If we were still living in Sturgeon Bay, I'd go to the local Pick n' Save and buy a 16 oz container of Belgioso ricotta, a box of those noodles that don't require pre-boiling, a jar of sauce and a block of mozzarella and whip up a quick pan of lasagne.
Not in Tajikistan.
It's more like a two-day affair of hunting and gathering to have all the ingredients that's needed....or riffing to the point where a totally new dish is created. Mozzarella is sporadic, to say the least. When I see it in the store I do a sort of jig. I haven't jigged lately, which means I'll have to substitute with some other cheese I can find. That's the easy part.
And as for the ricotta, well, let's just say that if Beligoso ricotta were in the stores, there'd be public announcement that would have all the expats dropping what they were doing and dashing to the one of the handful of grocery stores. While there are locally produced substitutes like tvorog (a local unpasteurized sort of cottage cheese), I'm a bit weary of the freshness, particularly in summer when day time temps approach 100 degrees and refrigerated transport trucks are a rarity. I'm just sayin'.
Instead, I peruse the internet and scour my cookbooks for a suitable replacement. I settle on Mark Bittman's homemade ricotta recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I'm uneasy about the recipe because it references making Fresh Cheese from top quality milk.
And this is what I have for top quality milk in Dushanbe.
The recipe calls for buttermilk. And this is what I have for buttermilk which I brought back from the US (thank you Saco!).
If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If you use UHT milk and dehydrated buttermilk, do you get fresh ricotta?
After a goodly five minutes figuring out the metric conversions, I'm ready to go. Okay, it took me upwards of ten minutes.
I poured 1.89 litres (give or take a few mls) of UHT full fat milk into a large pot.
Then I reconstituted the buttermilk. At this point you could make your own buttermilk by adding vinegar to regular milk and letting it sit for a bit. This was good intel for me, as it would come in handy later....
Next, line your strainer with cheesecloth, or muslin in this case.
Bring the milk to a boil and then add the 2 cups of buttermilk. Stir constantly until it separates and looks like egg whites, says Bittman. I stirred and stirred. And when the mixture came back to a boil and didn't separate, I pondered the fact that UHT milk and reconstituted buttermilk aren't fresh. So I grabbed the white vinegar and added 1 tablespoon. It curdled instantly. I added a big pinch of salt.
I then poured the mixture through the muslin-lined strainer and let it sit for 30 minutes or so and, if you can believe it, I actually had ricotta! Or at least a suitable facsimile of ricotta. Good enough for this girl.
As I put the ricotta in the fridge I can only hope that I have the inspiration to actually make lasagne or maybe spinach and ricotta filled calzone over the weekend.