Little pearls of bocconcini
I’m writing this column
in a hotel room in Doha, Qatar at midnight because I am wide awake and so is everyone else.
The room looks out over a sparkling futuristic cityscape of randomly-shaped glowing building blocks wrapped in neon ribbons. It’s absolutely mesmerising, and made all the more compelling because midnight through to dawn is when most people are out and about.
The reason is the debilitating daytime heat. We made the mistake of walking 100m outside at 10am. It was 45°C and we were exhausted before we reached the cool interior of a nearby mall. It was completely empty. Everyone else knew not to shop at this time of day.
Even an evening outing is 30°C. The air is thick, the atmosphere exciting,
with a mixture of local Qatari and tourists mingling in the colourful, loud, spicy atmosphere. My husband Dave, weary and perspiring, had to retire to the air-conditioned atmosphere of a local restaurant for a restorative drink and a sit-down.
One of the interesting places to visit in a city like this is the supermarket. I’m always keen to see what kind of dairy products are available in other countries. Surprisingly, they have great milk for cheesemaking, the pasteurised whole fat milk comparable in cost to the same kind of product in NZ.
The range of cheeses was impressive too, with a focus on goat and sheep cheese, and huge ranges of imported French and Dutch cheeses.
There was a profusion of labna (a cheese made from yoghurt), halloumi, and fresh mozzarella cheeses, especially tiny mozzarella balls which looked like marshmallows in the display cases.
These are called bocconcini, pronounced ‘boh-con-chee-knee’, meaning ‘little bites’ in Italian. They look and taste fabulous sprinkled on a salad or melted in splodges on a cooked dish.
I took a few photos to remind me of the beauty of the displays. Now, this sounds easy but photographing in a public place in Doha is always difficult. Asking permission is even more so when few people speak English, but with gestures and smiles I managed to get a few snaps.
Doha is definitely on my list of places to visit again, but next time I’ll go in their winter when it’s similar to a balmy New Zealand spring.
Mozzarella pearls (bocconcini)
I have based this recipe on my 30-minute mozzarella recipe, but shaping the balls is easier as they are the size of rolled marbles. You can use two litres of shop-bought, full fat, pasteurised milk for this recipe (‘farmhouse’ or yellow top milk). Raw milk is fine too, as the high temperature pasteurises the milk during the curd formation. Use for salads, for pizza and kebabs, or as decoration on any dish you choose. They can also be rolled in herbs or breadcrumbs and fried.
*You can use calf or vegetarian rennet, but check the vegetarian rennet packaging for the dosage as it may be a different strength and require a different amount for 2 litres of milk to what I have here (for calf rennet).
2 litres milk ½ tsp citric acid 0.5ml tsp calf rennet,
or vegetarian rennet* ½ tsp plain salt Cooled, boiled water
1. Stir the citric acid into cold milk in a saucepan and warm to 31°C over 5 minutes. 2. Dissolve the rennet in 1 tbsp of cooled, boiled water, then add to the milk and stir slowly for 30 seconds. Push the stirrer across and back, not in a circle as this agitates the milk too much. 3. Add the rennet solution to the milk and stir gently in the same manner for another 30 seconds. 4. Increase the temperature slowly to 41°C over 2-3 minutes. 5. Remove from the heat, put a lid on the pot and leave to set for 20 minutes. You will see a clear separation of curds and whey. 6. Line a colander with damp, sterilised butter muslin or woven dish cloth. Pour the curds through the lined colander and leave to drain for 5 minutes. 7. Transfer the curd to a large microwave-proof bowl and microwave on high for 1 minute. Use thick rubber gloves (this mix will get very hot during this process), press the curd down, and drain off the whey. 8. Keep repeating Step 7 until the curd is one melted mass. 9. Sprinkle over the salt and knead the mixture, draining off any extra whey as you go. The curd must be really hot while you do this or it will not stretch. If it gets cold, put it back in the microwave until it melts again (20 seconds or so). It’s ready when it becomes the texture of taffy or chewed gum. 10. Use a teaspoon to spoon out small amounts – about the size of a marble – and roll until round. Place each ball into cooled, boiled water as you make them. 11. When you have made all the curd into balls, drain off the water and pack the pearls into sterilised jars with lids or vacuum pack them. They are best eaten fresh but will keep for a week or more if stored in brine or olive oil.
These little pearls of cheese are great in salads, for pizza, and kebabs.
JEAN MANSFIELD is an avid cook, cheesemaker and dairy farmer, who teaches enthusiastic beginner cheesemakers, and is the author of How to Make Cheese. www.makecheese.co.nz