Ricotta to the Rescue

I'm in a little bit of a funk this week.

Maybe because all I've been watching on TV and reading about are the multiple disasters unfolding in Japan. And the perpetually saddening news updates seem to have zapped my enthusiasm.

For most everything, including cooking. Naturally I am cooking and eating every day, but I have absolutely no desire to prepare anything elaborate or exciting.

Cooking and blogging have been the last thing on my mind. In fact, I feel guilty cooking anything more than something simple considering hundreds of thousands of Japanese people are stranded, without water, electricity, searching for their families and likely even inconsolable.

Though sometimes what I need to shake me out of a particular state of mind is to get in the kitchen and cook. Nothing fancy, you see, just something comforting.

With spring officially here and fresh strawberries starting to appear in the local markets, I think homemade ricotta may be just what I need to get me out of this. Most of you have likely purchased ricotta at the grocery store and used it in lasagna, other Italian dishes such as cannelloni or tortellini, or a dessert of sorts. Though once you make this cheese at home, you'll likely never (and I do mean never) buy that wretched, tasteless stuff in a plastic container again.

Ricotta means recooked because it involves cooking milk with an acid and letting the curds and whey separate. The curds then become ricotta. And the simplicity of ricotta will astound you. You can make savory or sweet dishes.

Because ricotta is so easy to make, I like to keep it basic. Just put a generous scoop in a bowl, drizzle it with local honey and top it with sliced strawberries or other berries. Add a little fresh mint for garnish.

An excellent way to boost my spirits. And yours.

Buen provecho!

Homemade ricotta with a drizzle of local honey, strawberries and blueberries

Homemade Ricotta
The Cowgirl Gourmet (http://www.thecowgirlgourmet.blogspot.com/) borrowed this recipe from Mario Batali

Print recipe

Ricotta. All you need is about 10 minutes active working time, some milk, cream and acid. The result is unbelievable. Use it in savory or sweet dishes. Spread it on a slice of grilled, rustic bread for an utterly simple and delectable appetizer or top it with berries and drizzle with honey for a spectacularly simple dessert that is perfect for warm nights. To make a savory ricotta, simply eliminate the sugar.

1 quart whole milk, preferably organic
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest, be sure and wash the lemons well and use organic if you can
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (do not add sugar if making a savory ricotta)

In a non-reactive 2-quart saucepan, heat the milk and cream until boiling (between 180-200 degrees), stirring frequently so the milk does not stick to the bottom of the pan.

Milk and cream heating to a boil

Now it's getting close...

Once it comes to a rolling boil, immediately add the lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and sugar and allow to cook for another 30 seconds and stir to combine. You may need to lower the heat just a bit to prevent the milk from bubbling over the top and overflowing.

Careful not to let the milk overflow!

Look at those beautiful curds...

Turn off the heat and remove the pan from the heat. Allow it to stand untouched for 20 minutes until the curds form, though you will see them start to form as soon as the acid hits the milk.

In the meantime, line a colander with cheesecloth (I doubled my cheesecloth) and place in a bigger bowl so you catch the whey. Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove all of the curds from the whey and place in the cheesecloth-lined colander, allowing to sit so all the whey drains. (The longer it drains, the firmer the ricotta will be, so if you want a soft ricotta, let it drain about 30 minutes. For a firmer cheese, up to 2 hours.)

And be sure and use a colander that sits above where the why will drain. (I used a colander with feet.)

Homemade ricotta

You can form the cheese into a shape, if you like, or simply turn it out onto a plate. Homemade ricotta is best eaten the day it is made, though you can cover with wax paper and it will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

A bite of happiness.

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