Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ricotta - a kitchen's secret agent!

There is a secret ingredient in your grocery store.  Liquid smoke, you ask?  Nope, though I've always been fascinated and repelled by that magical concoction.  I am referring to ricotta cheese.  It provides body and richness to lasagne.  Blended with a little vanilla, cinnamon, lemon zest, and maple syrup, it makes a sweet, creamy fruit topping.  And, when blended with some sauteed veggies, a little milk and a little pasta water, you have a great pasta sauce that even kids (maybe) will like.  Like a cream sauce, but without the heart stopping after effects.  A perfect meal - protein, carbs, veggies, low-fat (which is necessary when most of the rest of your meals include lots of bread, butter and triple creme cheese)

Tonight, as the pasta water was coming to a boil, I sauteed some bacon (if you're not into bacon, a sliced onion will do at this point).  When cooked through, I added about two cups of sliced brussels sprouts, tossed with some salt and pepper and a splash of white wine(which you can switch for some chicken or veggie broth if you're cooking for kids).  I then covered the pan for a few minutes to cook the sprouts through.  If, at this point you haven't added bacon, might I suggest about a tablespoon of anchovy paste?  It adds some great saltiness, and rather than tasting fishy, I promise that it just creates a sort of smoky richness.  I promise.

By this time, the pasta was bubbling away.  With just four minutes left on the penne, I added about a cup of low fat ricotta to the pan, along with about a quarter cup of milk and a quarter cup of pasta water to help thin out the sauce.  Taste check.  I added some red pepper flakes for fun.  When the pasta is done, drain and toss with the creamy veggie goodness.  Add some additional parmesean, and voila!  

BTW - if you have a gallon of milk, some citric acid or lemon juice, some cheese cloth and a strainer you can make your own ricotta!  Here's the recipe cut and pasted from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.  If you don't have citric acid lying around, you can use lemon juice as suggested here.  

Ricotta from Whole Milk
  1. Use whole milk .. The fresher the better
  2. Add 2 tsp of citric acid per gallon of liquid (dissolved in 1 cup cool water). Add 1/2 of this Citric Acid solution to the milk (save the rest of the citric acid). Stir briskly for 5-10 seconds.
  3. Add 1 tsp salt
  4. Heat the milk slowly on low to med stirring well to prevent scorching
  5. At 165-170F watch for small flakes forming in the milk and the separation of small curds.
    If after a few minutes you do not see the flakes forming, add more of the Citric acid until they form (do this in small 1 Tbsp increments to avoid over acid milk).
  6. Continue heating to 190-195F then turn the heat off
  7. As the curds rise, use a perforated ladle to gently move them from the sides to the center of the pot. These clumps of curd will begin to consolidate floating on top of the liquid.
    Let the curds rest for 10-15 min.
    *** This is very important because this is the point where the final Ricotta quality is assured
  8. Ladle the curds gently into draining forms (No cheese cloth should be needed if you were patient in the previous step). Let the curds drain for 15 min up to several hours.
    For a fresh light ricotta, drain it for a short while (until the free whey drainage slows) and chill to below 50F. For a rich, dense and buttery texture allow it to drain for an extended period of time (several hours). before chilling overnight
    Move to a refrigerator or cold room. Consume within 10 days
Let me know how it works if you give it a try!  


  1. I really want to try this. I'm somewhat scared of the cheesemaking process though. How easy is it to mess up and end up with lumps of curdled awfulness?

  2. It's actually a pretty easy process. The fact is that you are aiming for lumps of curdled awfulness! The most important part is to let the curds rest, rather than swishing them around in the pot marveling at their awfulness. Make sure not to overheat - use a thermometer.

    And, if it really is a total mess, you're out the cost of a gallon of milk. No real biggie. Let me know how it goes!

  3. I did not realize you had already done this! Well then, it's my turn, I guess. The reason for my recent ricotta-making obsession: A local restaurant serves a cloud of house-made ricotta with a drizzle of olive oil, minced garlic, and shredded fresh flat parsley and basil with grilled ciabatta (that has of course been brushed liberally with olve oil, a little garlic and salt).

    I have not been able to replicate this very simple arrangement, even after speaking to the chef, because I have been using ricotta from a tub. With this post I'll soon remedy that!