valuable contributions besides enjoying a delicious and nutritious snack.
It all started when I was reading about Middle Eastern cuisine and in particular, Lebanese cuisine. While reviewing Maureen Abood’s cookbook, Rose Water and Orange Blossoms, it became evident that yogurt was a central ingredient in Lebanese food. In many of her recipes homemade yogurt or labneh, cheese made from yogurt, was the central ingredient. As a result, I believed if I really wanted to understand this cuisine, then I must learn how to make its most central ingredient, yogurt.
Unfortunately, the very first batch of yogurt I made did not set properly. I reached out to Maureen Abood and she explained, sometimes the yogurt just does not set up. It happens. Discouraged, but not daunted I tried again with a different yogurt starter and had great success. What a triumph. It was like the first time I made a loaf of bread, something I thought was impossible was now possible.
My initial taste of the inaugural homemade yogurt was a revelation. This is one of those foods where you can taste the difference between homemade and store-bought. Homemade yogurt has the distinctive acidic tang, but it is a lot creamier in texture. I used to not like plain yogurt without any sweetener, but homemade yogurt has a je ne sais quoi taste about it. It is fresh, creamy, mild and tangy all at the same time. Can you taste fresh? Yes. It is the difference between eating an egg just plucked from the chicken coop to eating one bought from the store and is 4 weeks old. There is a presence that is hard to describe but you know it is there.
However, to change the habit and forgo the convenience of buying yogurt, it takes more than a curiosity to turn a novel experience into a weekly routine. After making yogurt a few times, I came to realize three benefits that will add up to significant changes for the better. First, I could support the local Hudson River Valley dairy industry, which consists mostly of family-run dairy farms that practice sustainable farming. Second, I could save money by not buying individual yogurt containers. Third, I will reduce my carbon footprint by buying locally sourced food and not buy all those plastic containers. This triple reinforcement, plus the desire to reduce the amount of sugar in our diet, sealed the deal and I started my weekly homemade yogurt routine.
Hudson River Valley Milk
Fortunately, my local grocery store carries several brands of milk that come from dairy farms in the Hudson River Valley. Most of the dairies source their milk from a cooperative of dairy farms that meet their standards of quality, sustainability, and humane treatment of animals. These brands are not USDA organic milk, but I know they are operating under the best practice policies to produce quality milk, maybe even better than the USDA standards. Another bonus is this milk is not ultra-pasteurized, which is crucial for making yogurt or any type of cheese. Even though it is not labeled USDA Organic, it is as organic as it can be.
Most of the USDA organic milk you find in the major grocery stores, is ultra-pasteurized. This is done so the milk has a longer shelf life. It is the one thing the industrial organic dairy farms must do in order for grocery stores to stock their product. This is because organic milk is more expensive and thus takes longer to sell. Unfortunately, ultra-pasteurization kills off good bacteria as well as the bad bacteria in the milk. It is the live cultures, the good bacteria, that help create yogurt and cheese, plus pasteurized milk has more nutritional value thank ultra-pasteurized.
Hudson River Valley Dairies
Listed below are dairies whose products are available in my area.
This post is not a sponsored post. I am just passing along my experience and research about local farming and how a person can make a difference to slow down climate change. I am sure there are other dairies out there that produce top quality milk and practice sustainable farming, even in my area. The dairies listed are just the ones available to me at this time.
Lower Your Carbon Footprint
I am lucky to live in an area that has a long history of family-run farms and agriculture, but it is only recently that they became available. Before I could buy local milk, I found a brand of organic milk that was not ultra-pasteurized in my local health-food store, Natural by Nature. This company is a family run business in Pennsylvania, so it is not too far away so I still consider it local. Fortunately, I did not have to look all over the county looking for it either. You might have to widen your circle, but hopefully, you can find an affordable source of organic pasteurized milk near you without too much trouble.
Over the years I have come to understand that any agricultural industry involving cattle has enormous environmental concerns from the methane gas released into the atmosphere, to the pollution from the runoff into our groundwater, and the health and safety of the cows. In my opinion, supporting local farmers who maintain environmentally friendly farming practices, and creates a healthy and humane environment for the cows, has a multiplier effect. There is less pollution compared to its industrial counterpart, creates food that is not stripped of nutrition because the cows eat an appropriate diet without growth hormones and antibiotics, and it helps local economies.
Helpful Tips for Making Homemade Yogurt
At its most basic, yogurt is milk with added live cultures, Streptococcus thermophilus, and Lactobacillus delbrueckii bulgaricus, that ferment in a warm environment until thick. It is the live cultures and warm incubating temperature that are essential to transforming milk into yogurt.
Yogurt is relatively simple to make but it does take some time for it to ferment and thicken. I found starting the process at night after dinner was the easiest way to work making yogurt into a weekly routine. This way the yogurt could incubate in the oven overnight and as soon as I woke up I placed the yogurt in the refrigerator for the second resting period. Later that afternoon or early evening, I strained out the whey for 3 hours.
The standard formula is: for every half-gallon (2 l) of milk, you need 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of yogurt starter. It is a one to one ratio: 1-quart milk to 1 TB yogurt starter. Using this ratio, the recipe easily scales up if you want to make more. Don’t be tempted to add more starter. One, you don’t need it and two, it will make the yogurt grainy.
The temperatures listed in the recipe are important for successful fermenting. Therefore, you need to pay attention and make sure the milk does not come to a boil and later, drop below 115°F when it’s time to add the starter. Also, a warm environment is essential for the cultures to do their thing. I have read, the incubation temperature is ideally at 100°F (38°C). If you have to keep it on the counter, wrap it up in a blanket and place under your kitchen cabinets or near a heating vent. If your cabinets have undermounted lights, turn them on. Room temperature is not ideal, but it might take longer for the yogurt to ferment.
I find the most reliable place to incubate the yogurt is in my oven with the oven light on. It is out-of-the-way in the oven and the yogurt stays warm from the heat of the light bulb. Because I have a tendency when something is out of sight, it is also out of mind, I place a sign on the oven door with big lettering Y O G U R T and a note of the time. Without that sign, I would completely forget about the yogurt and turn on the oven.
Not all commercial-brand yogurt are equal. Read the label and only use real yogurt with live active yogurt cultures. Stay away from brands with thickeners and stabilizers. I use Fage or Dannon, whole milk or low-fat plain yogurt with consistent results. Any good quality and real yogurt should work.
Yogurt for the Family
Would I make this if my kids were young and still living at home? Would they eat it? Maybe. Though, I would definitely need to sweeten the yogurt to get them to eat it. I found a small amount, about 1 teaspoon, of real maple syrup or honey, to a half a cup of yogurt gives a subtle sweetness and reduces the tang. Cinnamon also adds a sweet impression without the extra sugar. You can also sweeten yogurt with fresh fruit, real fruit purées or jams, and fruit compote. Even though you are adding some sugar, it is significantly less sugar than the store-bought variety. It is certainly worth a try.
An easy blueberry compote is roast 2 cups (500 ml) of fresh blueberries tossed with 2 TB of sugar in a 350°F (175°C) oven for 18 minutes. Tip the blueberries and their juices in a bowl and add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice and a 1/2 cup of fresh blueberries. Stir and allow to cool. This recipe comes from Yogurt Culture (linked below). It is super easy and incredibly delicious. When mixed with yogurt, it makes the best blueberry yogurt I have ever had. I am positive my children would have gobbled it right up.
Recipe Inspiration for your Homemade Yogurt
Like buttermilk, yogurt mixed with other herbs and spices is a great marinade for chicken and lamb.
My Inspiration and References
Here is a list of the three references I used over the past two years to learn about making yogurt and its history. If you want to really learn all about fermentation, the book The Art of Fermentation has everything you need to know about making all types of fermented food.
It may look daunting to make your own yogurt, but it is relatively simple. In the beginning, you need to keep an eye on the temperature, but mostly you just have to wait and give the cultures time to ferment. Other than the yogurt culture, the most important ingredients are time and temperature. You need 8-10 hours to incubate the yogurt in a warm draft-free environment, and an additional 8 hours in the refrigerator to finish. Once these steps are complete, you can eat it right away or strain out some of the whey for Greek-style yogurt.
Because there are only two ingredients in yogurt, use the best quality milk and yogurt you can buy. For best results, the yogurt used as your culture must contain real live cultures and no fillers, gums, or artificial ingredients. I use Fage and Dannon yogurt whenever I start with a new yogurt culture.
Seek out organic milk that is not ultra-pasteurized as this process kills off important and healthy bacteria needed for making yogurt.
You can use your homemade yogurt as a culture for up to 3-4 generations. After that, start over with a new batch of yogurt bought at the grocery.
This recipe scales up to 1 gallon of milk with ¼ cup (65 ml) fresh yogurt culture.
Yield: Makes about 7 cups (1 L 750 ml) yogurt before straining out the whey.
Serving size is a half a cup (125 ml)
- Heavy bottom stock pot or Dutch oven with lid
- Instant read thermometer
- Small bowl for tempering the starter
- Stainless steel mixing spoon or rubber spatula
- Large bowl partially filled with ice optional
- A warm and dry place like an oven for incubating the yogurt
- Triple layer cheesecloth or thin flour sack towel
- Storage container
- ½ gallon of milk whole or 2%, preferably organic and not ultra-pasteurized
- 2 TB yogurt with live active cultures like Dannon or Fage
Prepping your utensils
Make sure all your utensils, pots and bowls are clean. Clean them with hot water and soap and drip dry on a clean kitchen towel. I do not sterilize my utensils or pots when I make yogurt, but some people do. If you wish to sterilize your utensils and pot, run them through a complete cycle in your dishwasher. You can sterilize your instant-read thermometer by placing the probe in a mug of boiling water and drip dry on a clean kitchen towel.
Heat the milk
Rub an ice cube over the bottom and partially up the sides of your stock pot. This helps the milk from sticking to the bottom of the pot. If you do not have ice cubes, run the bottom of the pot under cold water and empty any water that collects in the pot.
Pour your milk in the stock pot and set the burner between medium / medium-high.
Take your starter, 2 tablespoons of yogurt out of the refrigerator and add it to a small bowl like a cereal bowl. Set it aside so it will come to room temperature while you heat and later cool the milk.
Slowly, heat the milk until it reaches 185°F / 85.5°C without stirring. Any temperature at or slightly above 180°F (82°C) but below 195°F (90.5°C). You do not want the milk to boil or be too hot and kill off the important yogurt-making bacteria.
When you reach 185°F / 85.5°C, lower the heat and maintain that temperature for 5 minutes.
It is hard to maintain a constant temperature, at least on my stove, just keep it in the 180°F - 186°F /82°C- 85.5°C range. If you go below 180°F (82°C) stop stirring and turn up the heat until you get back at that temperature.
Cool the milk
Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the stove. Let the milk rest until it cools down to 115°F (46°C). I allow my milk to cool on the counter and stir it every now and then to help release the steam. I set the timer to keep track of the time and check the temperature frequently. This process can take around 35 minutes, give or take.
A faster method of cooling the milk is to fill a large bowl partway with ice and cold water. The bowl needs to be large enough to accommodate your stock pot with ice water surrounding the bottom and partway up the sides of your pot. A sink will work as well. Stir the milk in a back and forth manner every now and then until it is cool. Remove the pot from the ice bath when it reaches around 118° – 120°F (48° - 49°C). Place on the counter and keep the instant-read thermometer in the milk so you do not cool the milk below 115°F (46°). If the milk does fall below 115°, place the pot back on the burner and heat it up 115°F (46°C).
Add the Yogurt Starter
Add one ladleful of the 115°F (46° C) milk in the bowl with your starter yogurt. Whisk the yogurt mixture until well incorporated then pour the yogurt culture in the pot with the milk. Stir then cover. Place the inoculated milk inside a draft-free and warm space.
Incubate the yogurt culture
Place your yogurt culture in a warm draft-free place. In my house, my oven is the best spot. Keep the oven warm by keeping the oven light on. I found it does not always work if I let the yogurt incubate on the counter. According to Cheryl Sternman Rule in her book Yogurt culture, the ideal temperature for incubating yogurt around 100°F (38°C).
Allow the cultured milk to incubate for 6 – 10 hours. Sometimes, it takes longer, up to 12 hours, but the consistent incubation time is around 8-10 hours. The yogurt is done when it looks thick and solid with some liquid, the whey, sloshing about when you jiggle the pot. It will look like plain yogurt.
One final step before eating your yogurt is to chill it in the refrigerator for several hours. Tip the yogurt in a bowl and tightly cover with plastic wrap or a tight-fitting lid. Add the yogurt to the refrigerator and chill for 6-8 hours or overnight. This extra step develops more flavor and a creamier consistency.
Voiá, you just made yogurt!
Before you use up your yogurt, measure out 2 tablespoons (30 ml) to ¼ cup (60 ml) of yogurt and place in a bowl with a tight fitting lid. Label and date the yogurt. You will use this yogurt for your next batch of yogurt. Store in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. Taste before using to make sure it is not starting to turn. You can get 3-4 generations of yogurt when using starter from homemade yogurt. After that, start fresh with a new batch of yogurt from the grocery store.
Greek Style Yogurt
Normally, I strain my yogurt for about 2-3 hours to thicken it up and produce Greek Style yogurt.
To strain the yogurt, line the bowl of a fine mesh strainer or colander with a moistened triple layer of cheesecloth or a damp tea towel. The length of the towel or cheesecloth should drape over the sides of the strainer. Place the strainer or colander over a large bowl to catch the whey.
Scrape the yogurt into the lined strainer. Draw up the four corners of your cheesecloth or towel and bring them together. Tighten them close to the yogurt and tie with a string or twisty. Place the bowl with the colander in the refrigerator and drain the yogurt until it reaches the consistency you desire. The longer it strains the thicker it gets. I like the consistency after straining for 3 hours.
When done, place the yogurt in a glass container with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator. The yogurt will keep for a week.
If your yogurt is thicker than you like, add some of the whey back in to loosen it up.
Reserve your whey and store in a covered container in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.
Yogurt dries out inconsistently throughout the incubating and straining process. This creates some lumpy spots in your yogurt. This is normal. If you want smooth yogurt, spoon out the amount you want then whisk it right before using. Whisking the yogurt will make the yogurt looser, but it gets out the lumps.
Don’t throw out the whey. It is great in many recipes and for marinades. Use whey in any recipe calling for traditional yogurt, not Greek yogurt, or milk like in baked goods, pancakes, and bread. Whey is acidic, so it will activate the baking soda. Use in smoothies. Use as a tenderizer for meats and in marinades. Whey will last in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.