Last weekend was very hands-on here in Bra. Maybe it was in anticipation of a week of being driven around Veneto and force-fed mass quantities of prosecco and radicchio (more on that later), or maybe it was the need to do something productive after sitting through a six hour lecture on…um…something, I’m sure, but whatever it was, I just wanted to make stuff. Fortunately, Friday night was one of the first general meetings of the Bra Beer and Booze Bureau (TM). This rather official sounding association is, in fact, a collection of beer enthusiasts who have vowed to gather together on occasional evenings in order to brew, sample, and enjoy our own homemade beer.
While our fearless leader had already created a spiced ale which we sampled in Beer class (again, more on that later), this was the first group project on which we were to embark together, as a Bureau. As it turns out, ginger beer requires not much more than about 50 g of grated ginger, some boiled raisins and lemon, a healthy amount of water, some sugar, some brewer’s yeast to start the fermentation, careful attention paid to instructions about sterilization, and a guitar. We followed River Cottage’s recipe, although I admit we did pump up the ginger ratio by about 150%. The beer is still fermenting, so no word yet on the final flavor, but a full review will follow.
The brewing session was preceded on Friday night by cheese class, taught by Professor DeWitt. Homemade “ricotta” (and yes, here I use the dastardly quotation marks for good reason, as it is not a true ricotta, but rather an approximation of ricotta that I make with cream and lemon juice instead of whey) has been part of my repertoire for some time now, but after I accidentally created cream cheese a few weeks ago, literally everyone was clamoring for the recipe.
One lucky friend won out, and together we heated a litre of milk, a quarter liter of cream, and a heavy pinch of salt to just before boiling, before shutting off the heat, adding a few tablespoons of lemon juice and letting the whole thing curdle. After about 5 minutes, the curdling had done its thing, and we strained it through the closest thing to cheesecloth that I could find in an Italian supermarket – paper towels. The curds were super fine, so I ended up letting it strain overnight, yielding a Nutella jar’s worth of cheese.
Saturday night, that cheese would find its way into the filling for a homemade agnolotti, which is basically just a half-moon shaped filled fresh pasta. The pasta dough was a 2:3:3:4 (semola:farro:whole eggs:yolks) ratio (sorry, currently reading Ruhlman’s “Ratio” and trying out reductionist recipe writing), kneaded together for about ten minutes, and then left to rest. We filled this with a combination of the ricotta/mascarpone thing made on Friday, grated pears, a bit of grated parm, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and lemon juice. I generally like the taste of most things I cook (as should anyone, really. why cook it if you don’t like it?), but I must say, this was awesome.
That particular dough ratio makes a very tender, but not overly eggy dough, so it still retains a bit of snap, and it paired perfectly with the soft, savory, sweetness (not sure how that statement would hold up in Molecular Basis of Taste, but whatever) of the filling. The sauce of butter, parm, and fresh ground black pepper didn’t hurt either.
The final session, on Sunday evening, took things up a level. While I’m perfectly content to trifle around with brewing up some beer, curdling up some cheese, and pushing out some pasta, I was ready for something a little…hmmm…harder. It was time to move into liquors, and fortunately I had recently come into possession of rather large case of blood oranges. So, I rounded up the troops, some lemons, a bottle of pure alcohol, and a recipe from a friend and set to work making limoncello, blood orange-cello, and a couple of infused gins. Like with the ginger beer, none of this is actually ready as it turns out it takes a really long time to make things that are not cheese and pasta, but it all certainly looks pretty sitting in my garage in their little glass jars. Stay tuned for tasting notes, and, if all goes according to plan, a recipe.