Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ricotta Hunt: a new kitchen adventure

This is me (an Italian-American in Bosnia) standing near a sign for Italian food in Bosnia that we found in Trebinje. I laughed at the Bosnized spellings and saw this as a symbol of my efforts this week to make lasagna for a dozen people. Yes, buoyed by success serving spaghetti at a party earlier this month, I sent out invites for another dinner party. Lasagna was a challenge, however.

First was the noodle situation. My mother and sisters make their own pasta, of course, but I am not that advanced or motivated so I went to the supermarket. I know they sell Barillo brand noodles in Sarajevo but all I could find at the store I hit was a thin box with an Italian name that contained maybe 14 thin rectangles about the size of a crayon box. I threw them into a pot of water.

This was a mistake because each rectangle swelled to the size of a tablecloth and there wasn't enough room for all those tablecloths in the pot so they stuck to each other. I cut off all the edges and pieced them together for the lasagna.

This was a minor problem compared to the cheese situation. There are lovely soft, fresh mozzarellas in Sarajevo but I went to three stores without securing a single container of ricotta or pot cheese. Miranda's mother said she knew where to get some and came back with a 10 KM ($8) box that did indeed say RICOTTA. However, inside was a cheese in a box that looked suspiciously like a brie. Same hard outside, same gooey white inside. Clearly this was intended for baking in an oven and then dunking with bread. I gamely cut it up into chunks but decided at the last minute brie would not work in lasagna.

At the chi-chi supermarket ex-pats here frequent I found cottage cheese and marscapone. I mixed them together and seasoned into a reasonable ricotta substitute. But I used the same amount of that mix as I would have used ricotta and marscapone is far softer and mushy.

So I ended up with something that was much more lasagna soup than lasagna. Lasanje maybe. Anyway, it tasted good enough that I had no leftovers afterward.

Phyllis, visiting here from Washington, had almost as much trouble making her signature brandy alexander mousse. The hand mixer that came as part of the furnishings with the new apartment looks like a kind of combination vibrator and rotor-router. It's green and yellow and altogether a weird instrument.  (see photo above) It was no match for the egg whites Phyllis stuck it into and an hour later, the mixer was overheated and sending out electric fire smells but the whites still were not forming stiff peaks. We called Miranda and made her come up the hill with her hand mixer.

The mousse turned out fabulously. 

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