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)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org