Cottage cheese is a staple in my home. I love its creamy, mild flavor. It pairs perfectly with some garlic and herbs to make a protein-packed crudite dip, yet it also is at home in a quick dessert of cottage cheese and unsweetened applesauce (a d’Arabian weeknight favorite). Half a cup offers tons of protein (14 grams) plus calcium and vitamins, and all for just about 80 calories and only 3 grams of carbs. Plus, it’s inexpensive!
Cottage cheese is more than just a snack; it’s also a handy and nutritious ingredient. I love using it as a swap for ricotta in just about any recipe. Simply spoon the cottage cheese straight from the carton and use or, for extra points, drain or blot the excess moisture from the cottage cheese and pulse in the food processor and you’ll have almost exactly the texture of ricotta cheese.
You can even use cottage cheese as a base for a lusciously creamy salad dressing! Just blend up the cottage cheese with a few tablespoons of very hot water, which will soften the curds just enough to make the results creamy. Add smashed garlic, lemon juice, fresh herbs and black pepper, and you have a tasty dressing or dip.
One of my favorite ricotta indulgences is Italian ricotta cake, which is something between a classic cake and a cheesecake. Sweet and fatty, a little sliver goes a long way.
Here is my cottage cheese makeover of this yummy (calorie-dense) treat. I use cottage cheese, of course, but I also cut the butter way down and kept the sugar on the lower end (1 1/2 teaspoons per serving). Loads of lemon zest keep it exciting, and the almond flour ensures that the fats are healthy (and offer a smidge of protein and nutrients). All of which makes my lemon cottage cheese cake not exactly as authentic as a trip to Rome, but certainly a perfect way to end a springtime meal.
LEMON COTTAGE CHEESE CAKE
Start to finish: 1 hour
3 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1/4 cup grated lemon zest (2 to 3 lemons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup almond flour or meal
1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup low-fat milk
Powdered sugar, to serve (optional)
Raspberries and chopped fresh mint, to serve (optional)
Heat the oven to 350 F. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray, then line with kitchen parchment.
In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to whip the egg whites to stiff peaks, then set aside.
In a large bowl, use the mixer to beat together the butter and sugar for 1 minute. Add the egg yolks and mix again until creamy and pale, about 2 minutes. Add the cottage cheese, lemon zest and vanilla, then mix on medium until very well blended and the cottage cheese is broken down a little.
In a medium bowl, sift together the almond flour, pastry flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Mix half of the dry ingredients into the butter and egg mixture and mix on low with the mixer. Add the milk and the remaining dry ingredients, then mix on low to blend. Using a rubber spatula, fold in half of the whipped egg whites rather briskly until well mixed into the batter. Fold in the second half of the egg whites very gently, until blended in, but not deflated.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake on the oven’s middle shelf until the cake is golden and springs back under light pressure, about 35 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes before removing from the pan, then let cool completely. Once cooled, dust the top with powdered sugar and serve with raspberries and mint, if desired.
Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook, “Supermarket Healthy.” http://www.melissadarabian.net