Cheese

Homemade Ricotta

From Toto, I don’t think we’re in OZ anymore

Freshly made ricotta is truly a treat. But paying the steep prices for it is not. The first time I read a recipe for homemade ricotta I’ll admit, I was a bit intimidated. Then I gave it a try and discovered it’s not difficult at all. In fact, it pretty much makes itself. Take milk, add in something to curdle it, heat, and you’ve got ricotta! Some recipes call for lemon juice or vinegar to create the curds but I found buttermilk does a great job and I like the flavor of the end product better.  I’ve use whole milk, 2%, whatever I have at hand, and if I’m feeling particularly decadent, a 3-1 combination of milk and half & half or cream is a lovely treat.

The only equipment you really need for this is some cheesecloth, a fine mesh sieve and a saucepan. Some use a high heat thermometer to test the temperature of the liquids, but it’s really not necessary. You’ll know when it’s right – the curds will form, separate from the whey, and when the liquid boils, you’re done. Once you’ve strained the curds out, don’t throw away the whey (the liquid part left over).  It’s terrific for baking – I use it in place of water in yeast breads and in scones, muffins or other baking that calls for buttermilk.

The basic ratio for ricotta is 4-1: 4 parts milk (or a combination of milk & cream) to 1 part buttermilk. Since the finished product doesn’t last more than a few days, I usually make small ½-1 cup batches to use that day in a recipe. That’s actually how I got into making it in the first place – a recipe called for it, the wallet was thin, and I didn’t feel like running out to the market in the rain.

For about 3/4 cup ricotta

  • 4 cups milk (whole, 2% or a combination of either with half & half or cream)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Optional: 2-3 TBSP half & half or heavy cream

Place a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl. Line the strainer with 3 layers of cheesecloth.

Heat the milk and buttermilk over medium heat in a saucepan. Stir it frequently so the milk doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan.  Keep an eye on it –this isn’t something to walk away from. Just pour yourself a glass of wine or whatever and hang out in the kitchen for a while.

As the mixture gets up to heat (around 175-180F if you want to use a thermometer – you don’t have to), you’ll start to see curds forming. Stir with a heatproof spatula, gently scraping curds off sides and bottom. When the milk starts to boil, turn off the heat.  The curds should be fully formed, and will separate from the whey (which now looks like milky water). Skim the curds with a slotted spoon or skimmer into the cheesecloth lined strainer. When you’ve skimmed most off, slowly pour the remaining curds and whey through the strainer. Remove the curds to a bowl, pour the whey into a jar and store in the refrigerator until you feel like baking some bread. It keeps for quite a while.

The curds will probably look a little dry. I usually add back in a tablespoon or two of cream and mix well to get a creamier consistency. Calories: 150 per ¼ cup.

There’s a ton of good things you can do with fresh ricotta:

  • To 1/2 cup ricotta, add 1 tsp good olive oil, 1 tsp chopped herbs, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1 tsp cream and a pinch of salt & pepper for a great spread on toast. Add a slice fresh tomato or some of the roasted tomatoes on top.
  • Blind bake 3″ circles of frozen puff pastry to make tartlet shells (remember to prick well all over so they don’t puff up too much, or bake with another cookie sheet on top to keep them flat). Add 2 TBSP soft goat cheese to the herbed ricotta above, mix well (you may need to add a little milk or cream to make it more spreadable). Spread on the cooled tartlets. Top with a few cool roasted tomatoes and a few thyme leaves – makes a great breakfast, first course, lunch with a green salad, or if you make smaller pastry rounds, very swanky cocktail nibbles!
  • Drizzle with honey and cinnamon, and add raisins or fresh berries for a terrific breakfast
  • Boil some pasta and top with fresh ricotta,  warm roasted tomatoes, 1 TBSP good olive oil, some lemon zest and a sprinkling of parmesan for a wonderful bowl of pasta.

Sformata di Ricotta (Ricotta Flan) Makes 6-8 servings

From It’s just words…

  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 10 ounces cherry tomatoes
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 6 large or extra large eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups ricotta
  • 1 cup creme fraiche (sour cream works, too)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (stems removed)

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Grease the bottom of a 3-quart casserole using 1 tablespoon of the butter, and then sprinkle on 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan. Add the tomatoes and the garlic, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and then generously season with salt and ground pepper. Shake the dish to coat the tomatoes with the cheese. Bake, shaking occasionally, for 15 minutes or until the tomatoes are hot and start to split. Remove the dish from the oven. After the tomatoes have cooled, spoon them (along with their juices) into a bowl; reserve the baking dish but do not wash it out. Let the dish cool, then grease the bottom and sides of the baking dish with the remaining butter.

Mix the eggs and ricotta in a food processor or mixer until smooth. Add the creme fraiche, half the thyme, and a few more shakes of salt and pepper, and process or mix until well combined. Transfer the ricotta mixture to the baking dish. Scatter the tomatoes and their juices and the remaining thyme on top, then sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Drizzle a very little extra olive oil on top. Bake at 400°F about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the outsides are puffy, the center is relatively set when jiggled, and the top has touches of golden brown. Calories: 410 per 8 servings, 550 per 6 servings.

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