Monday, April 6, 2015

Dumb Easy Homemade Ricotta

The last few months I've been thinking about my blog and wondering if, perhaps, it has departed a bit too far from its original platform--cheap, delicious food that isn't too hard or too fake. I'm not opposed to the occasional pricier recipe, though lately I do feel that I've justified it a little too much. I'm inclined to think, "Well, it's cheaper than eating out; it's cheaper than buying boxed food." Which it absolutely is. But home cooking is always that, so any old recipe I give to you is likely to be cheaper than its restaurant equivalent. Point being that I hope to pull the old blog back more to what it originally was meant to be--a resource for those looking to eat super cheap, but super well.

Today's recipe kind of nails it. It's so cheap. And so so easy. It's the perfect solution for milk that is nearing its expiration date (but not sour) when you know you just won't be able to drink it all before it sours. This, I believe, is one of the principles of cheapskatery--finding ways to save/eat the foods you've bought.

Here, perhaps I should note, that it's kind of a cheater ricotta. Real ricotta is made after you've made some other cheese. You then take that whey, curdle it, and strain out the last little bits of cheesiness--and that is your ricotta. It is cheapskatery at its finest. However, making a real cheese with rennet and/or bacterial cultures, and love and time is not what this post is about today. It's more about making an inexpensive, wicked good spreadable cheese when you've got milk that needs using.

And it is the most delicious ricotta I've ever eaten. It is creamy (almost as creamy as cream cheese) with sweet-ish overtones (as opposed to plain yogurt with its tanginess). It's satisfying and perfect. In fact, I find that I want to go get myself a scoop as I write this. In short, it's the kind of ricotta that you could put on lasagna, but you might not want to because why would you waste it by hiding it among all that pasta and sauce when you could just eat it straight up out of a bowl. It'd also be lovely on bagels or crepes, or served in a bowl with fruit or honey or on the side of some sauteed vegetables.

It takes only 3 cups of milk (that's about $.30 if we're talking about our cheap Aldi milk), another $1.00 for the cream, and $.25 for the lemon. For this $1.55 you get about 1 1/2 C of ricotta. That's not a bad price for the best ricotta you've ever eaten. And--again--this is a very good way to use up milk that needs to be used.

Also it's about as easy as you can get when we're talking about making your own cheese (which we are). You will need a thermometer and a tea towel for straining, but otherwise it's crazy easy--heat the dairy products, add lemon juice, let sit, strain. I made it this morning while I cleaned my kitchen.

As an added bonus, the rich, creamy protein-filled food is a nice foil for the candied weekend that was Easter for us. Today at lunch I wanted something simple and not sweet.

If you'd like to use the whey, you can use it in most baked goods the way you'd use milk or buttermilk (muffins are my go to for whey). Or you can try this lovely.

Dumb Easy Homemade Ricotta
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
makes about 1 1/2 C
Prep/cook time: 15-20 minutes
Strain time: 1-2 hours
Cost: $1.55
milk: .30, cream: 1.00, lemon .25

3 C milk
1 C cream
3 Tbsp lemon juice (I used fresh squeezed)

In a saucepan, heat milk and cream to 190 degrees (Fahrenheit), stirring occasionally so it doesn't scald on the bottom of the pot (I heated mine on medium--you can heat it faster on high or slower on low, depending on how much attention you want to give it--you just can't let the bottom burn onto the pan).

When it hits 190, take it off the heat, and stir in lemon juice.

Let it sit for 5 minutes. It's going to curdle; it's supposed to curdle; that's part of making cheese.

Now line a strainer with a tea towel (or several layers of cheese cloth) and set that strainer over a bowl of some sort (so the whey can drip into that bowl instead of all over your counter). Pour the contents of your pot into the tea towel and let sit for 1-2 hours. At an hour, it will be runnier, but still definitely ricotta (also, it will firm up somewhat as it cools completely--at an hour, it will still be slightly warm). I let mine go for two hours because I wanted a firmer spreadable sort of ricotta. It was fabulous.

Eat it. I ate mine with a few blueberries and guys--you'd be surprised how wonderful and satisfying it was. Better than anything I've ever had from the store.


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