Fresh — and refreshing — ricotta cheese
By Wolfgang Puck, Tribune Media Services (he loves to share so we are!)
When people ask me for some of my favorite fresh ideas for quick and easy light summer desserts, they might be surprised at first when I suggest that they make their own cheese. After all, at first thought, cheese is anything but light, and certainly not something you can prepare in next to no time.
That’s when I add that the cheese I’m talking about is Italy’s popular ricotta. It’s name translating as “recooked,” this soft, creamy-tasting cheese is traditionally made from the whey that’s left over from the production of other cheeses. But you can also easily prepare a version of it by heating together some milk and a little cream along with some yogurt, the acidity of which will coagulate the dairy solids that, once excess liquid is drained off, form the fluffy, satisfying curds for which ricotta is prized.
I often like to eat chilled fresh ricotta for a simple summertime dessert. All you need to do is sweeten it a bit to your own taste, using a light sprinkling of sugar, a drizzle of honey, or even a touch of your artificial sweetener of choice. Then, I’ll scatter a few berries or other fresh fruit on top and around the ricotta and, in moments, I’m ready to put on the table a beautiful, delicious, and satisfying end to a light, refreshing warm-weather lunch or dinner.
But that’s just the beginning of what you can do with your own homemade ricotta (or, for that matter, with a good-quality ricotta you buy at a well-stocked supermarket or Italian deli).
So many classic Italian dishes include ricotta. You can combine it with beaten egg, seasonings, and other ingredients, such as chopped cooked mushrooms or spinach, to make a filling for fresh pasta like ravioli, the large pasta tubes called cannelloni, or as a layer in lasagna. Use a dollop to lighten or moisten meatloaf mixtures or burgers. Toss some ricotta with freshly cooked pasta, still dripping slightly after draining, and add some Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Or puree it in a food processor to make a dip or spread seasoned with fresh herbs or spices.
Naturally, as my simple instructions above for lightly sweetened ricotta with summer fruit suggest, it also makes a wonderful dessert ingredient, including its role as an essential part of the filled pastries called cannoli and in Italian cheesecakes. But I especially like adding ricotta to the light gelatin-thickened Italian treat called panna cotta (literally, “cooked cream”). As the second recipe I share with you shows, it helps create a dessert that tastes rich and satisfying even as it leaves you feeling light and refreshed.
Have fun making your own fresh ricotta and enjoying it in so many ways!
FRESH RICOTTA CHEESE
Makes about 1-1/2 cups
6 cups whole milk
6 ounces yogurt with live active cultures
6 ounces heavy cream
In a nonreactive saucepan, whisk together the milk, yogurt, cream, and salt. Put the pan over moderate heat and slowly bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. The moment it reaches a boil, turn off the heat, stir once, and set the mixture aside to settle for 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, line a colander with a double thickness of clean cheesecloth. Set the colander in the sink or over a deep heatproof bowl. Slowly pour the mixture into the colander. Leave to drain until a thick ricotta cheese is left behind in the cheesecloth, about 15 minutes. If using a bowl, discard the liquid.
Transfer the fresh ricotta to a covered nonreactive container. Refrigerate until needed.
ABOUT THIS RECIPE
It’s surprisingly easy to make your own ricotta cheese. Use it for pasta fillings, in desserts, or as a dessert in its own right, simply sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and served with fresh berries. Keep the ricotta in the refrigerator and use it within 2 to 3 days.
PANNA COTTA WITH RICOTTA AND ORANGE MARMALADE
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
2/3 cup Fresh Ricotta Cheese (see separate recipe)
2-1/2 gelatin leaves or 1-1/4 teaspoons powdered gelatin, softened in a small bowl of cool tap water
2 tablespoons thick-shred orange marmalade, minced
1 pound assorted fresh organic berries
In a saucepan, combine the milk, 1/2 cup of the heavy cream, and the sugar. With a small, sharp knife, carefully split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. With the knife tip, scrape the seeds from inside each half and add them to the pan along with the pod halves. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and whisk in the ricotta.
Place a heatproof bowl inside a larger bowl filled with ice. Pour the hot mixture through a strainer into the bowl. Discard the vanilla bean halves.
Drain the gelatin and slowly whisk it into the cooling milk mixture. Leave the mixture over the ice to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, with a hand-held electric mixer or a wire whisk, whip the remaining cream until it forms soft peaks that droop slightly when the beaters or whisk are lifted out. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the milk mixture. Then, fold in the marmalade.
Divide the mixture among 8 chilled martini glasses, wine glasses, or other attractive serving dishes. Put on a tray and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled and set, at least 1 hour. Before serving, arrange the berries on top.