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Tag Archives: Ricotta

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Ricotta can be so much more than the main ingredient in lasagna. Its fresh and creamy flavor can shine in many other recipes. The vegetables of spring — green peas, tender green beans, earthy beets — make companionable partners.The key to the best flavors is the same in any recipe – buy the best you can find. In the case of ricotta, look for a fresh aroma and taste and creamy texture. Traditionally, ricotta is made from whey leftover from making other cheeses, but it should still taste of milk. Hand-dipped is a good phrase to look for because it is handled more gently; a lightness to it that ricotta absolutely should have. It shouldn’t be dense. Traditional basket-drained ricotta almost quivers like panna cotta or a custard. If you have a cheese shop nearby, it might carry ricotta from an artisan maker. Italian grocery stores and supermarkets with a good cheese selection often have fresh, hand-dipped ricotta.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Line a large sieve with cheesecloth (about 4 or 5 large layers) or a thin kitchen towel and set it over a medium bowl.

To make about 1-1/2 pounds of cheese: pour 3 quarts, plus 3 cups whole milk into a stainless steel pot with 1 cup heavy cream (not ultra pasteurized). If possible make them both organic.

Bring the milk and cream to a very gentle simmer, stir in 2 teaspoons salt and 1/3 cup lemon juice (fresh squeezed). Simmer 1 or 2 minutes or until you have cloud-like clumps floating in almost clear liquid. Do not let the liquid boil and don’t let the clumps cook until they are hard.

Scoop them up with a slotted spoon and into the cheesecloth lined sieve. Gently pull together and twist the top of the cheesecloth so that it compacts the curds.Put the bowl in the refrigerator. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours and then your ricotta is ready to be used. Note: I do not throw away the liquid that remains. I use it for baking.

Some ways to serve ricotta cheese:

On fresh melon: Mix ricotta with a little sugar and a little milk to loosen it, then dollop it on melon slices along with fresh mint.

On pizza: Drop tablespoons on the top of the pizza. It will soften in the oven, spreading out, but won’t melt. Mix in fresh chopped herbs first, if you like. Basil is especially good.

On vegetables: Serve on top of roasted asparagus, with a little extra-virgin olive oil and pepper. Also zucchini, green beans or artichokes. Add another cheese for saltiness, if you like, such as Pecorino or Parmesan.

Stuff pancakes with ricotta or use it to replace some of the milk in your pancake recipe.

Crostini: Small slices of toasted bread are a great base for ricotta with some additional ingredients: ricotta with olives and pistachios or roasted cherry tomatoes with ricotta. Whip ricotta cheese with honey, spread on crostini and top with sliced fresh figs and toasted sliced almonds.

Dip: Place 1 cup drained ricotta in a bowl; stir in 2 tablespoons finely chopped herbs (a mix of any of these: basil, thyme, parsley, chives), 1 to 2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil, and coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Allow to rest at least 30 minutes for the flavors to mingle. Serve with sliced vegetables, crackers or toasted bread.

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Sugar Snap Peas with Ricotta

Place 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta in a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel; set over a bowl and refrigerate overnight. The ricotta will lose much of its water content and thicken.

Whisk the drained ricotta in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil until smooth. Whisk in kosher salt and pepper, to taste. Continue to whisk until the ricotta is fluffy and creamy.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water.

Blanch 2 cups sugar snap peas (about ½ pound) in the boiling water until bright green, 30-40 seconds. Drain; immediately transfer peas to the ice bath. Let stand until chilled. Drain the peas; spread them on a clean dish towel to dry.

Combine the peas in a bowl with 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions, 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley, 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped mint, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and pepper to taste.

Spread 2 tablespoons ricotta on each of four plates. Mound 1/2 cup of the peas on top of the ricotta. Drizzle with more olive oil and add a sprinkle of parsley.

Makes: 4 servings

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Baked Ricotta Pudding

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Soak 1/2 cup yellow raisins in hot water (or sweet Marsala or rum) to cover until plumped, about 15 minutes.

Butter a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate with 1 tablespoon melted butter; spread 1 to 2 tablespoons fine cookie crumbs, such as amaretti, in the plate to coat.

Blend 1 2/3 cups whole-milk ricotta, 2 large eggs, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 3 tablespoons sugar in a blender until very smooth, about 2 minutes.

Stir in the drained raisins and 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped toasted pistachios. Pour the batter into the cookie lined pie plate.

Bake in middle of the oven until puffed, golden and just set, about 25 minutes. Cool pudding on a rack. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

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Rice and Ricotta Cakes

Serves 2 as a main course; 4 as an appetizer

  • 1 and 1/3 cups cooked wild rice or any leftover rice, cooled to room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 shallots or 6 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 2/3 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Directions

In a bowl, combine the cooked rice with the egg, shallots, ricotta, salt, pepper and flour. Mix thoroughly.

Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add half the olive oil. After 1 minute, spoon in half of the rice mixture in small mounds, making 4 fritters. Flatten with a spatula. Cook until golden on the bottom, about 3 minutes, then turn and cook until the other side is also golden and the fritters are set. Remove to a plate.

Repeat with the remaining wild rice mixture and olive oil. Serve hot.

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Ricotta, Broccoli Rabe and Mushroom Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 pound broccoli rabe, tough stems removed
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 6 kalamata olives, pitted and finely chopped
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced (about 3 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 crust (half a recipe) Pizza Dough, see below
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese

Directions

Place a baking stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. If you don’t have a baking stone, use a large inverted baking sheet placed on an oven rack. Fill a large bowl with ice water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boiling. Add broccoli rabe and cook for 4 minutes. Using tongs, remove broccoli rabe from the boiling water and quickly plunge it into the bowl of ice water to cool it and stop the cooking process. Transfer broccoli rabe to a colander set in the sink; drain well. Chop broccoli rabe into bite-size pieces. Set aside. (This can be done up to 24 hours ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

In a small bowl pour enough hot water over raisins to cover; set aside.

In a large skillet heat oil over low heat. Add garlic; cook about 2 minutes or just until garlic is light golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add olives. Increase heat to medium-high. Add mushrooms and crushed red pepper. Cook about 3 minutes or just until mushrooms soften. Remove from the heat; stir in broccoli rabe.

Drain raisins in a colander set in the sink, pressing to remove excess water. Add raisins to broccoli rabe mixture; toss to mix well.

Using a slotted spoon, place broccoli rabe mixture onto the pizza crust. Drop small dollops of the ricotta cheese onto the pizza. Sprinkle with the Pecorino-Romano cheese.

Bake on the pizza stone or inverted baking sheet for 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and ingredients hot.

Pizza Dough

Ingredients

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups warm water (105 degrees F to 115 degrees F)
  • Cornmeal

Directions

Brush a large bowl with olive oil; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook or in a food processor, combine flour, yeast and salt. Combine the honey, olive oil and warm water in a measuring cup.

With the mixer on low-speed or the food processor running, pour in the olive oil, honey and warm water. Mix or process until all of the ingredients are combined. If using a mixer, increase the speed to medium and continue to knead about 2 minutes or until a soft dough forms. If using a food processor, continue to process until dough forms a wet ball.

Place dough in the prepared bowl; turn once to coat dough surface. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure the dough does not touch plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature for 1 hour and 30 minutes until nearly doubled in size.

Lightly coat a baking sheet with olive oil. Cut dough into two portions. On a lightly floured surface, use floured hands to stretch one ball of dough into a circle 10 to 12 inches in diameter (1/4 to 1/2-inch thick). Sprinkle a baking peel with cornmeal; place dough circle on the peel. Reserve the remaining dough portion for another pizza. Follow directions above for toppings and baking.

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Ricotta Omelets

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 4 large eggs, divided
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 4 tablespoons ricotta, divided
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan, divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, divided
  • Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette, recipe below

Directions

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat.

Season 2 eggs with salt and pepper and blend. Add to the skillet. Cook eggs, stirring gently with a heat proof spatula, until eggs are lightly scrambled and almost cooked, about 3 minutes. Spread eggs out to evenly cover the bottom of the skillet.

Top eggs with half of the ricotta, Parmesan, basil and chives. Using the spatula, fold up one-third of the omelet. Roll omelet over onto itself, then slide omelet onto a plate.

Repeat with remaining ingredients to make a second omelet. Top with Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette.

Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Directions

Cut half of the cherry tomatoes in half. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes.

Add halved and whole tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until they  begin to release juices, 4–6 minutes. Mash some of the tomatoes with a spoon.

Add 1 tablespoon vinegar and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or room temperature; add chives just before serving.

DO AHEAD: Vinaigrette can be made (without chives) 2 days ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature and stir in chives.

 

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The Ricotta Eaters
Vincenzo Campi ( Cremona , ca. 1536 ). Renaissance Italian painter

Technically, ricotta is not a cheese at all, but a cheese by-product. Its name, ricotta, means cooked again, an obvious reference to the production method used to make it.

Ricotta is made from the whey drained from such cheeses as mozzarella, provolone and other cheeses. American ricotta is generally made with a combination of whey and whole, low-fat or skim cow’s milk.

Ricotta is a fresh, soft, snowy white cheese with a rich but mild, slightly sweet flavor. The texture is much like a grainy, thick sour cream. Ricotta is naturally low in fat, with a fat content ranging from 4 to 10 percent. It is also low in salt, even lower than cottage cheese. Since ricotta is made primarily from lactose-rich whey, it should be avoided by those who are lactose-intolerant.

Ricotta cheese, which is generally recognized as having been invented in Sicily, is known in the language of the island by another name: zammatàru, a word in Sicilian meaning “dairy farmer.” This word is derived from the Arabic za’ama, meaning “cow,” leading to the supposition that ricotta might have its origins in the Arab-Sicilian era.

Professor Santi Correnti, chairman of the history department of the University of Catania and a well known historian in Sicily, writes that during the reign of the Sicilian king, Frederick II, in the early thirteenth century, the king and his hunting party came across the hut of a dairy farmer making ricotta and asked for some. Frederick pulled out a loaf of bread, poured the hot ricotta on top and advised his party that “cu’ non mancia ccu’ so’ cucchiaru lassa tutto ‘o zammataru” (Those who don’t eat with a spoon will leave all their ricotta behind).

Fresh Homemade Ricotta

There are many recipes for homemade ricotta. Here is an easy one.

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Special equipment: large sieve, fine-mesh cheesecloth

Directions

Line a large sieve with a layer of heavy-duty (fine-mesh) cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl.

Slowly bring milk, cream and salt to a rolling boil in a 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Add lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles, about 2 minutes.

Pour the mixture into the lined sieve and let it drain 1 hour. After discarding the liquid, chill the ricotta, covered; it will keep in the refrigerator 2 days.

Ricotta Appetizer

This recipe for baked ricotta cheese is easy and is delicious spread on a baguette. Serve alone or with olives and salami on the side.

Buying high-quality fresh ricotta can make a huge difference in texture and flavor. If possible, buy your ricotta from a cheese shop rather than pre-packaged ricotta at the grocery store. You’ll notice a difference in flavor and texture.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs – parsley, thyme and basil are all tasty
  • a pinch of salt, or more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Mix the fresh herbs and salt into the ricotta. Fill a small baking dish with the misture. A small ramekin or mini-tart pan works well.

Drizzle the olive oil on top. Bake for twenty minutes. If the top doesn’t brown, finish the dish by placing it under a broiler for a few minutes until it’s browned and bubbly.

Chocolate Ricotta Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 1 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, (or butter alternative) melted and cooled
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated white sugar (or sugar alternative)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place rack in the middle of the oven. Line 16 muffin pans with paper liners or spray with a non stick vegetable spray.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk the ricotta cheese and then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the milk, vanilla extract and cooled, melted butter, mixing well. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder.Add the ricotta mixture to the flour mixture. Stir just until combined and then fold in the chocolate chips.

Fill the muffin cups.

Place in the oven and bake about 20 minutes or until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

Makes 16 regular-sized muffins.

Broccoli-Ricotta Pizza

Thin-Crust Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough

  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon lukewarm water (105-115°F)
  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour 
  • 1 cup bread flour or all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fine cornmeal
  • All-purpose flour for dusting

Toppings

  • 3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 cups chopped broccoli florets
  • 1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Directions

To prepare dough: Stir water, yeast and sugar in a large bowl; let stand until the yeast has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Stir in whole-wheat flour, bread flour (or all-purpose flour) and salt until the dough begins to come together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (Alternatively, mix the dough in a food processor or in a stand mixer with a dough hook. Process or mix until it forms a ball. Continue to process until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 1 minute more in a food processor or 4 to 5 minutes more on low speed in a stand mixer.)

Place the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat.

Cover with a clean kitchen towel; set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Position rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat to 450°F. Brush oil over a large pizza pan and sprinkle with cornmeal to coat evenly.

Combine ricotta, Parmesan, salt and pepper in a small bowl.

Stretch dough to the edges of the pan or roll out the dough to the size of the pan and transfer the dough to the pizza pan. Cover the dough with the ricotta mixture.

Scatter with broccoli and sprinkle with Cheddar cheese.

Bake until the crust is crispy and the cheese is melted and starting to brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Ricotta Cheesecake

Ingredients

  • 2 15-oz. containers whole-milk ricotta
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons finely ground biscotti crumbs
  • 2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, room temperature, cut into cubes
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Directions

Put ricotta in a large fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Drain for 30 minutes.

Arrange rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 350°F. Grease an 8″ springform pan with 2 1/2″-high sides with butter. Sprinkle crumbs over buttered pan to coat. Tap out excess crumbs.

Place drained ricotta in the bowl of a food processor. Purée for 15 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the processor; purée until smooth. Add cream cheese; purée until smooth. Add the sugar and all other ingredients; purée, scraping down sides occasionally, until smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape batter into prepared pan.

Bake cheesecake until golden brown and just set, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool in pan (cake will fall slightly). Refrigerate uncovered until cool, about 3 hours. Then cover and chill overnight.

To serve, remove pan sides. Dust with powdered sugar. Cut into wedges.

Ricotta Pie

Crust

  • 2 whole graham crackers, enough to make 1/3 cup crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup almonds — whole, slivered, or blanched
  • pinch of salt

Filling

  • 3 cups ricotta cheese, whole-milk or part-skim
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/3 sugar
  • 1/4 cup Amaretto liqueur
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Rub a generous amount of soft butter on the inside of a 9″ pie pan at least 1 1/2″ deep; use a deep-dish pan, if you have one. If your pie pan isn’t at least 1 1/2″ deep, substitute a 9″ square pan.

To make the crust: Place the graham crackers, sugar, almonds and salt in a food processor or blender and process until ground.

Pour the crumbs into the pan, tilting and shaking the pan to distribute the crumbs across the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet, to make it easy to handle once you’ve added the filling.

To make the filling: Mix together all the filling ingredients in an electric mixer and beat slowly until well combined.

Pour the filling into the pan; it will come nearly to the lip of the pan.

Bake the pie for 45 to 50 minutes, until brown around the very outside edge and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 160°F. The pie will still look quite unset in the center.

Remove the pie from the oven and cool it to room temperature. Once it’s cool, refrigerate until chilled. Serve with your favorite fruit topping, if desired.


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Gnocchi (pronounced NYOK-ee) pasta is basically a thick, soft, dumpling type of pasta. You can make gnocchi from many different things. Semolina flour or unbleached flour makes a great gnocchi while potatoes, ricotta, spinach and even sweet potatoes make other kinds of delicious gnocchi. The most common way to prepare gnocchi is to combine mashed potatoes with flour, forming bite-sized balls of dough and serve them in a light butter sauce with fresh sage.

The word gnocchi is derived from the Italian word “nocchio” meaning a “knot of wood” or from “nocca” meaning knuckle. It was introduced by the Roman Legions during the expansion of the empire into the countries of the European continent. In the past 2000 years each country developed its own specific type of small dumplings, with the ancient Gnocchi as their common ancestor. In Roman times, gnocchi were made from a semolina porridge-like dough and are still found in similar forms today, particularly in Sardinia, where they are known as malloreddus.

These small dumplings are one of the oldest preparations in the history of food, recorded as far back as the cookbooks of the thirteenth century. In a fragment of a book from the 1300′s there is a recipe for gnocchi written in the Tuscan dialect of the time.

If you want gnocchi take some cheese and mash it, then take some flour and mix it with egg yolks as if you are making dough. Place a pot of water over a fire. When it starts boiling, place the mixture on a board and slide it in the pot with a spoon. When they are cooked, place them on plates and top them with a lot of grated cheese.”

Since Gnocchi simply consist of dough shaped in small dumplings and don’t need any special skill or technique to flatten or cut the dough, they are probably even older than pasta. In fact, Gnocchi has a very close link to pasta, and sometimes it is difficult to tell if a dish should be considered pasta or gnocchi. For example, orecchiette from the Apulia region are formed from a small dumpling of pasta pressed into an “ear” shape. Troffie from Liguria are made by rolling a piece of dough around a stick and served with pesto sauce.

Ricotta Gnocchi

My favorite way to prepare gnocchi is with ricotta cheese instead of potatoes. This is just as authentic as its potato relative, but lighter in texture and much easier to make.

Unlike potato gnocchi, ricotta gnocchi require no precooking (opening a container of ricotta cheese is much easier and faster than boiling, peeling and mashing a pound of potatoes) Just stir together ricotta, eggs, grated Parmesan and a little flour — just enough to bring everything together. I like to serve these with a light sauce since they are delicate in flavor, usually a little marinara or a light pesto. Choose a sauce that leaves room for to the ricotta flavor to come through and, since they are also delicate in texture, toss them lightly.

You can make the gnocchi up to 12 hours ahead, spread them out in a single layer on a floured tray, cover them with a towel, and refrigerate until needed. Handmade gnocchi cook very quickly. They should be boiled in salted water and removed with a slotted spoon just as soon as they rise to the top of the pot.

For perfect gnocchi, don’t work the dough too much and add as little flour as possible. It’s okay if the dough is a little sticky.

Ingredients for the gnocchi:

1- 15 oz. container skim milk ricotta cheese

Drain excess water from the ricotta by placing it in a colander lined with cheesecloth over a bowl and leaving it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (overnight is even better) before using.

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

To make the gnocchi:

Mix together in a large bowl, the drained ricotta cheese with 1 slightly beaten egg, Parmesan cheese and salt. Add flour and work mixture in with your hands until a soft dough is formed. If your fingers are sticky, add some more flour to your hands.

Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead lightly until the dough becomes smooth and firm. Be careful not to overwork it. Divide the dough into fist size pieces, and roll into long logs as thick as your thumb.

Then cut it into small 1 inch pieces.

Roll each piece under the flat part of a fork in order to create the ridges.

Place on a floured board.

To cook the gnocchi:

2 tablespoons salt

When you are ready to cook the gnocchi, bring 8 quarts of water to a boil. Add the 2 tablespoons of salt. Drop in the gnocchi and cook until they float to the surface, about 1-2 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Fold in the sauce with a rubber spatula, dilute with as much of the gnocchi water as needed to create a light sauce.

Tomato Basil Sauce                                                                                                                                                                     

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 28 oz. container Pomi chopped Italian tomatoes
  • Coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons shredded fresh basil

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, season and let simmer until thickened. Stir in basil and add additional salt to taste.

Serve gnocchi with the sauce and extra grated Parmesan.

Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi Variation

  • 3 ounces frozen spinach, squeezed dry
  • 1- 15 oz. container skim milk ricotta cheese, drained overnight
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1  1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

Follow directions above for making and cooking the gnocchi.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi Variation

Sweet potatoes make these gnocchi a bit sweet and full of antioxidants. Serve them as you would other gnocchi. Sweet Potato Gnocchi are particularly good simply dressed in brown butter and sage. The heartier texture of sweet potatoes means these gnocchi can be made using whole wheat pastry flour for extra fiber and nutrients.

This recipe makes a lot of gnocchi. Any extras can be laid on a baking sheet, frozen, and transferred to a resealable plastic bag and kept frozen for up to six months.

Ingredients

  • 2 one pound sweet potatoes, rinsed, patted dry, pierced all over with fork
  • 1  15-ounce container fresh ricotta cheese, drained in sieve 2 hours
  • 2 – 2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling and shaping
  • 2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place sweet potatoes on plate; microwave on high until tender, about 5 minutes per side. Cut in half and cool. Scrape sweet potato flesh into medium bowl and mash; transfer 3 cups to large bowl. Add ricotta cheese; blend well. Add Parmesan cheese and 2 teaspoons salt; mash to blend. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto floured surface; divide into 6 equal pieces. Rolling between palms and floured work surface, form each piece into 20-inch-long ropes (about 1 inch in diameter), sprinkling with flour as needed if sticky. Cut each rope into 20 pieces. Roll each piece over tines of fork to indent. Transfer to prepared baking sheet.

Bring large pot of water to boil; add 2 tablespoons salt and return to boil. Working in batches, boil gnocchi until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer gnocchi to a clean rimmed baking sheet or a serving bowl. Mix with your favorite sauce.

For another variation, I refer you to my recipe for Butternut Squash & Potato Gnocchi on the post cited below.

http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/05/23/need-some-new-potato-recipes/

Marinara Sauce

Pesto Sauce


While the history of the origin of a particular food can be very contradictory, there are usually some true facts in the different versions of how a food originated in a particular country. Lasagna has one of those conflicted origins, however the description, if not the origin, included here, is one commonly found in the culinary history books.

The history of the name of these noodles is actually quite interesting. “Lasagna” is derived from the Greek lasanon, which means “chamber pot.” The Romans borrowed the word to refer to cooking pots of a similar shape, and eventually the word came to be used to refer to the noodles which were traditionally layered in a lasanum, a Roman lasagna dish.

Athenian Tile

Roman Baking Tiles

With the expansion of the Roman empire, this new “lasagnum” dish spread all across Europe, eventually reaching Britain, where it was published in a cookbook, The Forme of Cury, in the late 14th. century, which led to Britain claiming the origin of the dish was within their country. Documented  historical accounts, tell us that the first printed recipe with tomatoes appeared in 1692. If lasagna includes tomatoes, then it would have not been known, in its present form, until somewhere around 1700. Most likely present day lasagna may have no ancient roots, but may very well be a dish that was re-invented at a much later date.

Title page of The Forme of Cury (18th century ed.)

The early Italians changed the name from “lasagnum,” to “lasagna or in Italian, lasagne,” which is the current form. Over the years, the word “lasagna” began to change definitions; the word previously referred to the serving dish it was baked in, but later began to simply mean a pasta meal in the dish itself. In modern cooking terms, it now means layers of thin pasta, with meat, cheese and tomato sauce layered in between.

It seems that lasagna takes a different form not only in the various provinces of Italy but also from the diversity of every home. Some lasagna recipes are meat based, others are made from vegetables, such as spinach or artichokes. Some folks add hard boiled eggs and peas; others do not. In the end, what goes between the layers of noodles is as variable as the things you can find to put between them.

With lasagna, it’s all about the freshness of the ingredients, especially the cheese. Some lasagna recipes have multiple cheeses, but most often you’ll find ricotta and mozzarella, especially in southern Italy.  Some typical Italian lasagna specialties include Lasagna Alla Bolognese, which uses a tomato meat/white sauce and Lasagna Verdi, which includes spinach and cheese. Outside of Italy, there are many different types of lasagna, especially in the United States. From vegetable lasagna to spicy chipotle (Mexican) lasagna to everything in between. 

Ridged Lasagna Noodles

Flat Sided Lasagna Noodles

In Italy, lasagna noodles are totally flat, while American lasagna tends to be ruffled along the edges to help trap sauces. The best noodles are made from durum wheat, a particularly hard wheat which stands up to extended cooking, remaining chewy and resilient even after boiling and baking. Some cooks prefer to use no-boil lasagna noodles, which are layered into a lasagna pan without being boiled in water. The moisture in the lasagna and the heat of the oven cook these noodles so that they become soft by the time the dish has finished baking. In using no boil noodles, I have found that the noodles taste better if soaked in hot water for 15 minutes before layering in the baking dish.

Roasted Eggplant Lasagna

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. eggplant (peeled, cut into 1/2 inch cubes)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 lbs.skim ricotta cheese
  • 1  1/4 cups freshly grated parmesan (cheese about 3 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup shallots (chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (chopped)
  • 4 cups homemade or store bought marinara sauce, see post for recipe: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/19/hello-world/
  • 9 lasagna noodles (boiled or no boil or homemade)
  • 8 oz. mozzarella cheese ( thinly sliced)
  • Salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°F. Brush baking sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place eggplant pieces on paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt; let stand 20 minutes. Transfer eggplant to prepared sheet. Toss with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Roast eggplant until tender, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Set aside. Maintain oven temperature.

Mix ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shallots and rosemary in large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Spray a 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.

If using no boil noodles: Place noodles in large bowl. Fill bowl with hot tap water. Soak noodles until pliable, stirring occasionally to separate, about 15 minutes. Place large sheet of parchment paper on work surface. Transfer noodles to parchment in single layer, shaking off excess water.

If using regular noodles, boil according to package directions.

Spread 1/2 cup marinara sauce in the bottom of the dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles crosswise in a single layer in dish. Spread half of ricotta mixture over noodles. Arrange half of eggplant over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spoon a generous 1 cup marinara sauce over. Arrange half of the mozzarella slices over sauce. Repeat layering 1 more time. Top with 3 lasagna noodles. Spread remaining sauce over. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup Parmesan. Cover tightly with lightly oiled foil. (Can be made 1 day ahead; chill.)

Bake until noodles are tender and lasagna is heated through, about 45 minutes. Uncover; bake until cheese begins to brown and sauce is bubbling slightly at edges, about 15 minutes longer. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Chicken Mushroom Lasagna

Ingredients:

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (about 7 ounces each)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion , chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic , finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds mushrooms , brushed clean and sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups low fat milk
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1 container (15 ounces) part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1 package (8 -9 ounces) no-boil lasagna noodles

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, combine chicken breasts, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon salt, and enough water to cover chicken. Bring to a boil; skim off any foam. Reduce heat to low; simmer 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let chicken cool in cooking liquid. Remove chicken and shred or chop into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

In a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushroom liquid evaporates, 10 to 15 minutes.

Stir in sage and cook 1 minute. Return mushroom mixture to skillet and stir to combine; set aside.

Place flour in a large saucepan. Gradually whisk in milk until smooth. Over medium heat, cook, stirring frequently, until sauce comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove pan from heat; stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Spray a 13″ x 9″ baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.

Place noodles in large bowl. Fill bowl with hot tap water. Soak noodles until pliable, stirring occasionally to separate, about 15 minutes. Place large sheet of parchment paper on work surface. Transfer noodles to parchment in single layer, shaking off excess water.

In a small bowl, combine ricotta and mozzarella cheeses; stir well.

Reserve 1 cup sauce for top layer. Spread 1/2 cup sauce in bottom of prepared dish. Arrange 4 lasagna noodles over sauce, overlapping noodles slightly to fit. Spread with 1/2 cup ricotta mixture. Spoon on half of mushroom mixture. Top with half of chicken. Pour half of remaining sauce over chicken. Repeat layering. Top with remaining lasagna noodles and spread with reserved 1 cup sauce.

Coat a sheet of foil with cooking spray and cover baking dish. Bake lasagna 35 minutes. Uncover dish and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered 15 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes.

     

Spinach, Pesto, and Fontina Lasagna

Makes 8 servings

Sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour (Wondra)
  • 2 1/2 cups lowfat milk
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Spinach:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots or sweet Vidalia onions
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 10-ounce packages frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Filling:

  • 2 cups skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Lasagna

For the sauce:

In heavy large saucepan combine Wondra flour,  milk, wine and butter. Cook over medium heat until sauce thickens and comes to boil, whisking constantly, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, garlic powder, salt and white pepper.

DO AHEAD: Sauce can be made up to 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

For the spinach:

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add shallots and garlic. Sauté until shallots soften, about 2 minutes. Add spinach and cook about 2 minutes. Remove spinach from heat and stir in 1 1/2 cups sauce. Season spinach with salt and pepper.

DO AHEAD: Spinach can be made up to 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

For the filling:

Mix ricotta, Parmesan, salt, pepper and lemon peel in medium bowl.

DO AHEAD: Filling can be made up to 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

For the lasagna :

Place noodles in large bowl. Fill bowl with hot tap water. Soak noodles until pliable, stirring occasionally to separate, about 15 minutes. Place large sheet of parchment paper on work surface. Transfer noodles to parchment in single layer, shaking off excess water.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 13 x 9 x 2- inch glass baking dish with cooking spray.

Spread 1/2 cup sauce thinly over bottom of prepared dish. Top with 3 noodles, arranged side by side and covering most of bottom of dish. Spread half of spinach mixture over.

Sprinkle with 1/3 cup Fontina. Top with 3 noodles and half of ricotta mixture Drop half of pesto over the ricotta by teaspoonfuls, spacing evenly apart.

Continue layering with 3 noodles, remaining spinach mixture, 1/3 cup Fontina, 3 more noodles, remaining ricotta mixture, then remaining pesto. Top with last 3 noodles. Spread remaining sauce over; sprinkle with remaining Fontina. Cover dish with foil coated with cooking spray.

Bake lasagna until heated through and bubbling at edges, 50 to 55 minutes. Remove from oven. Remove foil from dish.

Preheat broiler. Broil the lasagna casserole until top is browned in spots, turning dish occasionally for even browning, about 4 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

 

Low-Fat Meaty Lasagna

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 1 small carrot , cut into chunks
  • 1 pound mushrooms (cremini or white)
  • 6 cloves garlic , peeled
  • 2 (28 ounce) containers Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion , minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 pounds very lean ground beef
  • 2 cups low fat milk
  • 2 cups low-sodium beef broth
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh basil
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour (Wondra flour is good for making white sauces)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 12 no-boil lasagna noodles
  • Table salt and ground black pepper

Directions:

Pulse carrot, mushrooms, and garlic in food processor until finely chopped; transfer to bowl.

In Dutch oven heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil and brown ground beef. Remove to a paper towel lined bowl and wipe out pan with additional paper towels.

Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil, onion, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to pan. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until onion is softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add carrot, mushrooms, and garlic and cook, uncovered, until mushrooms release their liquid, 5 to 7 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and cook until liquid has evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add tomato paste and cook until paste begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in browned beef and 1 cup milk, using a wooden spoon to break up any large chunks, and cook until most of the milk has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, 1 cup broth, crushed red pepper and bay leaf; bring to simmer and cook until sauce has thickened and most of liquid has evaporated, 45 to 60 minutes. Off heat, remove bay leaf, stir in basil, and season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, whisk remaining 1 cup milk, remaining 1 cup broth, and Wondra flour together in medium saucepan until smooth. Bring mixture to simmer over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Off heat, stir in 1 teaspoon butter, nutmeg and cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees F. and spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.

Place noodles in large bowl. Fill bowl with hot tap water. Soak noodles until pliable, stirring occasionally to separate, about 15 minutes. Place large sheet of parchment paper on work surface. Transfer noodles to parchment in single layer, shaking off excess water.

Spread 2 cups meat sauce in prepared baking pan. Lay 3 noodles over sauce, leaving space between them. Repeat with 3 more layers, sauce and noodles. Spread white sauce evenly over top layer of noodles, leaving 1-inch border around edge. Bake until lasagna is bubbling around edges and top begins to brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on a rack 20 minutes before serving.

Make Ahead: You can make both the meat sauce and the white sauce up to 2 days in advance and refrigerate them until ready to use. Gently reheat the sauces separately before proceeding with the recipe.

Creamy Seafood Lasagna

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (Wondra)
  • 9 uncooked lasagna noodles
  • 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cups fat free half-and-half
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup dry sherry or white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 container (15 oz) skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 lb. crabmeat, picked over for shells
  • 1/2 lb. medium shrimp, cut in half
  • 1/2 lb. bay scallops
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (8 oz)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, if desired

Directions:

Heat oven to 350°F. Cook noodles as directed on package. Drain noodles.

Meanwhile, in 3-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is crisp-tender. Stir in flour; cook and stir until bubbly. Gradually stir in half-and-half, broth, sherry, salt and pepper. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

In medium bowl, mix Parmesan cheese, ricotta cheese and 1/4 cup parsley; set aside.

Spray a 13×9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray.

Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce on the bottom of the dish. Top with 3 noodles.

Spread half of the crabmeat and half of the shrimp and half of the scallops over the noodles.

Spread with 3/4 cup of the sauce over the seafood. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese and top with 3 noodles.

Spread ricotta mixture over noodles and spread the remaining seafood over the ricotta.

Top with 3 noodles, spread 3/4 cup of the sauce over the noodles and sprinkle with remaining 1 cup mozzarella cheese.

Bake uncovered 40 to 45 minutes or until cheese is light golden brown. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parsley.

Makes 8 servings

 

Special Occasion Lasagna with Spicy Tomato Sauce

This spicy sauce was developed in the town of Amatrice in central Italy and typically combines chilies, pancetta and tomatoes.

Homemade lasagna noodles allow the sauce to shine through.

Pasta:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour or 00 Italian pasta flour (about 4 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 cup semolina flour (about 6 1/4 ounces)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large eggs

Sauce:

  • 2 pancetta slices, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick pieces and dice
  • 4 cups thinly sliced onion
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 (28-ounce) containers Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Filling:

  • 2 cups skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 6 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Remaining ingredients:

  • 6 quarts water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Cooking spray

To Prepare Pasta:

Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours in a food processor; process 30 seconds. Combine 1/3 cup water, 2 tablespoons oil, and eggs in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk. With processor running, slowly pour water mixture through food chute, processing just until dough forms a ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead lightly 5 times. Shape dough into a disk. Dust dough lightly with flour; wrap in plastic wrap. Let stand 30 minutes.

Divide dough into 6 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), press dough portion into a flat narrow rectangle. Roll the dough through the settings of a pasta machine into a rectangle the width of the roller, dusting with flour as necessary. Keep rolling the sheet through the machine on decreasing settings until you have rolled it through the next to last setting. Lay pasta sheet flat on a kitchen towel; cover. Repeat procedure with remaining dough portions. Cut pasta into lasagna length sheets that fit the lasagna dish you are using.

To Prepare Sauce

Cook pancetta in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Add onion, 1 tablespoon oil, and garlic to drippings in pan; sauté 5 minutes or until browned, stirring frequently. Add 1/2 cup water and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring occasionally.

To Prepare Filling:

Combine  ricotta cheese, salt, ground pepper, chopped fresh parsley and  ground nutmeg in a medium bowl.

Cook Pasta:

Bring 6 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Slowly lower 1-2 pasta sheets into the boiling water; cook 1 1/2 minutes or until done. Carefully remove pasta from water with a slotted spoon; lay pasta flat on a damp kitchen towels and cover with another damp kitchen towel. Repeat procedure with remaining pasta sheets.

Assemble Lasagna and Bake:

Preheat oven to 350°F and coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.

Spread about 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce in the prepared pan. Layer 3 noodles on top. Spread another 1 cup sauce over the noodles. Dot about 2/3 cup ricotta mixture over the sauce, then sprinkle with 1/4 cup mozzarella and 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Continue layering the noodles, sauce and cheeses, finishing with the sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover with foil sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake the lasagna until the sauce is bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes. Uncover and bake until golden, 5 to 10 minutes more. Let cool for 10 minutes before cutting.


Makeover Recipe for Italian Ricotta Cookies.

Italian Ricotta Cookies are a traditional cookie that can be made anytime of the year. Unlike biscotti, ricotta cookies are moist and more cakelike than a hard or crunchy biscuit. Ricotta cookies are made with butter, sugar, flour and eggs. These ingredients are blended together with flavorings such as vanilla, orange or lemon. Spoonfuls of the mixture are dropped onto cookie sheets for baking. They are glazed and can be decorated to fit any holiday season. I can recall these cookies were often on hand in my grandmother’s and my aunts’ houses. Immediately, they would greet you with, “have a cookie”, the minute you got there.

I chose this cookie recipe to show readers how a recipe can be made over into a healthy dessert.  It is a simple cookie to make, yet very delicious and appealing.  The key is in swapping out saturated fat, too much sugar and processed ingredients for more healthful choices. The substitutions I usually make for ingredients in most of my baking recipes include an alternative sugar, whole grain flour, less saturated fat and egg substitutes.  You will find these substitutions work just fine in this cookie recipe.

Smart Balance in place of butter; egg substitute in place of whole eggs; skim ricotta cheese

Light sugar (half regular sugar and half Stevia). Eagle all purpose flour (part white flour and part whole wheat flour).

A standard recipe for Italian Ricotta Cookies comes from Good Housekeeping Magazine and similar recipes can be found from Italian Food Forever and Giada De Laurentiis.

Ricotta-Cheese Cookies

From Good Housekeeping

The ricotta cheese in these Italian-style cookies keeps them moist, and the recipe yields a large batch, which is great since the baked cookies freeze so well.

Yields: about 6 dozen cookies
Total Time: 45 min
Cook Time: 30 min
Oven Temp: 350

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 container (15 ounces) ricotta cheese
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • Glaze
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat sugar and butter until blended. Increase speed to high; beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. At medium speed, beat in ricotta, vanilla, and eggs until well combined.
Reduce speed to low. Add flour, baking powder, and salt; beat until dough forms.
Drop dough by level tablespoons, about 2 inches apart, onto ungreased large cookie sheet. Bake about 15 minutes or until cookies are very lightly golden (cookies will be soft). With pancake turner, remove cookies to wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining dough.
When cookies are cool, prepare icing: In small bowl, stir confectioners’ sugar and milk until smooth. With small metal spatula or knife, spread icing on cookies; sprinkle with sugar crystals. Set cookies aside to allow icing to dry completely, about 1 hour.

Here is my makeover version and it comes with a guarantee that this cookie tastes just like the original – just ask my husband!


Makeover Italian Ricotta Cookies

I think the lemon flavor adds to the cookies appeal but you can use vanilla or orange flavoring instead.

Makes 4-5 dozen

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar alternative ( that is half regular sugar and half Stevia, such as Domino Light)
  • 1/2 cup Smart Balance butter blend, softened
  • 15 oz. part skim ricotta cheese
  • Juice from half a lemon (2 tablespoons)
  • ½ cup egg substitute (such as Egg Beaters)
  • 4 cups Eagle Ultra Grain brand all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Grated zest from half a lemon

Glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • Juice from half a lemon (2 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Grated zest from half a lemon

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix the sugar and Smart Balance with an electric mixer at low speed until blended. Raise speed to high and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Beat in the ricotta, juice from half the lemon ( 2 tablespoons), half of the lemon zest and the egg substitute at medium speed until well blended.

Reduce speed to low and mix in flour, baking powder, and salt until dough forms.

Beat ingredients until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.

Place a level tablespoon of dough, 2 inches apart, onto parchment lined cookie sheets, 12 to a sheet.

Drop by level tablespoon on parchment covered baking sheets.

Bake until a light golden color (they will be soft), about 15 minutes. Rotate baking sheets halfway through the baking time.

Cookies are done after 15 minutes.

With a spatula, transfer cookies to a cooling rack; repeat with remaining dough.

The top of the cookies will be light and the bottom will be brown.

While cookies are cooling, prepare the glaze.

Glaze

In a small bowl, mix the powdered sugar, lemon zest, water, lemon juice until smooth and thin.  Add a little more water if the glaze is too thick.

With a pastry brush spread glaze on the top of the cookies.

Use a pastry brush to spread the glaze.

Let cookies dry completely and make sure the glaze has hardened before storing.  If it is hot where you live, you may want to store these cookies in the refrigerator.


Oven-baked pasta has a long history that goes back to the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when pasticci, timballi, and other forms of baked pasta were often served at the large banquets in the palaces of nobles. Pasta al forno was an opportunity for the chef to show off his creativity and inventiveness. Eventually, the dish was adopted all over Italy—its success no doubt due to its infinite versatility. Today, it’s still a staple dish of southern Italy, where it is usually prepared on Sundays, religious holidays, and special occasions.

In Italy, the great variety in preparations of pasta al forno depends not only on what you have in your refrigerator or pantry, but also on regional traditions and approaches. For instance, in northern Italy, butter, pork fat, or even bone marrow are used for sautéing ingredients or in preparing the ragù (meat sauce); while in the southern regions, olive oil is predominantly used. Southern-style baked pastas are often based on vegetables—such as roasted or grilled eggplant; peppers or zucchini; sautéed or steamed peas; spinach or chard; broccoli or broccoli rabe; or cauliflower. Often local cured meats—such as sopressata, prosciutto, or sausages—are added. Sometimes tiny meatballs or even sliced hard-boiled eggs are used. Cheeses—such as caciocavallo, scamorza, provola, and mozzarella—are layered inside to melt or form a crusty top.

Most Italian-Americans know about the classic dishes called Manicotti and Cannelloni. They are featured in most Italian restaurants across the country. But to some extent, many aren’t able to describe the difference between the two. The names for these pasta dishes are often interchanged without thinking about how the dish is formed.

“Manicotti” means “small muffs”, and was originally made using crepes rolled around a savory ricotta and grated cheese filling. These can be topped with either a basic tomato sauce for a light first course, or with Ragu (meat sauce) and topped with mozzarella before baking in a hot oven. They are most often made with dried pasta tubes for stuffing that need to be boiled first. The name Manicotti is not found in Italy, as any dish made with crepes rolled around a sweet or savory filling is simply called “crespelle”.

In America many Italians use a pasta dough for Manicotti instead of crepes.  I was brought up with the pasta version and it is probably because my relatives came from southern Italy, while the crepe version probably originated in northern Italian.

Cannelloni means “large reeds”, and are made exclusively from fresh, hand-rolled pasta filled in any variety of ways. One of the most popular is a roasted pork or veal stuffing with vegetables, ground together and stuffed inside the fresh pasta sheets, topped with a Bechamel sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano. This is a typical northern Italian version, featured in the Florence and Reggio-Emilia provinces.

My interpretation of the two is that they are both made with fresh pasta dough (one that would also be used for lasagna) but the fillings and sauce are quite different.  Manicotti is covered with a tomato sauce while Cannelloni is covered with a Bechamel sauce. I also do not care to use the dried pasta tubes for Manicotti sold in the supermarket, as they are not very tender and they are difficult to fill. I prefer to make fresh pasta dough for Lasagna, Manicotti and Cannelloni. I use the same pasta recipe for all three dishes. Dried pasta shells, however, are perfectly fine for Stuffed Shells.    

I have included recipes for the homemade pasta and the different fillings with healthier ingredients than are often used in preparing these dishes.

Homemade Manicotti

For the Pasta:

  • 1 1/2 cups of all purpose or Italian (00) flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of water
  • a dash of salt


For the Filling:

  • 1 pound container of skim milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 pound of shredded skim milk mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 box of frozen spinach, thawed and chopped
  • 1 egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • Salt and pepper to taste

To Complete the Dish:

Directions:

To make the filling:

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Refrigerate until needed.

To make the dough:

Mix the flour, egg, salt and water together in the large bowl of a processor.  Process until the dough forms a ball. Coat lightly with olive oil and allow it to rest covered for 30 minutes.

After the pasta dough has rested roll out sheets with a pasta roller to a thickness you can just about see your hand through. With the roller, about the 5th. or 6th. setting for thickness.

Place the sheets on a pastry board and cut into 4″ x 6″ rectangles. You should get 12 of them.

Cook in boiling water for 4 minutes, drain and put into a bowl of cold water. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Take a dish towel and spread it on the counter. Place a pasta rectangle on top of the towel so that the long side is facing you. Place 1/3 cup of filling along the edge of the pasta. Moisten the other edge of the pasta with a wet finger. Gently roll the pasta around the filling making a tube (jelly roll style using the towel to help).

Oil a casserole dish large enough to hold the manicotti and ladle some tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish.

Place the filled manicotti in the casserole dish and repeat until all the pasta is filled.

Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the filled manicotti. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and put in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes removing the foil the last 20 minutes of baking.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Chicken Cannelloni

Follow directions for making the pasta noodles in the recipe above for Manicotti.

Filling:

  • 12 ounces cooked chicken breast
  • 10 ounce package frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 1 ounce sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 5 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Cannelloni:

12 sheets fresh noodles, 4  x 6 inches, cooked in boiling water for 4 minutes
Bechamel Sauce, recipe below
3 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
fresh diced tomatoes, and basil or Italian parsley (optional)

Directions:

Dice the chicken breast into 1/2-inch pieces and place into a large mixing bowl. Add spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, pepper and salt, and mix thoroughly.
Arrange pre-cooked pasta sheets on kitchen towels and place two or three rounded tablespoons of filling mixture down the center of each pasta sheet and carefully roll pasta tightly around the filling.

Place the rolled cannelloni, side by side, into a greased ovenproof shallow baking dish.

Pour sauce over cannelloni covering completely.
Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese over top of sauce. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350°F for approximately 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake for an additional 20 minutes.
Optional: garnish with fresh diced tomatoes, and basil or Italian parsley.

Olive Oil Béchamel

The milk should be cold or at room temperature. If the liquid is too hot, the roux won’t have time to properly disperse in the liquid before the mixture comes to a boil; this is what causes sauces to lump.
The main thing to watch for here is scorching. Stir often with a rubber spatula, especially at the bottom and edges of the pan, so that the mixture doesn’t stick and begin to burn. If it does, immediately pour the sauce into another pot and continue to cook over very low heat.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped shallot or onion (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons flour (Wondra works well since it dissolves quickly)
  • 4 cups skim or 1 percent milk
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground white or black pepper

Directions:

Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy medium saucepan. Add the shallot or onion, and cook, stirring, until softened, about three minutes. Stir in flour (if you use all purpose flour), and cook, stirring, for about three minutes until smooth and bubbling but not browned. The paste should have the texture of wet sand.

If you use Wondra flour, skip the step of adding it to the shallot mixture and just whisk it into the cold milk.

Whisk in the milk all at once, and bring to a simmer, whisking all the while, until the mixture begins to thicken. Turn the heat to very low, and simmer, stirring often with a whisk and scraping the bottom and edges of the pan with a rubber spatula, for 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and lost its raw flour taste. Season with salt and pepper.

Stuffed Shells

Quick Sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 4 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2- 28-ounce containers Pomi strained tomatoes

Filling:

  • 1 pound container skim milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 cup grated skim milk mozzarella
  • 1/2 box of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

25-30 jumbo dried pasta shells

Oil two 13 x 9-inch baking pans, or equivalent. Set aside.

Directions:

Bring a big pot of water to boiling , and preheat your oven to 350 F.

To make the sauce:

Combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and garlic in a cold saucepan. Stir while you heat the saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute just 45 seconds or so until everything is fragrant – you don’t want the garlic to brown. Stir in the tomatoes and heat.  Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

To make the filling:

Combine the ricotta, egg, spinach and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until combined, then stir in the mozzarella. Set aside.

Cook the shells according to package instructions in well-salted water – until al dente. If you overcook the shells, they will tear as you attempt to fill them. Drain, place on kitchen towels so they do not stick together and let cool long enough to handle with your hands.

Spread 1/3 of sauce across the bottom of each prepared pan. Fill each shell about halfway with ricotta filling, and arrange in a single layer in the pan. If you have extra filling, you can divide evenly and add it to the filled shells.

Ladle the remaining sauce over the shells, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, uncover and bake for 15 minutes or until the shells are cooked through. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4 – 6.


Homemade Ricotta

Cheese is one of the most consumed milk products. The iron and calcium content of the food is ideal for bone development. Cheese is essentially the preservation of milk. Its development is traced back to the nomadic herdsmen of the Middle East who stored their supply of milk on vessels that are made from the stomach of goats and sheep. Because of the lactic acid contained in the linings of the containers, wild bacteria mixes with milk, causing it to ferment and coagulate. The commonly used milk in making cheeses is milk from cows, goats, sheep, or buffalo.

Cheese Making in Ancient Rome

Romans were passionate cheese makers and eaters. Many Roman homes had a special kitchen set aside for cheese making called a caseale, where cheeses also were stored and aged. A favorite Roman cheese was smoked over applewood chips, echoing a popular modern favorite, smoked provolone. Pecorino Romano, a sharp sheep’s milk cheese, may have originated in Roman times.

Ancient egyptian production of cheese

Making Cheese in Ancient Egypt

Making your own cheese at home ensures that you have control over the ingredients that go into your cheese. For instance, you won’t have to revert to using extras like additives and preservatives used in commercial cheese. Not to mention the ‘unmentioned’ and unlisted hormones, pesticides and antibiotics that can make their way into our food. Making cheese at home also ensures that you can exercise some degree of quality control over your finished product. Of course, despite following a recipe, in reality, it may take a few tries to get your homemade cheese perfect. 

One of the easiest cheeses made with rennet to attempt at home is mozzarella and a great rennetless cheese alternative for beginners would be ricotta.
Ricki Carroll, long considered the “grandmother of American cheesemaking” at home, has many options in her book, Home Cheese Making, which details 75 cheeses and their recipes. Many of our country’s best cheese makers owe their start to this book.
Before you start, some key points to remember:

  • Always use the best quality whole milk you can find. Do not use use ultra pasteurized milk.
  • If you can, use homogenized milk. You’ll have a smoother curd using homogenized.
  • All utensils and cookware should be as clean as can be!
  • Make sure all of this cookware is either stainless steel, glass, or enamel.

Why Make Your Own Cheese?

1. It’s a rare skill.  Making your own cheese is the culinary equivalent of building log cabins.  There just aren’t that many people who know how to do it anymore. Homemade cheese will always be a hit at a party.

2. Homemade cheese contains no artificial ingredients.  Almost every commercial yellow or red cheese contains a food coloring called annatto.  Although annatto is “natural” (it’s derived from a South American tree) it has been linked to allergic reactions.

3. It’s easy!  There are a few basic steps to cheese making, and they are the same no matter what kind of cheese you want to create.  Once you have mastered those steps, you can make anything, even brie.

4. Homemade cheese connects you to your farmer, the cows, and the land. As you begin to make cheese, you will naturally seek out the best milk for your product.  You will ask questions, talking to farmers and other cheese makers.  

5. It’s inexpensive.  Unlike other hobbies, you don’t need a lot of fancy supplies to make cheese.  A large pot, a kitchen thermometer, a couple pieces of cheesecloth and a few cultures will get you started onto the path of cheese making.

6. Children love it.  Kids love to eat cheese.  If you have children, cheese making is a great kitchen activity.  They can participate and learn along the way.

7. It’s delicious!  No matter what kind of cheese you make, your homemade cheese will be edible.  Some of the most fabulous, rare cheeses were discovered by accident.  

Benefits to Using Pasteurized Milk

It’s widely available.

Pasteurized milk can be found at any grocery store.   

Don’t use Ultra High Temperature pasteurized milk (a.k.a UHT, ultra-pasteurized). Your curd will not set.

It’s inexpensive.

In most states, organic milk is $5 or less per gallon.

It’s a blank slate, bacterially speaking.

Milk that has been pasteurized contains no bacteria, beneficial or pathogenic.

This means that whatever culture you add has no competition and can propagate freely. This can lead to a more consistently flavored cheese.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

For about 1-1/2 pounds of cheese:

Pour 3 quarts, plus 3 cups whole milk into a stainless steel pot with 1 cup heavy cream (not ultra pasteurized). If possible make them both organic.

Line a large sieve with cheesecloth or a thin towel and set it over a medium bowl.

Bring the milk and cream to a very gentle simmer, stir in 2 teaspoons salt and 1/3 cup lemon juice (fresh squeezed).

Simmer 1 or 2 minutes or until you have cloud-like clumps floating in almost clear liquid. Don’t let them cook until they are hard.

Scoop them up and into the sieve. Gently press out excess moisture so the cheese isn’t watery. Put into a storage container and chill.

Mascarpone Cheese

Ingredients:

1 pint heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon tartaric acid (cream of tartar)
1/4 teaspoon powdered sugar

Directions

Fill the bottom of a double boiler with enough water to touch the top pan, but the top should fit neatly and not “float.” Bring to a simmer.
Pour the cream into the top of a double boiler and place over simmering water.

Add the sugar and whisk constantly.
When the cream is warm add the tartaric acid. Whisk over the heat until the cream reaches a temperature of 180 degrees.


Remove from heat and allow to cool, whisking occasionally.

Pour the mixture into a bowl through a thick cheesecloth, or line a fine metal strainer with a coffee filter. Once it is cooled completely, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate in the sieve overnight or up to 24 hours and transfer to a sealable storage container.

Homemade Mozzarella Cheese

If you have an hour of time and an adventurous spirit, you can easily make your own mozzarella cheese. Mozzarella cheese is one of the easiest cheeses to make and since it can be used in a variety of dishes, sandwiches, pizzas, pasta, etc., it will disappear quickly.
One of the best aspects of making mozzarella cheese is its simplicity of ingredients and equipment.  All you will need is a pot large enough to hold a gallon of milk, a slotted spoon, some clean rubber gloves, and a kitchen thermometer.  A candy thermometer is preferable to other types, as you’ll want a large enough readout in the 100 to 110 degree range.   You’ll want to hold the temperature of your mixture (once the citric acid and rennet have been added) so the curds can set, so a thermometer that’s easy to read in this range is optimal.

Fresh, Home Made Mozzarella Cheese

The only two ingredients you’ll need for your cheese that you may not be able to find in your local supermarket are rennet and citric acid, both of which you can purchase cheaply online.  If you’re lucky enough to have an extensive local grocery store or cheesemaking shop in your town, you might be able to find them locally.
Besides rennet and citric acid, the only other ingredient that you’ll need is whole milk. You’ll need to read the label carefully and make sure that the milk is not labeled “ultra pasteurized”.  Ultra pasteurized milk has been heated to a high temperature that kills the bacteria and cultures needed to make cheese.  

  • Over medium low heat, bring one gallon of whole milk up to 55 degrees and add 1.5 teaspoons of citric acid (dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water), stir in thoroughly but gently.
  • When the mixture gets to 88 degrees add 1/4 tsp of liquid rennet (dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water), stir in gently for about 30 seconds.
  • Over medium heat, bring up to 105 degrees and keep it there for five minutes or until curds begin to form and separate from the side of the pot.  The whey should be almost clear, if milky white, allow to heat longer.
With a slotted spoon, scoop out the curds.  Put on some rubber (or surgical) gloves and gently squeeze out as much whey as you can with your hands forming balls of cheese.

  • Place the cheese balls in the microwave (this is the faster method) for 30 seconds and then knead it, just like you would bread, squeezing out whey as you go.  Microwave again for 15 – 20 seconds and pour more whey off.  As you are gently squeezing the whey out,  work it into a ball.  Repeat this step several times, until the cheese has a slightly glossy sheen to it and can be pulled like taffy.  Add salt (about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons Kosher salt depending on taste) after the second kneading.

Once you’ve tasted the cheese you can make in your own kitchen, you may be hooked.  Once you’ve made your own cheese, you’re part of an ancient tradition of turning milk into cheese, and you’re part of a select group of people who’ve made homemade cheese.




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