This post is written by contributing writer Lori Hernandez from Three Acre Farm.
Seems like every August, we find ourselves with a glut of cherry tomatoes from the garden and we’re always looking for ways to use them up! We grow all sorts of lovely heirloom cherry tomatoes and they are a delight to the senses – beautiful AND incredibly flavorful. Katie has a great post on the different variety of tomatoes and their flavors in Tomatoes 101.
This recipe (if you can call it that! It’s really just something I made up) magically came together one day as I needed to make a quick dinner and I noticed I had Farmer’s cheese, tomatoes and basil handy. It was inspired by Caprese Salad, but has some variations.
It’s a perfect way to use up a quart of cherry tomatoes in a flash and it tastes like summer. My husband and I look forward to this dish all year long. It makes a perfect appetizer, snack or even a light meal on those hot summer days that drain your appetite.
The ingredients are simple and flexible: Milk, a curdling agent (vinegar or lemon juice), salt, tomatoes, basil and butter (or fat of your choice).
The actual cheesemaking only takes a few minutes of hands-on time, but the cheese needs a few hours to hang, so give yourself plenty of time… or make the cheese the day before.
This recipe really encompasses what Kitchen Stewardship is all about. It’s frugal, delicious, quick, and nutritious!
How to Make Farmer’s Cheese
Wait, what?!? You want me to MAKE CHEESE?
Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as scary as it sounds!
If you don’t have the time or inclination to make cheese, you can certainly buy it at the store. Farmer’s Cheese goes by a ton of different names, depending on it’s country of origin. You might know it as “Paneer”, or “Queso Fresco”, or “Queso Blanco”, or “Fromage Blanc”.
Basically, it is a simple cheese that does not melt. It can be cut up into cubes, similar to tofu. It comes in many different textures, depending on how much moisture in contains. You’ll want a hard cheese, not the soft crumby version.
I prefer to make my own, since I intend to cut it up into cubes and fry it.
Don’t be scared. This cheese is simple enough for a beginner to make.
- Pour your milk into a large pot. Add a pinch of salt. One gallon of milk will yield about a pound of cheese, but you can use more or less.
- Slowly heat the milk to 180 degrees, stirring occasionally.
- When the milk reaches 180 degrees, very slowly stir in your curdling agent. Start with about a tablespoon. If the milk does not separate into curds and whey in about 30 seconds, add a bit more. The amount of curdling agent you need will depend on what type of milk you are using (again, DO NOT use Ultra-Pasturized milk).
- When the curds and whey separate, you will notice clumps of white curds floating in yellowish whey.
- Line a colander with a tea towel, or cheesecloth, or muslin. Place the colander over a bowl if you want to save the whey for future use.
- Pour the curds and whey into the lined colander and allow the cheese to drain for a few minutes. At this point, you have a loose crumbly cheese that can be sprinkled on top of your food. However, I want a chunk of firm cheese that I can cut, so I hang it to force more moisture out of it.
- Tie up the bundle of cheese and hang it somewhere in your kitchen with a bowl underneath to catch the whey.
- Allow to hang for a few hours.
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Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes with Basil and Farmer’s Cheese Recipe
Once you have made your cheese, you are ready to start!
- 1 lb Farmers Cheese
- 1 quart Cherry Tomatoes
- Fresh Basil
- 1-2 TBS butter (or fat of your choice)
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Cut the Farmer's cheese into cubes.
- Melt butter in a non-stick pan (I love to use my cast iron pan) and add the cheese cubes.
- Cook at a medium heat, stirring the cubes every minute, so they brown evenly on all sides.
- Meanwhile, chop the basil and add to the pan. Crispy, fried basil? Yum!!!
- Between stirring the cheese and basil, cut up the cherry tomatoes and arrange them on a plate.
- When cheese is browned evenly and looks crispy, transfer to the prepared plate of cherry tomatoes.
- Sprinkle with salt and a dash of pepper. You could even add a touch of Balsamic Vinegar, if you are so inclined.
- Enjoy! While we prefer this dish served warm, it is also great at room temperature.
Using Up Those Cherry Tomatoes
While this recipe is a fantastic way for us to use up a large amount of cherry tomatoes at one time, I’m always looking for other ideas or recipes!