It’s a shame how easily it can slip your mind that there are very few dishes that aren’t improved by adding buttermilk. From cookies to cakes, to brownies and biscuits, to pancakes, salad dressings and dips, to batters for coating chicken, fish or tempura vegetables, adding buttermilk provides a tang and toothsomeness that moistens and livens every dish it’s put into.
Diane St. Clair owns a dairy farm in Vermont where she painstakingly creates her own artisanal buttermilk, which she has marketed to some of the best regional restaurants. She has written a book that includes photos of the bucolic Vermont countryside where she lives, the Jersey cows that provide the raw materials for her buttermilk, and a collection of recipes enriched by the addition of buttermilk.
From “The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook: Recipes and Reflections from a Small Vermont Dairy,” by Diane St. Clair (Andrews McMeel Publishing LLC, 2013):
Makes 8 servings.
1 pound lean ground beef, such as ground sirloin
1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes in juice
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup medium-bodied red wine, such as Merlot
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
1 garlic clove, minced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon whole dried oregano leaves (not ground oregano)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups buttermilk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 pound lasagna noodles, cooked and drained
2 cups shredded mozzarella
To make the sauce, brown the ground beef in a large saucepan over medium heat, 8 to 10 minutes. Spoon off and discard any excess fat.
Add all of the tomatoes, crushing the whole tomatoes with the back of a spoon against the side of the pan, and the wine. Add the onion halves, garlic, butter and oregano. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To make the bechamel, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring, just to combine. Pour in the buttermilk gradually, whisking as you go to avoid lumps, and cook until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep the sauce warm.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. To assemble, put a cupful of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Add a layer of noodles, a few spoonfuls of the bechamel, and sprinkle with one-third of the Parmesan. Add a layer of noodles, and continue to layer tomato sauce, bechamel, Parmesan and noodles until completed. Cover the top layer of noodles with the shredded mozzarella and bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbling and browned. Let the lasagne sit for 15 minutes before serving.
Animal Farm Buttermilk Panna Cotta
Makes 6 servings.
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
7 tablespoons sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
Sprinkle the gelatin over 1 tablespoon of cold water in a small bowl, and let soak for about 5 minutes.
Mix the cream and sugar in a small saucepan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the pan with the cream, then add the pod. Heat the cream over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the gelatin mixture to the hot cream and remove the pan from the heat, stirring to dissolve the gelatin thoroughly.
Stir in the buttermilk, then pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl with a pouring lip, discarding any solids (this strains out any bits of gelatin and ensures you will have a smooth, creamy result.) Divide the strained mixture among six 8-ounce ramekins. Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours. (If you would like to unmold the panna cotta before serving, dip the ramekin bases into a dish of hot water and invert the custards onto plates.)