Monday, October 18, 2010

Homemade Ricotta -- Fun with Buttermilk Part I

This ricotta recipe was another one of those too-good-to-be-true recipes swirling around the cuisinet a while back -- maybe 2005 or so -- just like the no-knead bread recipe. As with the no-knead bread, the ricotta recipe is absolutely not too-good-to-be-true.

I had forgotten all about it, until my mom handed over one of the Los Angeles Times' Food Sections that she saves for me. Right on the front page was Russ Parsons singing the praises of making your own ricotta.

Thank you, mom! Thank you, Russ!

If you love fresh cheese and/or amazing science projects, you should rush out to the market and buy the necessary 9 cups of whole milk, and buttermilk. I'm betting you have the salt and distilled white vinegar at home already.

That's all you need.

Oh! Don't forget the cheesecloth. Most of us have it in the kitchen on a regular basis. But if you've run out, you may end up lining your strainer with ripped up disposable tea bags (These are so handy for making tea and bouquets garnis!) like I did. Certainly, less classy.

Making your own ricotta is more of a snap than you can imagine, and it is so cool to watch your hot milk turn into curds. It is almost unbelievable. Oh, Science!

You heat the milk and buttermilk until they reach 185 degrees, and then you add the salt and the vinegar and remove the pot from the heat. As if by magic curds start to appear. The smell is warm and a bit sweet, reminiscent of bread baking, really. And ten minutes later, you are scooping out curds of your very own house-made ricotta. All that is left is the straining.

The straining is important, because the wet whey is all over your curds. You want to get rid of it, by straining the curds in a cheese-cloth lined strainer. The recipe says to drain the curds for five minutes. I did it for a little longer and even pressed on the curds a bit, to accelerate draining. Ever the impatient one.

Don't go overboard like I did! My ricotta was slightly drier than it should have been, although still mighty delicious.

The taste is so far superior to the Precious stuff that you get in the market. Certainly, the substantial improvement in flavor is well worth the little investment in time.

My parents, sister, Fe, and I hungrily ate it up on whole grain toast drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkled with salt. Another route would be to eat it with figs and honey -- deservedly a classic. Or stir it into hot pasta with some olive oil and your best homemade tomato sauce. Or make bruschetta with garlicky cherry tomatoes and basil.

It went quickly, so I plan on making another batch to stuff into tomatoes or as Russ Parsons suggests, roasted peppers.

Homemade Ricotta

9 cups whole milk
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons distilled vinegar

Heat the milk and buttermilk in a heavy pot over medium heat until it reaches 185 degrees. Add the salt and vinegar and stir. Remove the pot from the heat. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Line a large strainer with cheesecloth. Place the strainer over a bowl. Scoop the curds out of the pot using a perforated spoon or skimmer. Place the curds in the strainer. Repeat until all the curds have been removed. Discard the remaining liquid, called whey.

Drain the curds for 5 minutes. Transfer to a covered container to store in the refrigerator. Tastes best the first day, but is still good for 3 or 4 days after.

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