I’m no housewife, but I couldn’t help but feel like a 60 year old Nonna this Friday as I spent the afternoon cooking up some fresh, homemade Ricotta. The term Casalinga in Italian literally means Housewife but has become synonymous with any homemade product born from the home kitchen rather than the commercial. Ricotta has to be one of the most simplistic Casalingas, and the cost of making your own cuts the store price in half.
Ricotta (re-cooked in Italian) is called so because it was traditionally made with the left over milk after cheese making. This remaining liquid was re-boiled and split with vinegar or lemon juice to separate the curds and whey. The curds are collected and strained to form Ricotta, which is not actually cheese at all. Cheese making is a tricky business but Ricotta, not a cheese, is as easy as boiling water (or milk actually). Below is a recipe I’ve used a few times and works beautifully (makes about 2 lbs):
1 Gallon Good Whole Milk (I used a local producers: Homeland Creamery)
1 Tbs Salt
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
Combine all of the ingredients, no not the cheesecloth, into a large sauce pan with plenty of room so the milk doesn’t boil over and out of the pan. Slowly bring the liquid up to a high simmer, make sure to stir with a wooden spoon so the milk doesn’t scald. At around 185-190 degrees F the milk will almost boil and the curds and whey will separate, be very careful to continue stirring and remove from the heat.
Once split (should look like the above with the curds collecting together and the whey turning a pale-white/greenish color) allow to sit in the pan and continue collecting for 10 minutes. Pour the contents into a colander lined with plenty of cheesecloth and once the majority of the whey has drained off place in the fridge to continue draining until it’s the desired consistency. Finito!
Specific recipes or dishes require a different Ricotta consistency, for instance to eat fresh it’s much better to leave the Ricotta a little milky and drizzle with good olive oil and pepper like with the above form. For something like pastas or cakes it’s best to leave the Ricotta overnight in the fridge until it feels like wet clay (top pic). You can go even further, salting, pressing and aging the Ricotta results in a cheese smooth, milky, and subtly salty: Ricotta Salata.
Store bought Ricotta is often mushy, very wet, dull, and lacking any real character for much more than it’s worth. There are plenty of high quality brands but the price tag is enough to change this humble generations-old ingredient into a commodity. Better than the price of homemade is the quality, a texture and flavor only found in the most fresh varieties of Ricotta. What could be better? How about using this gorgeous Ricotta to roll out fresh Ricotta Gnocchi to toss in browned local butter and sage! Check in tomorrow for a full tutorial on Ricotta Gnocchi along with some other great dishes prepared by some close friends over the weekend…and a card game that even got the best of this heavy weight, I told you I’d need that Acai Smoothie…