One of life’s simplest pleasures is creamy fresh ricotta. Served warm straight from the vat. I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when I visited one of my favourite artisan cheeses stores. I purchased a kilo of freshly made ricotta a key ingredient in my baked pumpkin and ricotta rotolo. Of course I couldn’t resist sampling it Nigella style straight from its container when I arrived over home. One of my favourite ways to enjoy fresh ricotta is piled high on a toasted sourdough fruit bread. Drizzled generously with honey. Breakfast bruschetta. Perfect for Sunday brunch.
This Sunday I used thick slices of apple and currant sourdough bread for my bruschetta. Courtesy of my friendly local baker. Unfortunately there is no cheesemaker in our neighbour so drawing on an earlier conversation with my aunt I decided to make my own ricotta. Using a very simple recipe and three ingredients, a two litre bottle of full cream milk, a pinch of salt and the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon. No special equipment required.
Ricotta literally means “recooked”. True ricotta is a fresh unripened Italian cheese made not from whole milk but the whey left over from the production of other cheeses. The whey is fermented for 12 -24 hours, reheated and thick curds skimmed from the pot. Fortunately ricotta can easily be made at home simply by adding a little acid to fresh whole milk.
It’s a straightforward and uncomplicated process. Heat milk to near boiling point, separate the milk into curds and whey by adding acid; lemon juice, vinegar or even yoghurt. Strain anywhere from five to twenty minutes using a cheesecloth or perhaps a clean chux superwipe cloth as I did. Straining removes excess moisture from the curds. A soft, creamy texture requires only a few minutes, whilst a firmer, drier ricotta needs more time. And there you have it warm, creamy ricotta. Ready to be devoured in less than half an hour. For a rich and creamy dessert style ricotta suitable to be used as a filling for cannoli, cassata, or cream puffs, substitute a cup or two of the whole milk with cream. This variation is much richer and definitely more decadent.
We always have a tub of ricotta in our refrigerator. I use it for both sweet and savoury cooking. Now I know the secret to making ricotta at home there will be no excuse for not making fresh home-made curds. They really do taste amazing. So much nicer than the commercial variety.
Warm Breakfast Bruschetta With Fresh Ricotta and Honey
Toast thick slices of a good fruit, sourdough bread. Top each slice with a generous tablespoon or two of warm fresh home-made ricotta and a generous drizzle of honey.
Fresh Homemade Ricotta
Makes about 2 cups
2 litres full cream milk
3 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar
a generous pinch of salt
LINE a large strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth (or clean chux superwipes). Set over a large bowl if you wish to reserve the whey.
RINSE the inside of a non reactive pot (stainless steel or enamelled) with cold water to help prevent the milk from catching to the bottom and scorching.
PLACE the milk in the rinsed pot. Add salt and stir briefly. Allow milk to heat slowly, stirring occasionally. Steam will start to form above the surface and tiny bubbles appearing on the surface of the milk when it is near boiling point. This will read between 75 C – 95 C on a thermometer, just before the milk comes to a boil. Stir occasionally to prevent a film from forming or any from sticking to the bottom. It may be easier to use a thermometer the first few times you make ricotta.
ADD the lemon juice, one tablespoon at a time, stirring between each addition. The mixture should separate quite quickly into curds and whey .Remove from the heat and let sit for another minute to allow the curds and whey to fully separate.
CAREFULLY ladle the curds with a slotted spoon into the lined strainer. Allow to drain for a minute or so. Tie up the ends of the cheesecloth to form a bundle. Hang the cheesecloth bundle over a bowl. Strain it for 5 to 20 minutes, until you achieve the desired consistency. A very soft and creamy cheese requires only a little straining, while a drier and firmer cheese requires more time.
PLACE in a tight sealed container. Refrigerate. It will keep for up to 7 days. Ricotta does not freeze well.