Category: Cheese

Ricotta Fresca & Ricotta al Forno

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Ricotta, literally translated from Latin to mean recooked, is a dairy product said to have been developed by boiling milk in ceramic vessels by the Etruscans and later in ancient Roman kitchens.

Without getting deep into cheese making, ricotta is essentially a byproduct of the process, where the leftover whey from the milk of cows, goats, sheep, or even the Italian water buffalo, is cooked, cooled, and strained, leaving behind a very white, fresh, soft, and moist dairy product.

When considering ricotta many of us think first of lasagna, veal or eggplant parm, calzones, or stuffed pastas that might include ravioli, cannelloni, or agnolotti. But ricotta can also have a sweet side that is an important component in many dessert dishes from cheesecakes and cannolis, to those citron and pine nut-studded cakes my grandmother served at Easter time.

Ricotta can also be used to sauce pasta dishes, either with tomatoes or other sautéed or roasted vegetables. There are many variations we could explore and are worth considering as a follow-up piece to this. Perhaps a pasta dish or two and a dessert will be next.

Meanwhile, here I want to share two recipes using ricotta on its own. The first is a whipped spread paired with a variation of salsa verde and the other is baked as a loaf and served as a starter or light meal (accompanied by a salad prepared in this example) using sun-dried tomatoes as the main ingredient and finished with high- quality olive oil.

Ultra-fresh cow’s milk ricotta is used in this recipe, but if sheep’s milk ricotta can be found it is preferable. The ricotta I am using is the best product I have sourced to date, but I am always looking to improve upon the ingredients where I can. I like this product because of its freshness and its texture, and because it is drained of most its liquid unlike the generic ricottas that are stocked in most supermarkets. If that is all you can buy, then plan to drain it for 12 to 24 hours before assembling the recipes or they will be soggy.

To drain the ricotta, place a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and line it with a layer of cheesecloth. Spoon the ricotta into the sieve and spread it over the cheesecloth. Cover the bowl with clear film and place it in the refrigerator to drain overnight. Pour off the liquid that has collected in the bowl as the ricotta should now be drier and firmer for use in these recipes.

 

Ricotta Fresca

Ingredients
3 cups fresh cow’s milk or sheep’s milk ricotta
½ cup Greek yogurt (10% milkfat)
4 tablespoons olive oil
Leaves from 1 large fresh thyme sprig
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Method
In a large work bowl whisk the ricotta with the yogurt and olive oil until smooth and light.

Add the herbs and the salt and pepper, whisking again to combine.

Turn out in a serving bowl and spread on grilled or toasted artisan bread of your choice topped by a dollop of Salsa Verde (recipe follows).

Note: Any leftover Ricotta Fresca can be used to sauce pasta. For example, in the winter months slow roasted tomatoes generously sprinkled with fresh herbs and chili flakes can be combined with the ricotta and folded into the pasta to make a quick and flavorful first course dish. Or in the summer months when zucchini and yellow squash are in abundance, they can be sautéed with garlic and oil or charred on the grill, then folded together into the warm pasta with the ricotta and torn fresh basil leaves, sprinkled with grated aged pecorino and black pepper to finish the dish.

 

Salsa Verde

Note: On November 3, 2015, I posted a piece about Salsa Verde that you can access from the archives. The following recipe is simply another variation of that salsa.

Ingredients
1 bunch flat leaf parsley with tender stems, finely chopped
1 bunch fennel fronds from one fennel bulb plus 1 stalk, finely chopped
1 bunch celery leaves and tender stalks from the center heart, finely chopped
2 to 3 finely minced scallions
1 medium garlic clove, finely minced
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and finely chopped
2 anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
½ to ¾ cup olive oil

Method
Using a food processor, pulse the first seven ingredients until well blended having some texture, rather than as a smooth puree. Turn out the mixture into a glass or stainless work bowl, add the lemon juice and olive oil mixing to combine. Taste for seasoning and spoon on top of the ricotta spread on the toasted bread.

Ricotta fresca and salsa verde

Ricotta fresca and salsa verde

 

Ricotta Al Forno

Ingredients
3 cups fresh cow’s milk or sheep’s milk ricotta
2 large eggs
½ cup grated cheese (many options)
1 tablespoon roasted garlic puree (garlic jam)
3 tablespoons olive oil
Leaves and stems from 2 sprigs of parsley
Leaves from 1 large fresh thyme sprig
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Chili flakes and black pepper to taste

Mise en place

Mise en place

Method
Generously butter or oil a loaf pan (4½ x 8½ x 3), place a piece of parchment cut to fit the bottom of the pan, butter or oil the parchment, then dust the inside of the pan with bread crumbs, shake off the excess and set the pan aside.

Prepared loaf pan

Prepared loaf pan

In a large work bowl mix all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon or spatula until thoroughly combined. Spoon the mixture into the prepared loaf pan, smooth the top and press down with a spoon to compact the ricotta in the pan.

Set the loaf pan in a preheated 350-degree oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes until it is set and the top begins to brown. Test the loaf with a toothpick, and if it doesn’t come out clean, lower the temperature to 325 degrees and bake another 10 minutes or so.

Rest the loaf pan on a rack to cool for 1 hour to room temperature before turning out onto a platter. Remove the parchment before slicing and serving.

Out of the oven

Out of the oven

This loaf pairs well with assorted pickled vegetables, or mixed olives, mostarda, and different types of salads. One option is a salad made with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and toasted pistachio.

 

Sun-Dried Tomato Salad

Ingredients
13 sun-dried tomatoes (26 halves), thinly sliced then rough chopped
1 cup mixed olives (Kalamata and Castelvetrano were used), rough chopped
4 large caper berries, finely chopped
1 cup pistachio nuts, toasted then rough chopped
1 teaspoon Herb de Provence, or to taste
1 to 2 fresh parsley sprigs finely minced, including tender stems
Chili flakes to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil

Method
Place all of the ingredients in a large work bowl and mix together until thoroughly combined. Taste and correct the seasoning.

To serve, place a slice of the Ricotta al Forno loaf on a plate, spread some of the sun-dried tomato salad on the side, drizzle with a good finishing extra virgin olive oil and garnish with some parsley.

Plated

Plated

Ricotta as the main ingredient is versatile, inexpensive, and flavorful. Now you have two new ways to include ricotta as part of an antipasto or serve as a light meal. Why not give them a try.

Enjoy!
Eat well. Be well.
DM
Food shouldn’t be complicated or formal , but instead fresh, simple to prepare and fun!

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