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Today: Your new trick for vegetarian taco nights, summer brunches, and fridge-clearing, last-minute dinners.
Say it's taco night, and you don't want the vegetarians to feel forgotten, as they sometimes are (or you just don't feel like troubling yourself with carnitas or chicken tinga or barbacoa).
Or maybe you're planning brunch and you want to serve soft scrambled eggs, but you don't want to worry about them slipping past the custardy state and going tough and dry.
Or, the problem that happens most often to me: You have a tub of ricotta in the fridge, but don't feel like eating crostini for dinner, again.
The answer, in all of these situations and more: scramble your ricotta. What has already been cooked twice (the word ricotta -- as well as its Spanish translation requesón -- means "recooked") is cooked a third time, straight in a pan, as it if were eggs.
More: Get our favorite iron frying pan (a cousin of the one pictured here) in our online shop, Provisions.
By teaching an ingredient new tricks (or, rather, learning from Diana Kennedy the tricks you didn't know it was hiding), you get much more than a novelty, much more than a delicious new way to eat cheese; you get solutions.
Scrambled ricotta has a heft that rivals meatier taco fillings, and carries spice and sauce just as well. Soft cheese is also much more forgiving when scrambled than eggs: It can be cooked down more carelessly, and its consistency can be easily tweaked at the last minute by adding cream or milk (it will hold well too, so whether you're entertaining or emptying the tub yourself, you're set).
As in huevos a la mexicana, you're essentially making a quick, cooked salsa out of fresh tomatoes, onion, and chile -- but instead of beating in eggs, you fold in ricotta cheese.
You'll cook it down until it's the consistency you like, which will take anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes (I like it a little loose and custardy).
The effect is a lot like scrambled eggs, a little like manicotti, but more lively than either. Livelier than that crostini, too.
Adapted slightly from The Art of Mexican Cooking (Bantam Books, 1989)
Makes 2 1/2 cups to serve 4
2 1/2 cups firmly packed ricotta cheese
4 tablespoons safflower oil (or other neutral oil)
Heaped 1/3 cup finely chopped white onion
4 or 5 (or to taste) chiles serranos, finely chopped (remove some or all of the seeds and white ribs if you want to make it less spicy)
1 1/4 cups finely chopped, unpeeled tomatoes
Heaped 1/2 teaspoon (or to taste) sea salt
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at email@example.com.
Photos by James Ransom