Farmhouse Ricotta

{Two Ingredient Tuesday}

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I grew up thinking that ricotta was nasty. Having only met it in soggy baked dishes, I thought ricotta could only ever taste like bland, wet, gritty rubber. Then I tasted homemade ricotta. Did you know that ricotta can actually taste like milk? That the texture can be rich and amazing? It has two ingredients and requires almost no effort.

After this discovery, I was a changed woman. Dear readers, don’t limit your ricotta to the casserole dish. I dollop it onto just-out-of-the-oven pizza, toss it into the sauté pan with zucchini, drop it in spoonfuls into arugula salads and fruit salads (any salad, really). A very liberating kitchen secret is that dairy products are highly interchangeable, so I also swap it out for milk in mashed potatoes. You can also use ricotta in gnocchi, as part of a ravioli filling, transcendental baked cheesecakes, and also pancakes that will change your life. You can put it on sandwiches and crostini, anything that would benefit from a touch of rich dairy.

This is seriously magical stuff.

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Ricotta is an Italian word meaning “recooked.” It’s technically not a cheese, since there’s no aging or culturing process, just lemons and milkfat. Traditionally, ricotta is made with an acid (lemon juice) and a blend of milk and cream. Like most Italian recipes, you can customise it to your tastes, using more cream for a richer ricotta and more milk for a leaner one. Ricotta made with just milk is fairly dry, similar to the product you buy at the grocery store. A base of mostly cream instead of milk will make mascarpone cheese (who knew they were so closely related?). In this recipe, we go halfsies and use half-and-half, which yields a smooth and fatty cheese that’s a happy medium. You can mix milk and cream to your desired consistency (It’s a great way to use up leftover whipping cream or half-and-half before it goes bad).

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One thing you shouldn’t meddle with: fresh lemon juice. Don’t use the bottled stuff. Don’t even buy it. I know it’s hard to resist, but bottled lemon juice is often polluted with oils from the peel, the bitter pith and all sorts of chemical nasties. If you have no lemons on hand, substitute white vinegar instead.

So, the method. The only hands-on preparation is heating the milk and then stirring in lemon juice to make it curdle. After that, you just drain it to your preferred consistency and it’s done.

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My preferred method is to tie the cheesecloth into a pouch and suspend it dramatically from my kitchen faucet, but in my haste, I remembered to buy lemons and forgot to buy cheesecloth. As appalled as I was to use the less aesthetically pleasing method, I cut a square of thin muslin from my fabric stash and lined a sieve with it, which worked fine but took longer. Multiple hours longer. Learn from my mistake and spend the $2 on a packet of cheesecloth, which can be found in the cooking equipment section of most supermarkets. Don’t use a paper towel or napkin; it will disintegrate when you scrape the ricotta out of the sieve.

Stay tuned, we’re going to use this later in the week.

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Two Ingredient Tuesday Rules: I place no limitations on the complexity of the recipe itself, but the entire dish from start to finish must contain two ingredients only. However, there are four freebies that don’t count as ingredients: water, oil, salt, and pepper. I don’t count these because they act as integral seasonings and vehicles for common cooking methods, rather than acting as ingredients. And besides, everyone has them in their kitchen.

Notes & Variations: Although I’ve simplified the recipe for Two-Ingredient Tuesday, I prefer a blend of 4 cups of milk for every 1 cup of cream. It’s richer than supermarket ricotta, but not too soft. The higher the proportion of cream, the richer and smoother the ricotta will set. 100% milk yields a “dry” ricotta, and 100% cream will yield mascarpone cheese. Half-and-half, obviously, will be somewhere in the middle. If you’re baking your ricotta, go for a more stable higher-fat version. Use whole milk if you’re making a milk-only version — skim and reduced fat milk don’t have enough fat to properly set.
You can substitute vinegar for the lemon juice. I prefer lemons.

Farmhouse Ricotta
Yields about 1 ½ cups

Ingredients:
5 cups whole milk or half-and-half (see Notes)
3 tbsp. lemon juice
¼ tsp. kosher salt

Special Equipment:
Heavy-bottomed saucepan
Candy thermometer
Sieve
Cheesecloth

  1. Heat salt and half-and-half to 190°F or 85°C, then remove from heat and add lemon juice. Stir, and let the pot sit undisturbed 5 minutes, until curds thicken.
  2. Pour mixture into a sieve lined with two layers of cheesecloth and allow to drain at least two hours, or until it reaches your desired consistency. Spoon the ricotta into a sealed container and refrigerate until ready to use. Eat a spoonful before you put it away.

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

3 comments

  1. Pingback: Blood Orange Ricotta Tartlets | Thursday Tea

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