All About Bok Choy
Bok choy is an ancient brassica (cabbage) that’s available nearly year-round in markets, but it’s especially good in the spring for enjoying its more succulent fresh stalks and “baby” variety. Despite its sweet, earthy flavor and high nutritional value, bok choy is generally under-appreciated beyond the classic stir-fry. Too bad for that; when it’s thinly sliced and mixed raw in a salad or braised until tender, this hardy veg has a culinary presence all its own—including right beside cheese.
Months ago international cheese consultant Ivan Larcher surprised me with this response when I asked what trends he was seeing in the cheese industry: “What I’ve been seeing is that everybody tends to use the same starter cultures. In the United States, Quebec, England, Sweden, or even Northern Africa, they’re using the same starters, and the main consequence is that the final products tend to lose their diversity.” Hearing this, I feared that cheese cultures—the microbes added to milk to develop the flavor and texture of cheese curd—were headed in the direction of heirloom seeds; as uncommon varieties die out, biodiversity is lost. The reality, however, is slightly different and, as always, a bit more complicated.
There are two theories about how the rare breed of Podolico cattle first came to Italy. One theory posits that the Podolicos arrived during the fourth century BCE by the Huns, who traveled from Mongolia to Italy and passed through what is modern-day Ukraine, where the cows were originally bred. The second possibility is that the cows were brought to Italy by the Romans from Crete, an area known for its large breeds of cattle. Regardless of how it traversed centuries ago, the Podolico breed now resides primarily in southern Italy, where there are presently about 21,000 cows.
While spring is not necessarily ice cream season (especially in the still-cold Midwest), ricotta ice cream presents an option that doesn’t feel too summery. Topped with ripe late-spring strawberries—or a rhubarb compote if you can’t wait that long—it’s a fitting finish to a spring meal. Melissa Trimmer of Le Cordon Blue in Chicago prefers to use whole milk ricotta in this recipe, but low fat will work as well.
This unique take on an old classic puts a crisp layer of cheese on the outside of the sandwich, pleasantly contrasting the familiar gooey center. Lakin says about this sandwich: “[It’s] kind of like when you make a grilled cheese, and a little bit of cheese leaks out and gets all crusty, but we do it on the entire outside of the sandwich. Surprisingly easy to make at home!”
“Spring is the time for fresh goat cheese,” says Chef Chrissy Camba of Bar Pastoral in Chicago, Illinois. “Go to the market or cheese shop, and see what they have. I live in the Midwest, so I like Prairie Fruits Farm’s fresh goat cheese. You can also use an ooey-gooey [cheese]. Talk to your cheese farmer or monger. They will let you know what’s great!” Camba likes to plate this salad in a free-spirited way with the scapes crawling across a large plate and the pea tendrils creating different heights like a garden.
Grinding almonds in a food processor to make your own almond flour has the benefit of being cheaper and, unlike store-bought almond flour, contributes a coarser texture, which is ideal for these crisp crackers. The dough is not fussy at all to work with, and the crackers come together in minutes using a food processor.
A few drops of truffle oil added to the pasta dough makes a sublime difference in these mushroom-topped stuffed morsels, shaped like little turnovers.