Thursday, March 17, 2011

Homemade Ricotta and a use for it

 I am not sure what took me so long to catch on to this idea: Homemade ricotta cheese.  I stumbled across the recipe in Barefoot Contessa's new book, "How Easy is That?" and was really surprised at how truly simple it is to make at home.  Before this, I thought home cheese making was relegated to hermits in Vermont, Lancaster County and the Little House on the Prairie series.  Yet, in 20 minutes I had homemade cheese that was fresh, creamy, pure-tasting and ready for all ricotta cheese uses (and there are a lot of them beyond just Italian pasta dishes, although that tends to be my favorite--see post on Artichoke and Pesto "Stuffed Shells" Bake.  I did use some of my leftover ricotta to make a lemon cornmeal pound cake, but that is a post for another day).  See below for another extra fast(!) pasta dish using your homemade ricotta cheese (here's a teaser).

I don't plan on making my own Artisan Smoked Aged Gouda or the like anytime soon, but I will definitely be making my own ricotta in the future!  

Homemade Ricotta
Makes about 2 cups
5 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons white vinegar

Set a large sieve over a deep bowl.  Dampen 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth. 

Pour the milk and cream into a heavy-bottomed pot.  Stir in the salt.  Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar.  Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute or until it curdles.  It will separate into the thick parts (the curds) and liquid parts (the whey).

Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature until desired consistency.  The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta (mine ended up on the thick side, almost like crumbled goat cheese...I will probably catch it sooner next time). Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth.  Discard the liquid whey (unless you want to save it for another use--I read in a blog that a cheese making expert suggests boiling pasta in the liquid but I haven't tried that yet.  It just seems a shame to throw out so much liquid if there is a good use for it).  Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Use within 2-3 days.  

recipe heavily adapted from Barefoot Contessa How easy is that?

                                              Pasta with Ricotta, Parmesan and Spinach

This is really a non-recipe recipe.  I needed to use up some of my homemade ricotta and we needed some lunch fast.  It was great as is or topped with jarred marinara sauce, it tasted like spinach lasagna.  The best thing was that the longest part was waiting for the pasta water to boil. 

Pasta With Ricotta, Parmesan and Spinach
serves 2-4
8 oz. dry shaped pasta (I used small shells because that's what we had on hand)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
small pinch of ground nutmeg
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
big handful of fresh baby spinach
jarred pasta sauce (optional)

Cook pasta to al dente according to package directions, reserving a cup or so of the cooking water to use as needed.  Drain and set aside.  In the pot, combine ricotta and Parmesan cheese.  Add some of the reserved pasta water, a little at a time, thinning to make a sauce until desired consistency.  Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Stir in pasta, tossing to combine.  Reheat over medium heat stirring frequently, if necessary.  Toss in a big handful of fresh spinach and stir just until wilted.  Pour into bowls and top with additional shredded Parmesan and warmed jarred pasta sauce, if desired. 

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