Tag Archives: ricotta


Our local farmers market is moving into high season. The market is just a couple of paths in a high school parking lot lined with a couple of dozen or so stalls. It is modest compared with the vibrant green market in New York City’s Union Square or the wondrous carnival at the Ferry Building in San Francisco; it pales next to the huge market in nearby Torrance. But visiting the various stalls and merchants has become a Sunday ritual for our family.  By this time of season, green peas are gone, and asparagus is just hanging on as the weather gets warmer. Sweet cherries have given their last gasp. Plump ears of corn are on limited display. Tomatoes have made a tentative appearance; it’s still too early for the big, juicy specimens of late summer. Right now, the stars of the market are berries of all sorts and stone fruit of every variety.

This last week, the family met at the market in search of ingredients for our Sunday meal – all, that is, except the recent high school graduate who has taken to sleeping late and enjoying the days of summer before she heads off to college. The plan was for her mother to find some fruit for a fruit sauce so that on our return the graduate would arise and prepare pancakes for all of the exhausted shoppers. That plan served a secondary purpose: a crash course in basic cooking skills before the fledging leaves the nest. Everything worked as planned, and we enjoyed a delicious late breakfast. In fact, I liked them so much that I made my own batch a few days later and topped the pancakes with maple syrup that Peter and René had brought to us a gift from their recent trip to Montreal.


Lemon Ricotta Pancakes


  • 1½ cups flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • juice of 1 lemon, strained + zest from the lemon


  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. Separate the eggs and set aside the whites.
  3. In a larger bowl, beat together the egg yolks, ricotta, buttermilk, butter, lemon juice, and zest.
  4. Stir the dry ingredients into the liquids, making sure they are well combined but taking care not to over-beat
  5. Whip the reserved egg whites to form stiff peaks. Then by thirds, gently fold them into the batter mixture.
  6. Let the batter rest for about 15 minutes while you heat a griddle over medium heat.
  7. Pour ½ cup of batter onto the griddle for individual pancakes. Do not crowd, and work in batches. Turn the pancakes when bubbles have formed on the surface and the edges are golden brown. When both sides are browned to your liking, serve immediately or transfer to a warm oven until all the pancakes have been prepared.

Fruit Sauce


  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1½ teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries (strawberries would also work)
  • Or, you can make it 2 cups of your favorite fruit


  1. In a small sauce pan combine the water, sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch, stirring to make sure the sugar is dissolved and the corn starch is completely dispersed. Place the pan over medium-low heat and, stirring frequently, bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to simmer. Add the fruit and cook until the mixture has thickened and the fruit has begun to release its juices, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat and serve over the ricotta pancakes.




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The State of North Dakota has only one official food. That’s the official fruit: choke cherry, used for jams jellies, and of course home-made wine. Many believe that cheese buttons should be the official food. As far as I have been able to learn, they are absolutely unique to the state. My step-grandmother made them often as a celebratory dish when I was growing up. I loved them, but I have never eaten them since she stopped making them many years ago. She came from a large German family who farmed on the prairies of eastern North Dakota. No doubt they were part of the immigrant wave of German farmers who came to the Dakotas at the end of the nineteenth century. The immigrants actually came from Russia where they had originally moved with the urging of Catherine the Great. There they were successful wheat farmers, so successful in fact that the native Russians grew increasingly hostile and drove them out. Apparently, North Dakota has many similarities with that part of Russia, so it was only natural that the immigrant Germans again became successful wheat farmers.

My step-grandmother cooked meals for an itinerant threshing crew headed by my grandfather. He had two little boys in tow after their mother had died in the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Both my grandfather and my step-grandmother thought the little boys needed a mother, and so they married. The little boys and their offspring grew up eating a lot of German food including sauerkraut and cheese buttons. There are many variant spellings of the local name of the dish. Perhaps the most common is kase knoepla, but the literal German translation is Käse knõpfen, so I’ll go with that.

Cheese buttons have some amazing similarities with Italian ricotta ravioli. The recipe for the noodle dough is exactly the same as a common recipe for pasta, and the recipe for the farm cheese is similar to at least one version of ricotta. You will note that the dish is remarkably deficient of any green vegetable. Instead it is heavy on bread and flour from the wheat as well as eggs, milk,  and butter from the barn yard. That should serve as a warning that this is not a dish for you if you are worried about your cholesterol. But if you like butter, it is hard to think of a better dish. It goes without saying that you cannot substitute margarine or oil.


Farm Cheese


  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • pepper to taste


  1. Pour the milk into a large, heavy bottomed pot and heat slowly over a medium-low flame, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching on the bottom. When the milk has reached 150°F, stir in the vinegar, remove from the heat, and cover. Stir occasionally as the mixture cools, and the curds form, about 45 minutes.
  2. Line a large colander with fine-mesh cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel. Pour the curds and whey into the towel and allow them to drain. The curds should form a ball in the bottom of the cheesecloth. Twist the cloth gently between your hands and over the sink to squeeze out any remaining whey.
  3. Transfer the cheese to a bowl and combine with the eggs and salt.  Add pepper to taste and set aside.

Cheese Buttons


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour + more for kneading and rolling
  • 3 large eggs
  • 5-9 tablespoons water + more to seal the edges of the buttons


  1. Pour the flour in a mound in the middle of a large, clean, flat work surface. Make a deep well in the center of the mound
  2. Break the three eggs into the well, and using a table fork, beat the eggs gently. Stir in 3 tablespoons of water and then begin to draw the flour in from the edge of the well, stirring and mixing as you go. Continue to draw in the flour, adding 1 more tablespoon of water. Avoid adding too much water, or the dough will get sticky. When the flour is completely incorporated, form the dough into a ball and knead for a 5 to 10 minutes until it is glistening and forms a smooth ball.  Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let rest for 20 minutes.
  3. When you are ready to roll out the dough, flour the work surface lightly. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll out one piece with a rolling pin, covering the remaining pieces in plastic while you work. Roll each piece into a round about 16 inches in diameter. Dust the dough lightly with flour if it is too sticky.
  4. Cut the dough into 2 inch squares. Place a scant teaspoon of the cheese mixture in the center of each square. Moisten the edges of the squares with water and fold over into triangles and/or rectangles (Your choice!). Gently squeeze the edges between your fingers until they are well sealed.
  5. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. In batches, add the cheese buttons to the boiling water. They will sink to the bottom but eventually float. Let the buttons continue to cook for a few minutes after they have floated. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon and keep warm in the oven until all of the buttons have been cooked.
  6. Cut any extra noodle dough into thin strips, boil for 4 -5 minutes, drain, and add to the buttons.


Fried Bread Sauce


  • ½ to 1 cup (1 or 2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • about 5 ½-inch slices of home-made or good quality white bread, crusts removed and cubed


  1. Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat
  2. Stir in the bread cubes and sauté until the bread cubes are lightly browned and crisp.
  3. Pour over the boiled cheese buttons and noodles, stirring gently to mix.
  4. Serve immediately.


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I thought I was finished with zucchini recipes, and then my neighbor brought over three more squash to add to the two in the refrigerator.

That is the origin of zucchini lasagna, which is a riff on eggplant lasagna. I also used fresh tomatoes instead of the usual marinara. With all that squash and fresh tomato, it is easy to anticipate that there is going to be a lot of water. You can deal with that if you plan ahead.


Zucchini and Fresh Tomato Lasagna


  • 5 medium-large zucchini
  • 3 large, ripe tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 3 cups grated mozzarella cheese
  • 2 ounces Parmesan
  • Italian seasoning
  • salt and pepper


  1. With a very sharp chef’s knife, slice the zucchini lengthwise into ¼ inch thick slices. Arrange on a clean kitchen towel covered with several layers of paper towels. Salt the zucchini liberally on both sides and let rest for 45 minutes to release water from the squash. Place the sweated slices in a colander and rinse quickly with running water. Pat dry and set aside for final assembly.
  2. Core and thinly slice the tomatoes. Arrange on a clean kitchen towel to absorb excess water. Set aside for final assembly.
  3. In a large skillet, heat the onions in the olive oil over medium heat until they are translucent. Add the ground beef, and over high heat, brown the meat while stirring frequently to break up any clumps. Add Italian seasoning, salt and pepper to your taste. Drain and transfer to a plate. Set aside for final assembly.
  4. In a medium bowl, stir the eggs into the ricotta until thoroughly combined. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside for final assembly
  5. Assemble the lasagna in a large oven-proof lasagna pan. Spray the pan with cooking spray and then spread 1 cup of the tomato sauce that has been seasoned with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning to your liking. Arrange a layer of the zucchini slices. Then arrange a layer of tomato slices. Top with half of the ground beef mixture, spreading it evenly. Spread half of the ricotta mixture over the tomatoes and sprinkle with one cup of grated mozzarella. Repeat the process with zucchini, tomato, ground beef, ricotta, and mozzarella. Top with a third layer of zucchini and cover with the remaining cup of tomato sauce, the remaining one cup of mozzarella, and grated Parmesan.
  6. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 350°F for 1 hour and 10 minutes. If water from the zucchini and tomatoes has accumulated in the bottom of the pan, pour it off carefully or remove it with a basting bulb.
  7. Let rest for 15 minutes before cutting into serving-sized squares. Serve while still warm.


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Tomatoes and basil. An abundance of both this time of year, so it is time to make that simple classic, sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella slices, basil leaves torn to release their fragrant oils, and a drizzle of the best extra virgin olive oil – nothing more. Even though the salad is apparently popular in homes all over Italy, it has been claimed that the combination was first served on Capri, and hence the name, Insalata Caprese or the shorthand Caprese. I suspect that that account is apocryphal, but what is not apocryphal is the wonderful combination. Over the years, there has been a lot of messing around with the recipe – adding balsamic vinegar, using vinaigrette, etc., etc.

So why am I messing around even more? Because pesto and burrata are so delicious.

I found some beautiful tomatoes at the farmers market. They are dark purple and pear shaped. They are called Japanese black trifele tomatoes and just beg to be eaten. I have also been taken by burrata lately. It raises the game from fresh mozzarella, with creamy ricotta wrapped in a morsel of freshly-pulled mozzarella. Unfortunately, I was unable to find the hen’s egg size gems that I have seen before, and the only burrata I could find locally was at least ostrich-egg sized. So I had to modify my plans, but I think it turned out ok.


Insalata Caprese (Not Quite)


  • 2 Japanese black trifele tomatoes
  • pesto (see previous post)
  • burrata
  • basil leaves
  • extra virgin olive oil


  1. Slice tomatoes lengthwise and remove seeds and the flesh with a grapefruit spoon
  2. Place a tablespoon or so of fresh pesto in each tomato half
  3. Place a ball of burrata in each tomato half. If you cannot find small cheeses, cut a larger cheese in quarters.
  4. Top with a few fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil



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Sicily is such a beautiful place with deep blue seas and fleecy clouds The surf pounds against the beaches, and the mainland of Italy is just across the Straits. The island traces its history back to Greek times when Syracuse was one of the great city states. Since then it has had a tumultuous history as its own country  as well as under the dominance of many other countries and empires including the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Turks, Arabs, and Italy.

That rich history has produced amazing archeology, architecture, food, and customs. The beautiful sunlight has produced a sunny population that seems to take everything in stride.

In the USA, many think of Sicily as the home of the Godfather. That stereotype annoys the locals. At the same time, they often feel obliged to mention it – mostly so they can dispel the myth.

Messina is the port city at the straits, and it is filled with beautiful old buildings and famous churches. Undoubtedly, one could spend days exploring, but the highlight of our trip was a drive along the coast and up a narrow winding road to the town of Taormina. The port is beautiful. with the Stele of the Madonna greeting and saying farewell to vessels as well as wishing a blessing for the city and for all sailors. The mainland of Italy is just across the Strait of Messala which is 1.9 miles across at its closest point and 3.2 miles from Messala to the mainland. Plans to build the world’s longest sing-span suspension bridge are well along.

Taormina has been a tourist destination since Grecian times. The town looks down on the coastline far below, and in the distance, clouds play around the summit of Mount Etna. The air is clear and sunny, and the town streets are lined with interesting shops, ancient palaces, and vendors of all kinds.

One of the required visits is the Greek amphitheater on a hill overlooking the town. The walk is steep but not very long. It is well worth it. The ruin is very well-preserved, and the views from its upper heights are spectacular. It is impossible to visit without thinking of the countless people who have been here before you.

After the visit, the walk back down the hill leaves most tourists either hungry, thirsty, or both. There are plenty of vendors in little stalls to accommodate, and the choices seem limitless, ranging from soft drinks to pasta.

Among the most popular items for sale are the cannoli. There are different sizes and different flavors, and they make great treats to enjoy on the stroll back to the center of the town. The recipe that follows is my take on the pistachio cannoli that we bought on our stroll down the hillside. To make your own, you will need some special aluminum cannoli molds for shaping the shells. Molds should be easily available at a well-stocked kitchen store. A 4 inch cutter is also handy. You may find a nest of cutters of different sizes another useful purchase.





  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons limoncello or other citrus-flavored liqueur
  • 2 teaspoons madeira
  • 1 egg white whipped lightly until it is slightly foamy


  • In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, sugar, and cocoa.
  • Cut in the butter with a pastry blender so that the mixture resembles coarse meal
  • Add the liqueur and wine and combine with a fork until the mixture comes together as a firm ball
  • Wrap the ball of dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more.
  • Divide the dough in half, and roll out each half on a lightly floured surface to about 1/16th inch thick and large enough to cut out 4 4 inch circles using a cookie cutter or a cardboard circle as a template.
  • Using a rolling-pin, roll each circle into an oval.
  • Wrap each oval around a cannolo mold, long side parallel to the mold. Seal the seam with a dab of the egg white.
  • Fry each cannolo shell  in a heavy pan containing about 2 inches of canola oil and pre-heated to 375°F, turning until the shell is well browned and crisp.
  • Transfer to a pad of paper towels to let cool enough until you can easily remove the mold without burning your fingers.
  • Continue to fry the shaped shells until they are all fried. Set in a dry place ready for filling.



  • 8 ounces fresh ricotta
  • ¼ cup baker’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup miniature chocolate chips + more to sprinkle on the filled cannoli
  • ¼ cup ground unsalted pistachio nuts + more for dusting the fille cannoli


  • In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients, mixing well.
  • Transfer to quart-size zippered plastic bag and chill in the refrigerator until you are ready to fill the shells
  • When you are ready,  cut a ¼ inch corner off the plastic bag so that it can be used as a pastry bag
  • Fill both ends of each cannolo. Dust with ground pistachios and sprinkle a few chocolate chips on each end
  • Serve immediately so the cannoli don’t get soggy.


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Our ovens recently went on the blink, and we had to do without baking for over two weeks while the repairman ordered parts. We made it through the crisis – with some withdrawal symptoms – and our ovens were finally restored to working order. To celebrate, I decided to make a couple of quiches using some shrimp and fresh Spring asparagus from the grocery store. I made the quiches only to discover that I had left out the asparagus. My fall-back plan was to use the asparagus the next night in something else. The plan wound up to be an exercise in cleaning out the refrigerator. I came up with what is not really a quiche, so I called it a ricotta pie. Regardless of the name, it turned out to be a good use for the asparagus.


Pie Crust


  • 1 Cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 Cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 2/3 Tablespoons (8 teaspoons) ice water
  1. Combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl
  2. Add the shortening and cut it into the flour mixture with a pastry blender until it resembles coarse corn meal
  3. Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the water, mixing with a table fork until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  4. Knead gently for just a few seconds, shape into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes

Pie Filling


  • 16 ounces low-fat ricotta
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 Tablespoon Pernod
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon finely ground white pepper
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus
  • 6 crimini mushrooms
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded
  • 3 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly and finely grated
  1. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, Pernod, salt, and pepper until smooth and well blended. Set aside.
  2. Wash the asparagus, trim the woody ends (saving them for stock), and cut into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
  3. Clean and slice the mushrooms. Sauté them in olive oil until they have given up their liquid. Drain and set aside.

Just out of the oven

Final Assembly

  1. Remove the chilled pie crust dough from the refrigerator and roll it into a circle large enough to line a 9 inch pie pan with enough to crimp the top edge.
  2. Ladle half of the ricotta mixture into the bottom of the prepared pie shell.
  3. Arrange the asparagus pieces over the filling. Then add the mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and prosciutto in layers.
  4. Cover with the remaining ricotta mixture and sprinkle with the grated Parmesan cheese.
  5. Bake in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 425° for 10 minutes. Then lower the oven temperature to 350° for an additional 60 minutes. Turn the baking pie front to back in the oven about half way through the baking. Watch carefully toward the end of baking and remove from the oven if the pie becomes too brown.
  6. Place the finished pie on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Then slice into 6 or 8 pieces. Serve while still warm.

Ready to eat


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Ricotta is an Italian concoction. The term means “cooked again” because the original version was made from the whey which was the byproduct of the making of other cheeses. The whey would be heated, acidified, and allowed to curdle before straining into a thick semi-soft curd which was used to enrich many other dishes. Ricotta made from skim milk is common on grocery shelves, but now even the Italians often make it from whole milk and even cream. The result is a delicate cheese that resembles fresh farmer’s cheese or cream cheese. There is really no comparison between store-bought and home-made ricotta. You can use vinegar, lemon juice, or other acids to form the curd, but to my taste, lemon juice is preferred because it imparts a fruity tang that enhances the delicacy of the ricotta.

Ingredients for ricotta

Heat the milk, cream and salt mixture to 190°

Here is a recipe from Sarah, who used hers for a dish in one of her pop-up dinners. Using her recipe, you will be amazed at how easy it is to make your own ricotta and how much better tasting it is. You may never buy it again.

Once you have made your ricotta, the next decision is what to do with it. First off, dip in a spoon and taste it. That should give you some ideas. The hazard with that approach is that you will be tempted to eat the whole thing. The silken texture, subtle lemon flavor, and the sweetness of cream should all come through. These qualities make fresh-made ricotta a perfect foil for fresh fruit or a fruit compote. Even thick sauces like chocolate or butterscotch are excellent complements. Naturally, one thinks of using it in a lasagna, but it would be a shame to overwhelm the flavor by store-bought noodles and the thick marinara sauce so common in lasagna today. Consider using homemade pasta along with a light saucing of the ricotta alone or with spinach. Go light on the cheese as well.

Strain the clabbered mixture through cheesecloth

Ricotta pancakes are a perfect choice for highlighting the delicate flavor of the fresh stuff. The following recipes use the whole batch you have made: part of it going into the pancakes and part of it going into the blueberry sauce to serve on top. The recipes should make enough pancakes to serve four people. Leftover batter – if there is any – can be used to bake more pancakes which, after cooling, should be separated with waxed paper, wrapped tightly in plastic and foil, and frozen for another day.

Pancakes on the griddle




3 Cups whole milk                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             1 Cup cream                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           1 tsp salt                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

  1.  Combine the milk, cream, and salt in a two-quart saucepan. Heat to 190°
  2.  Remove from the heat. Add  the lemon juice, stirring gently 2 or 3 times to completely mix. Let rest for 5 minutes.
  3.  Line a colander or large strainer with dampened cheesecloth or a moist, clean kitchen towel. Place the colander on a large bowl to catch the whey.
  4.  Pour the coagulated milk/cream mixture into the colander and let it drain for one hour. Transfer the drained ricotta to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.

Yield: About 12 ounces (1½ cups)


1. You may substitute an equal volume of vinegar for the lemon juice.                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. You can save they whey and repeat the process for authentic old-time ricotta.                                                                                                                                                                               3. More salt helps preserve the ricotta if you choose to use it at a later time.                                                                                                                                                                                       4. The longer you strain it, the thicker and creamier the ricotta gets and then even thicker and   creamier with chilling

Pancakes after turning

Ricotta Pancakes


2 large eggs, separated

1 Cup buttermilk

1½ Tbsp sugar

1 Cup (8 oz) fresh-made ricotta

¾ Cup all-purpose flour

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

zest of 1 lemon

⅛ tsp nutmeg

¼ tsp salt

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, buttermilk, sugar, and ricotta.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder, lemon zest, nutmeg, and salt
  3.  In a third small bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
  4.  Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and whisk until combined.
  5.  Fold in the egg whites.
  6.  Drop the batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto a preheated, lightly greased griddle. Bake until bubbles form and burst on the tops. Then flip and bake on the other side until both    sides are golden.
  7.  Serve immediately with the blueberry sauce.

Pancakes with blueberry sauce

Fresh Blueberry and Ricotta Sauce


1 Cup fresh blueberries

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

⅛ tsp salt

¼  Cup confectioner’s sugar

1 Tbsp cornstarch

zest of 1 lemon

½ Cup (4 oz) fresh ricotta

½tsp vanilla extract

1 Tbsp limoncello (optional)

  1. In a small  saucepan, combine the blueberries, lemon juice, salt,  sugar and corn starch. Heat gently, stirring
    continuously until the cornstarch thickens and the berries begin to release
    their juices.
  2. Stir in the ricotta, vanilla extract,  and limoncello, stirring until just warmed.
  3. Ladle two or three spoonfuls on three pancakes.  The sauce is best if served immediately while still warm, but you can make it
    ahead and chill. Let come to room temperature or warm gently before  serving.

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