Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Panacea: Ricotta Cheese
I was reminded recently that I never delivered on the promised Part II to this post. Better late than never?
So, we made ricotta. Though, as I read about ricotta, I get the sense that our ricotta is not really ricotta. Ricotta is Italian for 'recooked'. Because, evidently, it's traditionally made by reheating the whey left over from making some other cheese, adding in some acid to pull out the last remaining bits of protein and make them into something edible. We are not the goddesses of efficiency that the ancient peasants of the Italian countryside were. We buy our acid from Surfas. We make our cheese from milk.
Regardless, though, making cheese at home is not hard at all, pretty inexpensive, and really satisfying. In broad strokes, you heat up salted milk, add an acid (we used ascorbic acid in powder form, you can also use powdered citric acid or lemon juice (though I hear that the latter doesn't set up quite as well as the other two)), and watch as it curdles. It's fascinating -- just like Little Miss Muffet, you end up with a pot of completely separate curds and whey. Then, you scoop out the curds and drain them over some cheesecloth, and in the case of our recipe, mix in a bit of half and half to beef it up. That's it. Easy peasy, ricotta cheesy.
The end result was creamy, slightly spreadable, with a mild flavor that would go great with sweet or savory. But then, wee took it one step further: we used some of the resulting cheese for a next-level cheese experience -- ricotta salata. You take ricotta, add more salt, and press it in a cheese mold: in our case, a large clean tomato can with both ends removed. After a couple days in the fridge, weighed down with a heavy jar, you get a more strongly flavored semi-hard cheese that you can grate or slice.
I tend to fly fast and loose with dairy, and make substitutions based on texture. Aside from classic uses like lasagne, cannoli, or just spreading on bread with whatever (I would choose honey), I could see sneaking ricotta into artichoke dip as a lower-fat alternative to sour cream or mayo. And how good would it be mixed with some brown sugar and vanilla for a dip with fruit! (I want that now.) And the ricotta salata is great on a cheese plate or grated into a salad.
Two kinds of cheese and house-cured salmon, all in an afternoon. Maybe we are goddesses of efficiency after all.
Our recipe came from Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It. Smitten Kitchen has a more decadent take on ricotta.