The first experience I remember with ricotta was somewhere in high school. This was the era where Food Network seemed like it had a wider relevancy that it does now and I would watch Giada, Ina, and Nigella with rapt attention. Giada’s recipe for stuffed shells is one of the first real independent cooking experiences I remember. I assembled all my ingredients and got to cooking with the naive hope that it would be as glamorous an experience as her show made it out to be. Our household, being staunchly of a Korean culinary standard, had rice paddles aplenty but nary a cheese grater to be seen, so I made do with the awful powdery Parmesan in the widely recognizable green container. This was the first disappointment. The second, and most memorable, was ricotta. The only ricotta our small Southwestern town seemed to have was the ones in the white plastic containers you can still find next to the cream cheese and deli meats. As ricotta, being a cheese and all, was categorized in my mind as things you indulge in with moderation… I expected it to be on par with chocolate and pastries (ie those diet no-no foods you should stay away from if you want to keep in accordance with the standards of adolescent peer pressure and self-esteem). Imagine my disappointment when the ricotta violently slurped out of the container, intact like cheese jello, with a foreboding ‘plomp’ and jiggle. It tasted not much better than it sounds. Thankfully if you mix it with marinara sauce and add cheese and pasta… it doesn’t taste half bad – granted it’s largely because the ricotta was tasteless and just added the necessary consistency to the dish. In spite of all these disappointments, the stuffed shells turned out relatively well.
Long history aside, as there seems to be a revival of homemade, do-it-yourself food culture scene these days, I slowly became interested in the concept of making homemade ricotta. I decided to give it another chance largely through reading things like this. Would it surprise you if I said it resulted in a complete 180? Ricotta and roasted peaches were my lunch for a few days straight until it ran out, and with it my dreams for a ricotta/spinach pizza situation (next time, Gadget, next time). It had a rich, creamy texture (not at all grainy like the bland grocery store option), and sweetly delicate flavor. It felt decadent like a cheesecake without the heaviness that makes you feel slightly ill afterwards. Peaches are insanely good right now so if you can bear to spare a few fresh ones, roast them up – it brings out the natural sweetness and is simply wonderful when nestled in a few good spoonfuls of fresh ricotta. I alternated between topping the plates with mint sugar and raw honey and preferred the raw honey – although the crunch and freshness of the mint sugar is nothing to sneer at.
I suppose ‘cheese-making’ makes people lose interest about as fast as can be as it sounds like a complicated endeavor. It’s not. I made it and even had time to do my hair for once. The execution is incredibly easy and the yielded benefits are infinite. Smear it on toast and top with some veggies (or even a good drizzle of olive oil and a dash of sea salt and pepper) for a quick snack, put it on pizza, pair it with pasta, whip up some roasted peaches, cherry, or rhubarb . Be all Giada-esque with your impressive culinary skills and perfect hair.
Ricotta + Roasted Peaches + Mint Sugar
Recipe for roasted stone fruit + mint sugar adapted from Hungry Girl Por Vida.
Recipe for ricotta adapted from Delancey by Molly Wizenburg from Orangette.
Time: About 2 hours Yield: 1 lb of ricotta
6.5 cups of whole milk *
1.5 cups heavy cream * (I used half-and-half because I forgot to buy heavy cream)
2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp fine sea salt
* use the best tasting milk and cream you can find
Peaches – as many you’d like, not overly ripe.
Sugar – whatever kind you prefer (white/granulated, raw, turbinado, etc) enough to sprinkle
0.5 cup fresh mint leaves
0.5 cup white granulated sugar
- In a heavy pot (enough capacity for 5 quarts), combine milk, cream and buttermilk.
- Place over medium heat and stir, stirring occasionally.
- Check temperature at regular intervals with a candy thermometer and when it reaches 180°F, stop stirring.
- Continue to cook until you can see the curds (chunky white) and whey (yellow-ish liquid) separate – you can better see by dragging a wooden spoon along the top .
- Remove from heat and let rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
- Line a wide strainer with two layers of cheesecloth and place over a large bowl or sink. Ladle the curds into the cheesecloth (don’t press down on the curds).
- Drain until it has reached your desired consistency.
- Store in fridge. Tastes best within the first 3 days.
- Preheat oven to 375°F and line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Wash and dry fruit, cut in half, remove pit.
- Place fruit cut side up on baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar.
- Roast in oven for 25-30 minutes or until the fruits become soft and start to release their juice a little.
- Pulse together mint and sugar until thoroughly combined.
- Place a few spoonfuls of ricotta on plate. Add a peach halve or two. Sprinkle with mint sugar. Alternately drizzle with honey.