The first time I met Harald Hermans I couldn't take my eyes off of his strong, calloused hands. The confidence in their movements (not to mention their sheer size) was proof enough of the hours he had put into growing and harvesting the organic vegetables on his farm. He had arrived unannounced that afternoon on the back of my friend Fleur's scooter offering a cooler full of freshly picked goods he wished to share with me. Gradually revealing a bountiful parade of produce, it was the finale that really caught my eye. There, cradled in his giant, worn palm was a handful of the most perfect little shiitake mushrooms I could have ever imagined.
This recipe is born from this meeting with Hermans and dedicated to the hours of hard work he and his family put in each week in order to bring us his wonderful produce.
Homemade ricotta takes a bit of planning and patience, but is totally worth it. Use a digital thermometer, and keep stirring to avoid scorching the milk.
Katsuobushi is dried, smoked and fermented tuna that is then shaved creating thin smoky strips that appear to dance when placed on top of hot food. They provide a note of depth here, but aren't necessary if you simply prefer to keep things vegetarian.
3 litres water
1 tablespoon fleur de sel
1 kilogram small- to medium-sized fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
1 cup light soy sauce
1 cup xeres vinegar
1 cup honey
6 cloves, whole
6 star anise, whole
2-inch piece of ginger, sliced into rounds
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1½ litres organic whole milk
¾ cup organic whipping cream, 40% (can substitute 35% if necessary)1 tablespoon fleur de sel
1 cup organic buttermilk
1 lemon, juiced and strained (approximately 2-3 tablespoons)
Special equipment: digital thermometer
2½-3 cups marinated shiitake mushrooms, plus ½ cup marinade liquid (spices, garlic and ginger removed)3 new onions, sliced thinly into rounds
6-8 tablespoons salted butter
6 quenelles (or spoonfuls)
Fresh ground black pepper
½ bunch chives, sliced finely
Edible flower petals and wild herbs like wood sorrel or chickweed for garnish
Bring the water and the salt to a boil and then lower to medium heat. Working in batches, blanch the shiitake mushrooms in the water for 5 minutes. Remove and strain using a skimmer and place in a medium-sized bowl to the side.
Combine remaining ingredients in a medium- to large-sized pot. Slowly heat over low, stirring until the honey is dissolved. Add the blanched mushrooms and cook over low heat for 30 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool. Can be stored in the fridge if making in advance.
You will need to strain the ricotta after it is cooked, so start by preparing a strainer lined with a thin, clean kitchen towel over a sturdy receptacle like a small clean bucket or a pot.
Heat the milk and whipping cream in a medium-sized pot over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, and stirring into the corners to avoid scorching. Using a kitchen thermometer, slowly bring the temperature of the milk to 190 F. Remove from the heat and add the salt, stir to dissolve and combine. Add the buttermilk and stir to combine. Stir in the lemon juice. There should be an immediate separation that will be visible as the milk curdles. The fat from the milk will separate into curds as the rest becomes whey. Allow this to sit off of the heat in the still warm pot for 30 minutes before straining.
Strain at room temperature for 30-45 minutes. The longer you strain, the thicker the ricotta. I prefer it to be on the medium-thick side in order to create scoops that hold their shape well once plated.
Transfer the ricotta to a bowl. Use any remaining whey to thin the ricotta if desired and then discard the remainder. Refrigerated, the ricotta will last up to 5 days.
Heat the shiitake, marinade, sliced new onions and butter in a medium-sized casserole dish over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Allow butter to melt and emulsify with the marinade as it simmers and reduces by half. Spoon the mushrooms into 6 medium-sized bowls, dividing the remaining emulsified liquid evenly amongst them.
Spoon a quenelle of ricotta into each dish and garnish with katsuobushi. Freshly grind a little black pepper over the ricotta and dress with chives, flowers and wild herbs. Serve immediately.