The food blogosphere moves in waves. Tons of posts on cupcakes could not be contained until about 6 months ago. Then came vegan recipes. And now it’s ricotta. It looks as if everybody is busy at home making their own ricotta cheese. Not a bad idea if you consider the stringy and tasteless stuff on sale at the market. It’s not entirely the manufacturers’ fault – like mozzarella, and probably even more so, ricotta is a fresh cheese that needs to be consumed shortly after being made.
One of the first things I do when I go back to Italy, besides having a serious cappuccino, is go to local cheese store and have them cut me a thick slice of ricotta from the round and slightly domed mold of my youth. It gets wrapped in wax paper and, at home, I just can’t resist a sprinkle of sugar on a big heaping spoon of the cheese. Alternatively, sifting cocoa powder on it makes a great dessert.
Other simple ideas are to chop some herbs and mix them in, add some salt, a drizzle of olive oil and spread on a slice of bruschetta. In my college days, I used to spread it in a Pyrex pan 1” deep, top it with olive oil, salt and chopped rosemary and bake it. Add it to pasta sauces, or make gnocchi with it. There are a million applications.
So, not to be left behind and in an effort to add my two cents to the ricotta debate, I decided to make it at home.
I didn’t have the whole milk that should be used, but only 2%, so I increased the fat content by adding heavy cream in a 2 to 1 ratio (2 parts milk to 1 part cream). There were 6 cups of milk, 3 cups of cream and 1 1/2 ts of salt in my pot. If you have full fat milk, don’t worry about the cream. Bring it to a boil on medium heat (not to scorch it).
While waiting for the milk to boil, line a sieve with 2 sheets of damp cheesecloth – set in the sink or on a large bowl.
As soon as the milk has boiled, turn the heat off and add 4 1/2 tablespoons of white vinegar (not the stuff you use for cleaning purposes but something more edible) or the same amount of lemon juice. You will see the milk separating in thick curdles within a minute or two. At this point pour it in the sieve.
Let the whey drain for about one hour, emptying the bowl occasionally. Lift the cheesecloth and pour your newly made ricotta in a container and refrigerate. It will keep for about 4 or 5 days – not in my case though. On Day 1, I made bruschetta and ate it right out of the fridge and on Day 2 I made ricotta gnocchi, the way my friend Luisa makes them.
Bottom line – if you have an hour of spare time, this process is so simple that we now know why foodies all over the country are bothering with it. And yes – it is delicious!