This is the first in an occasional series of ‘This Week, I’m Mostly…’ posts which will focus on a process, ingredient, piece of equipment, or whatever else I’ve been doing/eating a lot of. This week, I learned how to make ricotta – and how to eat it. How do you like to use ricotta?
I love the alchemy of cheese-making. The transformation of liquid milk into solid cheese seems so improbable. That is, right up until the point that the whey has drained off, leaving behind rich plump creamy curds, which settle neatly into the shape of the sieve. I get a kick out of building a meal from fresh ingredients, but there is little more satisfying than producing the building blocks from scratch.
Following a trip to Valvona and Crolla – Edinburgh’s legendary Italian delicatessen – last weekend, I planned a dinner of deep black squid ink ravioli filled with crabmeat and a bright yellow saffron ricotta. I have to admit that the colour combination was largely conceived with Insta in mind – though I knew that the flavours would meld well, too. Having pulled together the pasta dough (roughly 100g of ’00 flour per egg – 2 in this case [so 200g flour] – and a sachet of cuttlefish ink, kneaded together by hand) I thought, I might as well look up a recipe for the cheese.
I could’t believe how easy it was to make ricotta! I read somewhere that it practically makes itself, and I now concur. I used this recipe – halved – adding two tea spoons of lemon juice for tang, and to aid the curdle. Boiling a combination of milk, cream, yoghurt, and lemon juice really gets the kitchen smelling sour – so best avoid this one if you’re trying to sell your house.
During the boil, it’s a good idea to move the pan to and from the heat, to avoid the ever-present threat of a dairy Vesuvius. I like to see how close to the edge I can get the milk to rise before I break, but I live dangerously – what can I say? I strained the cheese in a sieve using two of The Boy’s clean(ish) old muslins (WHAT!? it works!) – and left the whey to drain off until a simple cheese was formed. This was seriously cool!
Fresh ricotta is mild in taste, and generously accepting of any flavour you care to introduce to it. I soaked a good pinch of saffron threads in warm water whilst the whey drained, and added this into the curds – strands and all – with the salt. This gave the ricotta a lovely pastel yellow hue, and a sweet floral note.
Three ways with ricotta
1. On toast
I couldn’t wait to eat some of this magical stuff, and before it had fully cooled, I piled it high on toasted and liberally buttered cranberry, raisin, and cashew bread (not homemade, I’m afraid), and drizzled the whole lot with honey. This tastes decadent, but is really pretty healthy (if you’re not in the fat-is-the-work-of-the-devil crew).
2. Use your ricotta to stuff things
In Valvona and Crolla, I also picked up some courgette flowers – which were just asking to be stuffed. I piped the cheese into the flowers through a wee hole I cut near the stalk, and dipped them in a simple semi-thick batter of ’00 flower, egg white, and water, before deep frying in veg oil at 180C. They were divine, and definitely less healthy than the toast. I also fried some ricotta balls (also divine) which I had dipped in the batter.
You could use ricotta to stuff anything, and I fully intend to make some doughnuts filled with ricotta and sharp raspberry jam soon!
3. In/on/under pasta
I ended up not making the ravioli. I preferred the idea of cutting tentacle-like ribbons of tagliatelle from the inky sheets. I fried some garlic gently with a half a red chilli, and threw in a couple of handfuls of frozen peas and some crabmeat. Just before serving, I lifted the pasta directly from its starchy water into the crab mix, took it off the heat, and mixed through one egg yolk (left over from the white in the frying batter above). I served it topped with little mounds of ricotta, capers, and lemon juice. It was lovely and subtle – though it could have done with something a little more brash to liven it up. A few salted anchovies, perhaps?
Fresh ricotta doesn’t keep long, and despite my best efforts, I struggled to finish this half batch. I even tried to offload some on one of Cat’s unsuspecting aunties, but she treated it with the deep suspicion reserved for food made by children at school – the only difference was, she didn’t have to graciously accept, and then pretend to enjoy it. I will make ricotta again, for sure – But when I do, I’ll be taking orders first – and following Mark Greenaway’s cancelations policy.
How do you like to eat ricotta? Let me know in the comments.