Ricotta might be the most versatile ingredient I use in the kitchen. Of course there is lasagne but when I want to let it shine I make gnocchi, pancakes, cannoli or just put it on toast or my morning bowl of granola.
This recipe for homemade ricotta comes from Cathy Barrow, the blogger and author behind Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry. I’ve included her recipe for Ricotta-and-Egg Pasta Pillows too. In my interview with Cathy on this week’s show, she describes ricotta as a “shape-shifter” in the kitchen. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
MAKES: 1 cup
ACTIVE TIME: 30 minutes
DRAINING TIME: 15 minute
Many countries have a version of a soft spoonable cheese, whether it’s fromage blanc, queso blanco, paneer, farmer’s cheese, or ricotta. Whole milk makes a creamy ricotta that fills pasta or substitutes for milk or cream in scones, cakes, and muffins. And a small bowl of ricotta with fruit preserves is a first-rate breakfast.
Traditionally ricotta is made from the whey left after making mozzarella and many other cheeses but this is made from whole milk more fats, more flavor, more texture. It’s spoonable and creamy, and it melts magnificently.
1/3 cup (scant 3 oz., 90 ml) fresh lemon juice or white vinegar or 1 teaspoon citric acid.
3 quarts (96 oz., 2.8 l) raw or nonhomogenized pasteurized whole milk
1. Line a colander with a dampened clean, threadbare tea towel, butter muslin, or a triple thickness of cheesecloth and set it over a bowl if you wish to save the whey.
2. In a 3-quart stainless steel pot, heat the milk and lemon juice (or vinegar or citric acid) over medium heat until small bubbles appear around the edges of the pan, just under a boil; the milk will measure 190°F. Watch for the moment the curds separate from the whey and the whey becomes more clear than opaque, about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the stove, cover, and set aside for 10 minutes. The separation of the curds and whey will be even more evident.
3. Lift the curds from the pot using a slotted spoon or skimmer and snuggle into the tea-towel-lined colander. Drain for 15 minutes for a soft, spoonable cheese, or for up to an hour for a drier version, better suited to stuffing pasta.
4. Invert the cheese onto a plate or into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate. Ricotta will keep for about 3 days, but it is best when freshly made.
Bonus Recipe: Ricotta-and-Egg Pasta Pillows
SERVES: 4 as an appetizer
ACTIVE TIME: 1 hour
There are times when I like to get downright fancy. These plump ricotta pillows are a show stopping appetizer for a dinner party. In fact, they are also a favorite pantry-friendly dinner.
When I want to ramp up the clever, I’ll make small pillows and use quail eggs. When I want to boost the rich flavor, I make them even larger and use duck eggs. It takes some patience and skill, but it’s nothing you can’t manage.
1 cup (4 oz., 110g) sliced almonds
1 pound (450 g) fresh pasta sheets
Fine cornmeal for dusting
1/2 cup (2.5 oz., 70g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 large extremely fresh egg yolks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 tablespoons (4 oz., 110 g) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1. Toast the almonds in a dry wide skillet until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Spread the nuts out on a baking sheet to cool.
2. With a sharp knife, cut sixteen 4-inch squares from the pasta sheets. Line up 8 squares on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal. Cover with a slightly damp towel and set aside.
3. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the ricotta, Parmigiano, nutmeg, a big pinch of salt, and a few grinds of black pepper.
4. Lay out the remaining 8 pasta squares on a work surface. Drop 2 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture into the center of each square. Form a well in the cheese on each square and slip an egg yolk into each well. Moisten the edges of each square of pasta, then top with one of the remaining squares of pasta and press the edges together to seal.
5. Fill the largest straight-sided sauté pan in your arsenal with enough water to cover your pasta packets. Salt the water well and bring to a brisk boil. Reduce the heat to a strong simmer and, using a wide spatula, gently lift up the large lovely pasta squares and settle into the simmering water. Cook until floating, about 5 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, as the pasta cooks, brown the butter in a sauté pan, cooking it until the milk solids turn toasty and drop to the bottom of the pan. 7. Gently lift each pasta packet and place two on each warm plate. Drizzle the butter over the pasta, sprinkle with the parsley, chives, and almonds, and serve.
Reprinted from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving by Cathy Barrow. Copyright © 2014 by Cathy Barrow. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.