Monday, January 21, 2013

Ricotta - Curdle Your Own

I sometimes wonder why we settle for less than sublime in the cooking world, especially when the sublime is so easily within our reach. I watch people who buy crème fraîche, when all you need to do is add a bit of sour cream or lemon juice to heavy cream and let it sit out overnight, and what you will end up with is an absolutely wonderful crème fraîche that will cost less than any store bought crème fraîche.

The same holds true for jams and jellies, and chocolate sauce, and many other wonderful creations we can do at home. Why buy it when you can make it, and make it better?

Well, I will tell you's because we are sometimes lazy, or lack confidence, or just don't have the time.   We tend to live in a world where we just exchange money for what others have done, regardless of quality of the finished product.  For many of us, this is an acceptable way of doing things, and I dare say that I too fall victim to this (mostly because of not having time).

However, necessity is the mother of invention, as the old saying goes, and last week I found myself in my favorite grocery store and they had no ricotta, and I wanted to make a lasagna with ricotta.  My Nonna did not put ricotta in her lasagna, but I really like it in my lasagna.  I was suddenly reminded of watching an episode of Top Chef where one of the chefs made ricotta on the fly, so I pulled out my trusty iPhone and looked up the recipe on line.

I have to digress for a moment here.  How did I ever live without ubiquitous Internet in this world?  I mean...there I was, wondering what I needed to make my own ricotta, and BAM, I found it in seconds. I gotta say I simply adore living in a connected world.

Anyway, as it turns out, the ingredients for ricotta are as basic as they come, and the technique is so ridiculously simple I feel like an idiot buying it all these years.  Here is a version I came up with that was based on several recipes I saw:

Yield: About 2 cups finished Ricotta

1 1/2 quarts Whole Milk
 2 cups Half-n-Half
1 cup Heavy Cream
1/2 teaspoon Salt
Juice of 1 small Lemon

  1. Combine everything except the Lemon Juice in a heavy 6 quart saucepan and bring it to a rolling boil, stirring to prevent scorching.
  2. Add the Lemon Juice and turn down the heat.  Stir and simmer about 2 minutes, or until you see it curdle.
  3. Remove the curds with a skimmer or slotted spoon to a fine strainer over a large bowl, or a colander lined with cheesecloth.  Strain any remaining curds out of the whey.
  4. Let this strain over the bowl in a refrigerator.
  5. Do not waste the whey.  Store it in a container in the refrigerator and use it as a liquid for making breads, biscuits, pancakes, or whatever else you cook with liquid in it.  It has lots of protein in it.
This produces a very dry curd, which is great for lasagna.  The flavor is delicious and can be enjoyed with some pepper and olive oil drizzled on it just by itself.  If you prefer it a bit saltier, add more salt to the mixture when you make it. 

This ricotta reminded me of the delicious ricotta I have had in Italy, and I am convinced that I should never buy that runny stuff they sell in the grocery store ever again.

There is a great satisfaction that comes to sticking it to "the man", even if it is through homemade curds. fight your battles, and I will fight mine!

Enjoy in good health.

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