Friday, February 25, 2011

Homemade Ricotta

At some point last summer, I read a recipe that called for fresh made ricotta. And I remember thinking that recipe writers should really avoid making readers feel inadequate while cooking their food.Like when a recipe includes lines like, "Grate a 1/4 teaspoon of fresh nutmeg. If you must use pre-ground nutmeg from a jar, use a bit less." Or "Spoon in 1 cup of ricotta. Freshly made works best." If I am in a grumpy mood, I am likely to utter some variation on, "Who the hell keeps an actual nutmeg around for baking cookies?" or "Get over yourself!"

Despite my knee jerk reaction to be snarky in the face of recipe writers who inflect their writing with a decidedly superior tone, I was intrigued by the idea of making ricotta from scratch. Turns out it is incredibly easy.

Yesterday I gave it a try and the results were amazing. Seriously delicious. So good, that I wonder why I buy ricotta from the store - what I made is so much better than any store bought product I have ever tried. Granted my ricotta purchases are generally from Trader Joe's or Genuardi's, so my sample is limited. That being said, this handmade ricotta is unbelievably good. I used it in lasangna, and I can think of so many other uses: spread it on crusty bread, use it to make ricotta pancakes, roll it up in your burrito or quesadilla, put a thin layer on your pizza crust, add some sugar and top with berries, put it in a pretty jar and give it as a gift. Endless possibilities.

A few other pluses of making your own ricotta: It would be really fun to make with your kids. You can use locally produced, organic milk and make a cheese that costs a fraction of what you would pay in the store for a comparable product. You can brag to your friends and neighbors that you actually made the fresh ricotta that snooty recipe called for. 

This recipe is originally from Ina Garten (aka The Barefoot Contessa).

  • In a large sauce pan combine 4 cups whole milk, 2 cups heavy cream and 2 tsp salt.
  • Heat until the milk comes up to a rolling boil.
  • Remove from heat and stir in 3 tbsp vinegar. I used just plain white vinegar. (Ina recommends using the best white wine vinegar you can find - again, requirements like that make me get kinda snippy.)
  • The milk will start to curdle almost immediately. I let it stand in the pot for about 5 minutes.
  • While the milk is curdling, line a large colander or sieve with cheese cloth. Tip: Wet the cloth first so it molds to the sieve. Place the colander/sieve over a large bowl.
  • Carefully pour the milk into the colander. Let stand until it becomes as firm as you want it. I let mine drain for about an hour. 
Here is what it looked like. Forgive the mediocre photography -- it is challenging to take picture of white cheese, on a white counter top on cloudy day.

It is tough to see, but that is the milk starting to curdle. 
My pot looks like that because the milk boiled over - bad chef!

This is right after I poured the milk out of the pot.

 This is about 45 minutes later.

Here is a bowl of fabulous ricotta cheese.

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