Ask the Splendid Table: How to make your own ricotta
Lynne Rossetto Kasper's Ask the Splendid Table: The joys of making your own ricotta
Scripps Howard News Service
Using homemade ricottaWe Americans haven't realized half of what can be done with fresh ricotta.
It is stunning served for breakfast with honey and chopped almonds or fresh fruit. Scramble some with eggs and minced scallions.
Lunch or snacking with drinks could be ricotta simply mixed with garlic, salt and pepper and slathered on toothy bread.
A tradition in Sicily's wheat country is warm cooked wheat berries, ricotta and honey eaten for lunch or supper.
Ricotta with steamed spinach or chard and a little nutmeg and butter is the definition of "divine."
For a fast supper, do as the Italians do and toss ricotta with just-boiled pasta, a little pasta water, olive oil, garlic and hot pepper (some cooked broccoli or greens are good here, too).
Pasta and ricotta open up a raft of opportunities. Add ricotta to pasta with spicy tomato sauces for a creamy finish. Sausage and peppers, or roasted vegetable pasta dishes, take on ricotta brilliantly.
For a baked one-dish supper that you can assemble ahead, blend the ricotta with fresh basil, chopped onion, garlic and toasted walnuts. Spread on cooked lasagna noodles, and roll them up. Line up the rolls in a baking dish, moisten them with tomato sauce, or cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and bake.
Then contemplate dessert: The traditional filling for Sicily's cannoli pastries is fresh ricotta (purée it in the food processor for creamy smoothness), powdered sugar, pistachios, candied citrus peel and some cream. Serve that alone in little cups as a spoon sweet.
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Ask the Splendid Table |
Dear Lynne: I have friends who are just back from a trip to New York City, and they raved about the fresh ricotta they tasted at a cheese shop. Is it something I could try to do at home?
— Peter in MinneapolisDear Peter: Ricotta is insanely easy to make, and once you've had a taste of the real thing, you will be swearing off those tubs of grainy, flat-tasting ricottas you find in the supermarket. Plus, it will be far less expensive than what your friends paid in that cheese shop.
The trick is not to rush the process. Ricotta is the most elemental of cheeses and a great lesson in fresh cheese-making.
In essence, you gently heat whole milk, cream, fresh lemon juice and salt very, very slowly so that the curds (or solids) gradually separate from the liquid whey and float to the top. That slow heating keeps the curds soft, giving the ricotta its authentic creamy quality. Then you drain off the liquid whey by pouring the curds into a strainer lined with cheesecloth or a thin kitchen towel. Your ricotta will keep four to five days in the refrigerator. The whey could be saved for soups and baking.
This is the recipe.
Yields about 1 pound of cheese, and halves or doubles easily.
If possible, use organic dairy here.
Anticipate this recipe taking 90 minutes from start to finish. You won't need to hover over the stove all that time, but you will need to be in the vicinity. Have an instant-reading thermometer handy, and a good-sized sieve lined with cheesecloth (found in most supermarkets) or a thin kitchen towel, and set over a large bowl.
21/2 quarts whole milk
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream — not ultrapasteurized or sterilized
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
Stir all the ingredients together in a 6-quart, nonreactive (enamel- or stainless-steel-lined) saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until the milk reaches 170 degrees, about 40 minutes.
Turn the heat up to medium, and slowly bring the milk's temperature up to 205-206 degrees (6 to 8 minutes). Avoid stirring to keep the developing curds large. The curds should mound on a spatula like soft-cooked scrambled eggs.
Turn off the heat, and let the ricotta rest in the pan another 10 minutes. Line a sieve with cheesecloth (I like to wet it to keep it in place) and turn out the contents of the pot and allow to drain 10 minutes. Add more salt if desired. Keep it covered in the refrigerator.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosts "The Splendid Table," American Public Media's weekly national show. The program airs on KUOW 94.9 each Sunday at 2 p.m. Contact Lynne and find station listings at www.splendidtable.org.
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