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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