Monday, May 7, 2012

Cottage Cheese Cutlets Redux: Thank you, Goldbecks!

Cottage Cheese Cutlets: easy, satisfying, delicious!

Nearly 30 years ago, I got my hands on a vegetarian cookbook that, for a few years, was my go-to vegetarian cookbook. It’s called “Ameican Wholefoods Cuisine” by Nikki & David Goldbeck. While we weren’t vegetarians at the time, we were young, and finances were tight, and the recipes in this book were healthy, tasty and economical. There is an Italian style cheese and garbanzo dish in there that is still, to me, one of the best comfort foods around.

I still have a lot of favorites in there, and if you are ovo-lacto vegetarian, this would be a great starter vegetarian book. It’s still in print, and it probably has some of the best, simple vegetarian recipes and bread-making instructions around without all the usual do-gooder rhetoric included. Like any other set of recipes that you cook often, you tend to make changes in the original until only the barest bones of the original are still there, and all the flesh has been added. So I've fooled with a favorite. Actually quite a few of them, but we'll not go there right now. 

In Italian households, if the cook has been breading and frying meat, once the meat is cooking, and if there are still eggs, seasoned breadcrumbs and cheese left over from the breading process, they are mixed together, and the resulting cheesy bread patties are fried up in the remaining oil. And immediately fought over by whoever is standing around the kitchen at the time. Kinda like what hushpuppies were originally.

Last Sunday, my friend Colette mentioned she liked cottage cheese and how so few other people seem to like the stuff. I love it. I was weaned on cottage cheese and apple butter as a kid when I visited my Grandma up in Berks County, PA. I promised to give Colette this recipe, and I thought a lot of other folks might like to try it too, for a quick, easy Meatless Monday meal.

My version of the cottage cheese cutlets resembles those Italian breadballs in flavor, but are more substantial and have a lot more protein, thanks to the cottage cheese. You can vary the seasoning as you wish. I like them topped with fresh chopped tomatoes and onions, and a few oil-cured olives, but a topping of tomato sauce and cheese would be dandy. Or salsa and chiles.  A green salad or a green vegetable will round out the meal nicely.

Cottage Cheese Cutlets Redux
Makes 6 small cutlets, serves 2
Adapted from “American Whole Foods Cuisine” By Nikki & David Goldbeck

Note: To drain the cottage cheese, just place it in a small strainer over a bowl and let sit until most of the milky part is gone and there are mostly curds in the strainer. I toss it in the strainer in the morning and pop the whole thing in the fridge until dinner time. Pot cheese won’t need to be drained. Check out your cottage cheese brand; there should only be milk, cream enzymes and salt in it. If there are too many ingredients in it, find another brand of cottage cheese to like. Locally here, Friendship and Daisy don’t have any “junk” in them. Just please don't use fat-free cottage cheese; otherwise anything from 1% to full-fat will work fine.

1 cup of well-drained natural cottage cheese (see note, or pot cheese if you can find it)
1 cup of fresh whole grain breadcrumbs
1 large egg
¼ cup grated Parmesan or Locatelli Romano (preferred)
½ tsp garlic powder
Big pinch kosher salt
Few grinds of fresh black pepper
2T minced fresh chives (preferred) or parsley
1/3 cup whole wheat flour for dredging the patties
Safflower or extra virgin olive oil for frying

Beat the egg in a medium bowl, then add the salt, the chives, the garlic powder, the pepper and beat well. Combine the egg mixture with the cottage cheese, the Romano or Parmesan and the breadcrumbs. Let set in the bowl for 10-15 minutes so the mixture can thicken up (go make the vegetables and heat some sauce). Place the whole wheat flour in a flat dish near the range.

Once the cheese is drained, it's less than 30 minutes from mixing to table.

 Heat about 1-2 tablespoons of oil in a 10” frying pan, preferably a “green” non-stick pan, enough to coat the bottom, on medium high heat. When the oil shimmers, take about 1/3 cup of the mixture-it will hold together softly, form it into a round flat cutlet, dredge each side in the flour and pop into the pan. Immediately turn down the heat to medium, and cook until browned on one side, turn gently and cook the other side until browned. Serve hot with your choice of sauce.

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