In my last post I was sappy. Today we’re getting cheesy. We’re making cheese. Specifically, ricotta.
I was introduced to making ricotta in restaurant kitchens. There we make it by the gallon, using a ratio instead of a recipe. 2 to 1 milk to cream. Boil with salt. Add acid. Set. Strain. The pure white curds that emerge are magic. When I tasted homemade ricotta for the first time I realized that ricotta is so much more than just a filling for lasagna. It’s creamy and light and almost sweet, and it plays so well with everything.
I’ve seen ricotta as a base for dumplings, as a component of a strawberry-chocolate dessert, and as a filling for bruschetta, among other things. In my own kitchen I eat ricotta on top of nutella smeared toast, as a topping for pastas, melted on pizzas, and straight from the spoon. Once you start looking it’s hard to think of anything that’s not improved with a smear of ricotta.
Ricotta is simple. You need a pot, a spoon, a colander (or sieve, but you may not have a sieve and you likely have a colander), and some cheesecloth. Cheesecloth should be available at most grocery stores for two or three dollars, and has a habit of proving enormously useful. And once you have the tools, it’s boil, stir, set, and drain. The whole process takes an hour with maybe five minutes of active time, and you’re left with the best ricotta you can acquire this side of $20 a pound.
Making ricotta also has the benefit of leaving behind whey. The whey is the milky, salty, slightly acidic liquid left behind when you drain the ricotta. I’m not going to promise you you’ll love it, but at this moment I am drinking whey straight from a coffee mug. It’s also magic in bread making. I recently made this pizza crust using whey instead of water and it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever made. And if bread making isn’t your thing, whey would be fantastic in a creamy soup.
If you’re still on the fence, think of all the things you could eat with the ricotta you make.
-My mom used to make stuffed shells. These ones look like a grown up version of my childhood favorite.
-I made this cake with our old wonky oven and it was delicious. I can’t imagine how good it would be with homemade ricotta (and our newer, functioning oven).
-I love everything I’ve had from Anna Jones, and I’m willing to bet that includes lemon ricotta french toast.
-Baked ricotta? Baked ricotta.
-And to take advantage of the last of summer produce, a tomato and ricotta pie.
makes about 2 cups
4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
In a heavy bottomed pot stir together the milk, cream, and salt. Bring to a boil (200 degrees if you’d like to be specific) then turn off the heat. Stir in the lemon juice, and stir for 10 seconds. Let the whole mixture sit for 20 minutes.
Line a colander or sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth and place over a large bowl. Pour the ricotta mixture into the colander. Let it drain, undisturbed, until the ricotta is at the texture you want. This usually takes 20 to 30 minutes for me.
Save the whey separately from the ricotta. The ricotta should last refrigerated for a week, but it’s unlikely to last that long.