Ricotta is an Italian concoction. The term means “cooked again” because the original version was made from the whey which was the byproduct of the making of other cheeses. The whey would be heated, acidified, and allowed to curdle before straining into a thick semi-soft curd which was used to enrich many other dishes. Ricotta made from skim milk is common on grocery shelves, but now even the Italians often make it from whole milk and even cream. The result is a delicate cheese that resembles fresh farmer’s cheese or cream cheese. There is really no comparison between store-bought and home-made ricotta. You can use vinegar, lemon juice, or other acids to form the curd, but to my taste, lemon juice is preferred because it imparts a fruity tang that enhances the delicacy of the ricotta.
Here is a recipe from Sarah, who used hers for a dish in one of her pop-up dinners. Using her recipe, you will be amazed at how easy it is to make your own ricotta and how much better tasting it is. You may never buy it again.
Once you have made your ricotta, the next decision is what to do with it. First off, dip in a spoon and taste it. That should give you some ideas. The hazard with that approach is that you will be tempted to eat the whole thing. The silken texture, subtle lemon flavor, and the sweetness of cream should all come through. These qualities make fresh-made ricotta a perfect foil for fresh fruit or a fruit compote. Even thick sauces like chocolate or butterscotch are excellent complements. Naturally, one thinks of using it in a lasagna, but it would be a shame to overwhelm the flavor by store-bought noodles and the thick marinara sauce so common in lasagna today. Consider using homemade pasta along with a light saucing of the ricotta alone or with spinach. Go light on the cheese as well.
Ricotta pancakes are a perfect choice for highlighting the delicate flavor of the fresh stuff. The following recipes use the whole batch you have made: part of it going into the pancakes and part of it going into the blueberry sauce to serve on top. The recipes should make enough pancakes to serve four people. Leftover batter – if there is any – can be used to bake more pancakes which, after cooling, should be separated with waxed paper, wrapped tightly in plastic and foil, and frozen for another day.
3 Cups whole milk 1 Cup cream 1 tsp salt 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- Combine the milk, cream, and salt in a two-quart saucepan. Heat to 190°
- Remove from the heat. Add the lemon juice, stirring gently 2 or 3 times to completely mix. Let rest for 5 minutes.
- Line a colander or large strainer with dampened cheesecloth or a moist, clean kitchen towel. Place the colander on a large bowl to catch the whey.
- Pour the coagulated milk/cream mixture into the colander and let it drain for one hour. Transfer the drained ricotta to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
Yield: About 12 ounces (1½ cups)
1. You may substitute an equal volume of vinegar for the lemon juice. 2. You can save they whey and repeat the process for authentic old-time ricotta. 3. More salt helps preserve the ricotta if you choose to use it at a later time. 4. The longer you strain it, the thicker and creamier the ricotta gets and then even thicker and creamier with chilling
2 large eggs, separated
1 Cup buttermilk
1½ Tbsp sugar
1 Cup (8 oz) fresh-made ricotta
¾ Cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
zest of 1 lemon
⅛ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, buttermilk, sugar, and ricotta.
- In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder, lemon zest, nutmeg, and salt
- In a third small bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
- Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and whisk until combined.
- Fold in the egg whites.
- Drop the batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto a preheated, lightly greased griddle. Bake until bubbles form and burst on the tops. Then flip and bake on the other side until both sides are golden.
- Serve immediately with the blueberry sauce.
Fresh Blueberry and Ricotta Sauce
1 Cup fresh blueberries
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
⅛ tsp salt
¼ Cup confectioner’s sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
zest of 1 lemon
½ Cup (4 oz) fresh ricotta
½tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp limoncello (optional)
- In a small saucepan, combine the blueberries, lemon juice, salt, sugar and corn starch. Heat gently, stirring
continuously until the cornstarch thickens and the berries begin to release
- Stir in the ricotta, vanilla extract, and limoncello, stirring until just warmed.
- Ladle two or three spoonfuls on three pancakes. The sauce is best if served immediately while still warm, but you can make it
ahead and chill. Let come to room temperature or warm gently before serving.