January 10th, 2014
Right now I bet that a bunch of you are thinking, “Seriously? Homemade ricotta? I can get perfectly good ricotta at the market, thank you very much, One Hungry Mama.” Totally legit, but hear me out:
This is an awesomely easy kitchen project that can be done with the kids and will make you feel like a badass domestic goddess. Like the rockstar family cook that I know you are. I do not (necessarily!) expect you to make homemade ricotta all the time, but I hope that you’ll experience the deep satisfaction that comes from making a foundational food like bread or cheese from scratch. Even if just every once and a while. Or just once, period.
Think of making homemade ricotta as a small step towards discovering health and fun in your kitchen this year, and take the step this weekend. I know making homemade cheese might sound more like a leap, but I promise it isn’t. If you try and I’m wrong, I promise you can come back and yell at me and I won’t delete your comment. Deal?
You’ll find the proper recipe below, but I want to walk you through the process before we get to that. I want you to see how simple this is.
Start by putting whole milk, some heavy cream and big pinch of salt into a medium pot. I like using an enameled dutch oven because it heats up evenly, but don’t worry if you don’t have one. Use any nonreactive saucepan or pot. Attach a thermometer and heat the dairy to 180 degrees over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to keep it from scorching.
180 degrees?! I know that seems fussy and guess what? It is. I know you’re too busy with the kids to heat milk to a very specific temperature. So, guess what, I did the research and it turns out that you can get the milk to anywhere between 170-190 degrees and get the same results. You still have to be in the kitchen to watch, but don’t worry about being exact. Look for early signs of bubbling-180 degrees is the point at which the milk will begin to simmer— to know when it’s time to start checking the thermometer.
PS: If you miss the mark and the dairy goes above 190 degrees, you have to start over. No reducing the heat and continuing on. I’ve tried this, more than once, and it doesn’t work.
When the dairy reaches a temp between 170-190 degrees, turn off the heat and move your pot to a cold burner. Stir in freshly squeezed lemon juice, using a wooden or silicone spoon or spatula to gently stir 2 or 3 times only, and then let the mixture sit for 5 minutes, untouched. The dairy will begin to curdle: this is what you want! At first, you’ll see just one pocket of curds (milk solids) separating from the whey (the leftover clear liquid).
Then more pockets will begin to appear.
After five minutes, the curds and whey will have separated enough to start straining the cheese. Set a colander or strainer that’s been lined with cheese cloth into or across a large bowl. If using a strainer, the bowl has to be big enough so that the bottom of the strainer does not touch the bottom of the bowl. You want the whey to drip into the bowl without soaking back in.
With your set up complete, carefully pour the curdled dairy into the colander or strainer.
Allow the curds—which will become your ricotta!—to strain for about an hour, no fussing necessary. If your bowl starts to fill up too much with whey, carefully pull the edges of the cheese cloth together, pull the bundled curds out of the colander or strainer, and hang the cheese to let it finish draining. Get creative if you have to. I do.
After about an hour of straining, you’ll have ricotta! I like it soft and spreadable, so an hour usually does the trick. You can allow the cheese to strain longer, though, if you prefer a thicker, more firm cheese. It’s delicious—and so worth it—either way.
Unlike ricotta you’ll buy at the supermarket, you can eat this stuff with a spoon. Or, even better, on toast with a sprinkle of salt and drizzle of honey (a favorite breakfast around these parts).
Other ways to use your ricotta:
* Spread on a slice of crusty bread and top with my super quick homemade Tomato Jam or, really, any jam!
* Make an easy Zucchini, Mint and Ricotta Frittata for dinner.
* Or whip up this simple, affordable, and totally delicious dinner of Penne with Sausage, Roasted Tomatoes and Ricotta.
* Another pasta possibility is this Lemony Pasta with Asparagus, Peas and Ricotta.
* Zuzz up a super healthy and satisfying Beet and Apple Sandwich.
* Place a dollop on top of roasted fruit. I love these Roasted Plums with Fresh Ricotta and Prosciutto, which also works with persimmon.
Phew. And that’s just the beginning. So little work, so much reward. I hope you’ll give it a try.
Homemade Ricotta Cheese
(Can be shared with kids 6+ mos)*
Makes about 1 cup
3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Add the milk, cream, and salt to a medium, nonreactive pot set over medium-high heat. Attach a thermometer (candy or deep fry will do; you can even hold in a meat thermometer to check the temperature) and heat the mixture to about 180 degrees (see not above for more detail), stirring occasionally to keep the dairy from scorching.
2. When the mixture has reached an appropriate temperature, remove the pot from the heat and add the lemon juice. Gently stir 2-3 times to ensure that the lemon juice is evenly distributed, then let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes or so.
3. In the meantime, line a colander or strainer with 2-3 layers of cheese cloth and place over a large bowl to catch the whey. Pour the curdled milk mixture into the colander or strainer and allow to strain for 1-2 hours, depending on your desired consistency for the cheese.
If during this time, the whey begins to fill the bowl too much, pull up the edges of the cheese cloth and hang the bundled curds somewhere where they can continue to drain without the whey soaking back in. When done, discard the whey and enjoy your ricotta! Pack up whatever you don’t eat right away into an airtight container to stay in your fridge for up to 5 days or so (keep time will vary from batch to batch, so use discretion!).
*Note: While you’ll want to hold off on sharing large quantities of this with eaters from 6- to 12-months old (i.e., don’t feed this the way you might yogurt), it’s a perfectly safe add-in for even very early eaters. Mix a little bit into oatmeal or another whole grain cereal, pastina, or even pureed vegetables to give them a creamy consistency.