A chef's private collection of cooking tips and recipes
A Sweet Cheese To Make At Home: Ricotta
When I lived on my ranchito in Mexico, if I had to go to town (Dolores Hidalgo) I would try to get there early enough to find the ricotta man on his corner, selling his fresh ricotta of the day. It was so delicious, and so cheap! Considering that traditional Italian ricotta (which means "twice cooked") is made from the whey leftover from making other cheeses I can't believe how expensive it is at the supermarket. And the stuff they sell in this village is quite disgusting.
This old man's ricotta tasted just like the stuff I used to buy in Montreal, which has a large Italian community.
Many Mexicans make their own queso fresco -- the fresh white cheese they crumble over many dishes, and a few people make their own Oaxaca cheese too -- a stringy mozzarella-like cheese that melts beautifully. But not everyone makes ricotta with the whey. Maybe my ricotta man had Italian blood!
I threw an ice cream party last week, and had a quart of whole milk leftover, plus about half a cup of rich soy milk that I had extracted for making silken tofu, and I happened to have some citric acid in the pantry, so I decided to make ricotta cheese using the recipe in Ricki Carroll's Home Cheesemaking. (Actually, the recipe she gives here is a better one, and I will follow it next time. And by the way that's what's wrong with the book: I think it was published before they had all the recipes tested thoroughly, and I keep finding totally revised versions of them on their website.)
Ricotta is a very pleasant, sweet, small-curd cheese, and the homemade kind is better than most brands you can find at the supermarket, though not as good as the bulk ricotta found at real Italian stores.
After heating the milk and watching the curds form, the latter are ladled into a double layer of butter cloth (or several layers of cheesecloth), and hung up to drain.
This is the same contraption that I use for making jelly, no need for special equipment, just a stick and a way of suspending the ball of curds.
Here is the finished cheese, with 3 cups of whey which I will freeze to use in my next batch of bread. The yield from one quart of milk was exactly half a pound (227 grams), which brings the cost to about $6 a lb, cheaper and a heck of a lot healthier than the supposedly healthy gourmet PC Blue Menu "Ricotta Whey Cheese" whose list of ingredients is quite a bit longer.
If I can resist the temptation of eating it as dessert, I plan to put it in some lasagna or use it for stuffing ravioli, some time this week.
On the other hand, it's so quick and easy to make -- less than one hour from start to finish -- I should start stocking whole milk just so I can make the occasional batch, as an additional menu option.
In addition to lasagna and ravioli, ricotta is the cheese of choice for all sorts of Italian specialties. I remember very fondly a ricotta pie that we used to serve in my first restaurant, way back when. It was topped with pine nuts. Here's a very similar recipe, from Lidia's Italy.