Granted my cheese monger skills are nascent. It's not like I've gotten myself a milking bucket and a couple of farm animals... yet. This is totally beginning cheese making. This is cheese making that anyone can do anywhere, from an apartment kitchen to the classiest state of the art set up. If you've got milk, cream and a couple of lemons, you can make this cheese. No kidding.
Growing up in an Italian family we did get quite a lot of cheese but the one cheese that I always loved was ricotta. Creamy, fresh and clean smelling, homemade ricotta is a lot different from what one can get off the supermarket shelf. Think of it as the difference between canned cranberry sauce, and homemade. Canned cranberry sauce is okay, I grew up with it. I loved the ring pattern after my mom would de-can it and it would stand there shivering on the plate. I loved that canned stuff and my mom would even get the whole berry cranberry sauce so I had no idea what I was missing until I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner and made my own fresh cranberry sauce.
Ricotta in a container from the dairy case is just fine, in fact I've used it a lot over the years. It's firmness makes a great substitute for Paneer or Chenna cheese in some Indian recipes. I was used to the firm plop with which it would un-mold from it's container. it tasted fine. That was before I tried making my own. I went trawling the internet looking for promising ricotta recipes and don't kid yourself, for such a simple thing there are a lot of methods out there. I came up with two of them that seemed easily doable. Neither of them is conventional.
Traditionally ricotta is made from the whey left over from making mozzarella. The word ricotta is the Italian for recooked. Since I'm still wearing my cheese training wheels I haven't gotten around to mozzarella yet, but it's coming. Most of the ricotta recipes to be found out there don't require the making of mozarella first which was why I gave it a try. Even though I grew up Italian, I've been cooking Indian for 23 years and mozzarella and ricotta haven't exactly been part of my kitchen repertoire. The way I see it, is if I can make this stuff, anybody can.
So, a few weeks ago I settled in to whip up some ricotta and test the recipes I'd chosen. One was a big waste of time and I wound up frustrated. The other worked like a charm and that's the keeper. The recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen, and boy howdy does it work. Try this and you will turn into a veritable ricotta-making machine. I have. Anyone who finds me on their doorstep lately finds me bearing a pot of homemade ricotta. You will be hooked.
Here's What You Need:
3 cups of local organic milk, cream top non-homogenized. I use our local milk from Straus Family Creamery
1 cup of organic whipping cream
1/2 tsp of Kosher salt
3 Tbs of fresh lemon juice
A candy thermometer
Here's What You Do:
Mix the milk, cream and salt together in a heavy bottomed pan.
Stir the milk on a medium low temperature so that nothing sticks. When the milk reaches 190 degrees take the pan off the heat and add in the lemon juice.
Stir the lemon juice in slowly, a couple of times.
Let it sit off the heat for 5 minutes. Don't touch the cheese while it's sitting there.
Line a colander with a couple of layers of cheesecloth and set it on top of a bowl to catch the whey.
Let them drain for at least an hour.
After an hour the ricotta will be soft, creamy and very spreadable. That's when I stop the process.
If you let it go another hour, you'll have more of a cream cheese type texture. The ricotta firms up as it cools, so what's in your cheesecloth is not the final texture.
You can eat the ricotta warm on crusty bread or drizzled with honey or... whatever you may desire. You can also put it in an airtight container in the fridge for use later. As for the whey, if you know any of the zillion uses for it you're all set. Just refrigerate and store it in an airtight container, if not you can get rid of it. I served my ricotta cool, two ways. With fresh heirloom tomatoes from the Farmers Market, crusty French bread fresh basil , and California Olive Ranch Oil with a grind or two of fresh pepper.
I also made a dessert with Sonoma figs, local honey, and some walnuts.
I gave a batch to my friend Jane and she whipped up pasta with some left over ratatoullie and a topping of fresh ricotta. As you see there's a lot one can do with fresh ricotta, and it's only limited by ones' imagination. I have a batch on my stove right now as I'm writing this, it's that easy to make. Coming up next, back to Indian food, follow along on Twitter @kathygori