I have returned home for spring break and there isn’t much to do, so I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and thinking about cooking. This week is a perfect time to try some food projects I’ve been hoping to work on. I want to master the multiple-day, highly involved croissant recipe from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook, but unfortunately the recipe calls for diastitic malt powder and after visiting at least five grocery stores in the state, I have come to the conclusion that it is not sold in RI. Which is a shame, because in the city I can walk two blocks to Whole Foods and they have it. Oh well, another time.
Although I cannot share the croissants, I do have something else to share with you–homemade ricotta! Tomorrow I’m planning on making a fully homemade lasagna (because I actually have time for that) with homemade pasta, sauce and the ricotta. Ricotta is surprisingly easy to make and only requires four ingredients, so if you’ve never tried making it, you should definitely do that. Like, right now.
I can’t say much about the store-bought kind, because I rarely use ricotta, but judging by the taste of the homemade version I’m almost 100% sure that it’s 10 times better. It’s super-fresh and flavorful and probably cheaper to make than to buy. Oh, and it takes less than an hour from start to finish. Are you convinced yet?
A couple weeks ago I tried my hand at homemade mozzarella with the Community Agriculture club at NYU. Making mozzarella is a bit more involved than ricotta; it requires less common ingredients like citric acid and rennet and there are more steps. If you want to try making cheese but are apprehensive, I recommend making ricotta before you move onto mozzarella. I highly recommend trying your hand at cheese making at least once in your life. Fresh cheese is unbelievably tasty and tastes even better when you know you’ve made it.
This particular ricotta recipe (from Ina Garten) requires only four ingredients: whole milk, heavy cream, kosher salt and white wine vinegar. Try and get the highest quality ingredients you can; you will end up with a higher quality cheese. You also need cheesecloth, which is not hard to come by and can be reused if you’d like.
The first step in ricotta-making is to prepare your strainer. Place a sieve or colander over a large bowl and dampen two pieces of cheesecloth. Layer the cheesecloth over the sieve and set aside.
Next, pour 4 cups of whole milk and 2 cups of heavy cream into a large pot and stir in a teaspoon of kosher salt. Bring the mixture to a full boil over medium heat while stirring occasionally. It could take up to 20 minutes for your mixture to boil, but don’t rush it. Good things take time! When the mixture is boiling, remove it from heat and stir in 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar. Let the mixture sit for 1-5 minutes until it curdles. The mixture will separate in to curds (the chunky pieces that float to the top) and whey (the watery mixture underneath). If you tip the pot a bit, you’ll be able to see the layers separate.
Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined sieve and let it sit for 20-25 minutes or longer, depending on how thick you’d like your ricotta to be. Every couple minutes, discard the whey that collects in the bowl. You can either throw this in the sink or use it in place of water in cooking rice or baking bread. This website has a bunch of ideas if you’d like to re-purpose your whey. I tossed most of it (and feel a bit wasteful, I will admit) but reserved a little to mix into my dog’s food, like a canine cereal. She seemed to love it.
Once the ricotta is to your desired consistency, transfer it to a container and cover the surface with a layer of plastic wrap and then cover with a tightly-fitting lid. The cheese will keep for 4-5 days in the refrigerator.
This may look like a super-involved process, but it’s not! I am so happy with the outcome of my ricotta and cannot wait to use it in a lasagna. I topped some crusty toasted bread with ricotta and a bit of honey and it was incredible. I’m trying to resist eating the entire batch right now.
If you have an hour, I suggest you go make some homemade ricotta. You will not regret it.
The recipe comes from Ina Garten on foodnetwork.com
Oh, and if you’ve read this far, I’d also like to share that I’ve been writing some dining articles (as well as some others) for the features section of NYU’s Washington Square News. So I haven’t had much time to post while at school. If you’re interested, you can see my articles here.