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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

the happygirl guide to homemade ricotta {recipe}

On my last trip to Italy there was something transcendent about the food. Each meal was a snapshot in my mind. A rustic Caprese sandwich enjoyed while sitting in the sunshine.  A Limoncello shot at an outdoor cocktail party with the smell of Cypress trees carried on the summer breeze. Dewy mornings with simple slices of toast topped with freshly made ricotta and a drizzle of honey. Whether it's a simple, deep espresso or a dessert of bright June strawberries dressed with Balsamic vinegar, the secret to extraordinary food in Italy is the freshness of the ingredients. The olive oil may have been pressed at the farm down the road, the earthy red wine has a hint of blackberries from the town just to the south and the cheese in your lasagne was probably prepared that afternoon.

Last week I was picking up some new knives at Sur la Table when I saw the class promotion for the Homemade Mozzarella and Ricotta Workshop. I signed up on the spot. Could I recreate some of the moments in southern Italy?

To be honest, I thought it would be difficult. It turns out it wasn't all that hard. It was just about being precise. The mozzarella was a little more complicated that the ricotta but it was still something that you or I could easily do. When you experience that first taste of a creamy ricotta that you made yourself, you'll never buy ricotta at the market again. The taste and texture of fresh versus the store bought brand is incomparable.

Here's how you make it:

While it looks like there is butter added to the milk, there wasn't. 
I used locally sourced whole milk with a high butterfat content.

{Homemade Ricotta Recipe}
difficulty: easy

6 cups of whole milk 
2 cups of heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups of buttermilk


Line a fine mesh colander with two layers of damp cheesecloth. Set atop a bowl or in sink. 

In a large non-reactive pot, add the milk + cream. Starting at medium-high heat, bring to a bubbling boil. Remove from heat and add the salt and buttermilk, stirring in one direction. Let sit undisturbed for five minutes. The whey and curds will separate. 

Slowly pour the curds and whey through the cheesecloth.  You'll wonder if there really is any curds as you pour. Don't worry. The curds may have settled at the bottom.  Wrap the top of the cheesecloth over the curds. Let drain for 15-20 minutes. Remove ricotta from cheesecloth and transfer into a bowl. Discard cheesecloth. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for four days. 

homemade ricotta + pesto

  • Non-pasteurized whole milk is best for this recipe. If you don't have access to non-pasteurized milk, use regular pasteurized milk and not ULTRA-pasteurized milk which won't give you the results you're looking for. You'll know if the milk is ultra-pasteurized if the sell-by date  is a few weeks from now.
  • The original recipe calls for 8 cups of whole milk but I also tried making it with 6 cups of whole milk + 2 cups of heavy cream and the milk/cream mixture turns out a creamier, richer flavor which is good if you are highlighting the cheese alone i.e. on toast and not as a stuffing for pasta. If you're using the ricotta for pasta, use the 8 cups of milk recipe.
  • I also found recipes online that use vinegar or lemon juice. I also tried these versions and they all turned out well. If you don't want to use buttermilk, use 4 tablespoons of lemon juice or white wine vinegar.
  • This recipe does not work well if you use skim milk. It turned out a very rubbery, tasteless small batch.
  • Be sure to stir while boiling the milk + cream mixture. You don't want to scald the bottom of the pot. It's a nightmare to clean scalded milk from a pot.
  • Homemade ricotta is perfect on toast and topped with homemade pesto as an appetizer. Or simply top with a drizzle of olive oil, kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.
  • Expect a 1/3 final yield from the milk + cream + buttermilk.
  • Cheesecloth can be found in most markets.

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