October 12, 2010

Strawberry Ricotta Rahka

There are a few common things us Finns tend to miss when overseas. There is of course our beloved sauna (did you know that the English word 'sauna' actually comes from the Finnish language?!), which should not be confused with a steam room. We like our saunas to be hot, up to 100C (although I personally prefer them slightly cooler, maybe 80C), we like to be naked in the sauna (often swimming suits aren't even allowed in public saunas), we like to beat ourselves with birch branches that have been bundled up to one big "vihta" or "vasta" (Finnish words for the bundle), and we like to dip into a lake (doesn't matter if it's winter and it's so cold you have to make a hole in the ice to dip into it) or roll in the snow (if there is no lake near by). All naked of course.

We also miss our dear rye bread which just doesn't taste the same anywhere else in the world, we miss our salted liquorice, which just isn't the same than the Dutch one which is available everywhere, and we miss our wide range of dairy products. It's the last one that I personally miss the most (although I miss sauna too, and rye bread...). The selection of dairy products is just mind blowing: there's milk and yoghurt with probiotics, there's a selection of different types of buttermilk, all dairy products have a lactose free alternative, and they claim we have the cleanest milk in Finland.

One dairy product I really loved back in Finland was "rahka" (quark). The Finnish quark is low or no fat, almost like thick Greek yoghurt that is used widely in desserts and baking. It is unlike ricotta as it's slightly sour in taste, and the quark I've tried here in Australia just isn't the same (plus it's hideously expensive!). Finnish expats have probably all created their recipes for quark (and I'd love to hear from you if you're reading this!), and this one is one of my experiments.

In this recipe I've used Finnish "vanilla sauce" which is almost like custard and mixed it in with some ricotta, because it has a similar consistency to Finnish quark. The beauty of this dessert is that you can make it as low fat as you like, and there is hardly any sugar added in. You could use thick Greek yoghurt instead of ricotta, just let it drain overnight first. You could also use different berries, the choice is yours!

Strawberry Ricotta Rahka
(Serves 2)

Vanilla Custard*

1 free-range egg

400ml low-fat milk

1 tbs caster sugar

1,5 tsp vanilla sugar

2,5 tsp potato starch (sold as potato flour in Australia)

1 tsp natural vanilla extract

250g fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and chopped

250g fresh ricotta

zest of 1/2 lemon, finely grated

In a medium saucepan whisk the egg slightly, add the milk, sugar, potato starch and vanilla and mix well. Heat the mixture on medium heat stirring constantly, but be careful not to let it boil. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Mix the ricotta and the lemon zest in a bowl. Add the cooled down custard (only 1/2 of this amount!) and stir well to mix. Fold in the strawberries. Refrigerate the mixture for at least half an hour for the flavours to develop. Serve as a dessert.

*You will only need half of this amount for this dessert, but you can either use 500g ricotta and make a double portion or have rest of the custard with cake (wonderful with apple or rhubarb tarts).