Mocha ricotta for two

Andreae Prozesky gotta make ricotta.

My hatred of my neighbourhood supermarket seems to grow daily.

There was a time when I loved grocery shopping. The food store was my happy place. The joy of finding a new ingredient or a good sale was such that I could overlook the shop’s shortcomings. But over the last year the shortcomings have become too much to bear. The greens are sprayer-soaked and slimy, the unsalted butter vanishes for months at a time, the wise cashiers are being replaced with young people who can’t identify the simplest items of produce (“What is this?” “Uh… it’s an orange.” “Oh! Right!”), and the management seems to feel that opening more than three cash registers at a time, even on the busiest of evenings, is a little extravagant. And there’s this awful recording that comes over the P.A. with this woman who wants to be my friend and share cooking hints with me. Only she sounds a little too friendly. Very loud. Scary-like.

The whole thing has become an ordeal.

So last week when I realized, partway through assembling ingredients for a cauliflower casserole, that I had failed to pick up a tub of ricotta cheese during the big grocery run, I said, “shag it, I’m not going back there,” and decided that I’d make my own ricotta, or some ricotta-like substitute, or die trying.
How hard could it be? I already make yogurt, and ricotta is really just milk curds anyway. Dinner might end up being late, sure, but think of the satisfaction! Home-made ricotta! How cool would that be? Oh, how very many foodie points I would earn!

Well, after a few moments consulting the great god Google, I had to reevaluate, at least on the foodie-points front. Ricotta cheese requires no expertise whatsoever. No skill. You take some milk, you heat it up, you curdle it, strain it, and it’s done. There’s no culture to add, no incubation, no nothing. It is actually easier than yogurt—and I didn’t think anything could be easier than food that’s meant to be ignored all day. There are a couple of different ways you can go at it, and some methods are slower than others: I chose the quickest, and the one that used stuff I already had in the house. Stupidly easy. I could make ricotta and still have dinner on the table at a reasonable hour.

Now, strictly speaking, ricotta is meant to be made from the whey you have left over from making other kinds of cheese, like Parmesan or mozzarella. But chances are that if you don’t live in an Italian village, you probably don’t have little pots of whey all over your kitchen waiting to be ricottified. So you have to go straight to the source: milk. And chances are you don’t have your own sheep or goats or water buffalo on hand either, so that milk’s going to have to come from a carton. I used whole milk because that’s what I buy, so I can’t say what would happen if you were to use the watery stuff. Give it a go, though, if you like. Why not?

So here’s how it works: for one cup of ricotta, heat four cups of milk on the stove in a nice, large steel pot. Four cups of milk for a cup of ricotta might seem like a bit much, but it’s still a bargain, and the homemade stuff has no weird junk in it (bonus!) You’ll want a thermometer, a colander, and a muslin cloth to strain your cheese; a clean tea towel is what I use, one of those soft, flour-sack ones, but anything with a fairly tight weave and a flat texture (no waffle business) should work fine, and I think a pudding bag would be a grand substitute.

When the milk has reached 200F, add about 1/8 cup lemon juice, and stir. The milk will curdle and separate before your very eyes. Remove the pot from the heat, and pour the whole mess through the muslin, which you will have placed in the colander, which, in turn, should be sitting in the sink. It’ll look fairly gross for a minute, but then, as the whey drains off, you’ll be left with curds as lovely as anything shipped in plastic containers from that Saputo crowd. Just beautiful. Leave it to drain about 15 minutes, flip it off the cloth and into a bowl, and add some salt if you like. You can keep it in your fridge for a few days, but really it’s best used right away. Lasagna? Why not? Cheesecake? Bring it on. Or you can make the dessert below, and revel in the lovely (okay, obscene) creaminess of it.

Mocha ricotta for two

This is an inexact recipe, more of an idea really… and don’t get all judgey on me about the instant coffee; by rights this should use instant espresso powder, but do you think I can find such a thing around here? If you have any leads, please let me know. Also, increase the recipe to serve as many people as you like, so long as there’s enough room in your blender.

2 teaspoons instant coffee crystals
3-6 teaspoons sugar, depending on how sweet you like it (3 teaspoons is just enough to take the coffee edge off, so add more if you’d like it to be actually sweet)
dash salt
1 cup ricotta
1/4 – 1/2 cup cream , enough to get a pudding-like consistency (I used whipping cream, but coffee cream would do fine if you’re not the sort to throw whipping cream in all your food)

Toss the coffee crystals, sugar, and salt into your blender and whizz it into a powder. Add your ricotta and cream and blend until thick and smooth. Spoon into two dessert bowls or cocktail glasses or something chic like that (or go rustic like I did and use 125 mL jam jars) and stick it in the fridge. Serve as is, or with a sprinkling of cocoa or cinnamon or shaved chocolate, or a couple chocolate-covered coffee beans or something.

It occurs to me, too, that this would make a lovely filling for a chocolate cake. I’m just sayin’. And if you wanted to leave out some of the cream and throw in some appropriately-flavoured booze, well, I wouldn’t stop you.

Send your questions, comments, and cheesy suggestions to dreae@thescope.ca

4 comments

Best Professor

Michael Temelini

17 December 2009

  1. Steven Granter · December 17, 2009

    I’m wondering if you happen to shop at Sobeys Ropewalk Lane? That’s my local grocery store – I always go with several potential recipes dancing in my head, only to leave with enough ingredients for buttered toast and muttering curses on Mark Bittman for even daring to mention shallots. If I had a car, I’d get myself to a better grocery store – but I don’t, so I’m kind of stuck. Unless I want to add an hour of walking time to the whole grocery excursion – which I usually don’t, especially this time of year.

    One day last fall I nearly had a complete meltdown in the produce department (it was a rough week). It had been over a month since I’d seen cilantro at that store and figured I’d give it another go (cuz I ♥’s me some cilantro). In case cilantro was MIA again, I’d get some fresh ginger root for a few stir fries and chana masala. When there was no ginger – I left. I had to stop shopping and remove myself from the store, the temptation to declare culinary bankruptcy and stuff my cart with Pogos and frozen pizza was too great.

  2. Andreae · December 17, 2009

    Ha – same chain, Merrymeeting location. And yes, it really is enough to make you fill your cart with rubbish and cry yourself to sleep on your living room couch, surrounded by piles of greasy, waxy, food-stained cardboard packaging. My quest to have them stock unsalted butter on a regular basis has become something of a family legend. I also shop on foot, and going too far afield at this time of year (especially with two youngsters in tow) isn’t a real option. I would like very much to support an Atlantic Canadian company, but if they’re not stocking the things I need, despite my requests, what am I supposed to do?

    The explanation I got from a longtime Merrymeeting staffer is that the orders are put in on the mainland, so if they don’t think that the people in Rabbittown eat unsalted butter or red-stemmed Swiss chard or what have you, then we don’t get any. Ridiculous.

    The poor junior cashiers – I think they have a picture of me up in their locker room, because they look absolutely petrified every time they ask me whether I’ve found everything I was looking for. But maybe they always look like that.

  3. Kaya · December 17, 2009

    Oh that woman on the intercom! I hate that voice so much! In trying to sound familiar and accessible she just sounds annoying and patronising. “Just add Sobeys!” Grrrr! At least Dominion/Loblaws plays the Beatles. An employee once told me that every Loblaws across the country hears the same music. I guess this is the kind of organisation we can expect from a family that controls 80% of Canada’s food distribution.

    Also, my mum told me something last night about how women are at high risk for wrist problems because of carrying grocery bags around all the time. I knew my distaste for walking long distances with heavy bags wasn’t just because I am a wimp.

  4. Steven Granter · December 17, 2009

    I’d like to know how this restocking is calculated. Like if the amount of iceberg lettuce sold goes up, does the amount of swiss chard ordered go down? Does a run on Kraft parmesan in the green tube mean stock of all unprocessed hard cheeses are reduced? I’m sure it’s all very complicated – there’s probably an entire server room at Sobeys head office that figures this stuff out.

    And I agree – the Sobeys lady is so very annoying. She’s acting like she’s your best friend, but you don’t even know her – so it’s just creepy and weird. I can’t imagine how employees must feel having to listen to her all day long.

    Here’s an idea! How about taking an nice pointy awl, drizzling it with some delicious extra virgin olive oil and sticking it length-ways into your ear canal. And, you’re done! Fabulous! Just add Sobeys!

    *shudder*

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