We’ve come to the end of 2012 and it is time, once again, to welcome the new year with good company and a good meal. There’s nothing quite like the ritual of planning a meal — reflecting on the season and the thought to a menu, early morning rounds of the greenmarket, the butcher, the baker, Jery’s — to focus the mind on the simple things that matter.
We were casting about for a vegetarian-friendly appetizer other than cheese, but there isn’t much at greenmarket in the sunny dead of winter beyond dairy and root vegetables.Then, we came across Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for homemade ricotta, and reconsidered. Cheese it was. And so, to welcome 2013 we feasted on:
homemade chicken liver pâté with cognac & sage
homemade ricotta crostini drizzled with honey, sea salt & cracked black pepper
whitefish salad & pickles from Flaum’s
olives from Jerry’s
skinny baguettes & pillowy “pizza” bread from Napoli
paprika roast chicken
fennel, orange & cured black olive salad
kale dressed with crème frâiche, lemon zest & shallots
white chocolate ice cream affogato with orange pistachio biscotti
Growing up, ricotta was synonymous with the grainy white paste that passed as filling in doughy tubes of manicotti, and we hated it: flavorless and dry, it left one’s mouth parched no matter how much red sauce you drowned the stuff in. To this day, we avoid ricotta-filled pasta, and ricotta in general, whenever possible.
Ah! This homemade ricotta has saved ricotta for us: it’s nothing like that old childhood memory. Rich and creamy and deeply flavored, it resembles crème frâiche more than store-bought ricotta. It is, simply, sublime.
And it’s so, so easy. A little milk, a little lemon juice, a little time and voila!
We spread our ricotta on toasted slivers of baguette, drizzled it with honey, and sprinkled it with a bit sea salt and cracked black pepper. Such a simple, yet indulgent bite.
Happy 2013! Here’s to a lucky new year.
Makes about 1 generous cup of ricotta. Adapted from Smitten Kitchen.
3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
As with all things, the fresher and better your milk and cream, the tastier your ricotta will be. Don’t use ultra-pasteurized milk, if possible.
And, for a slighly-less-rich-but-still-delicious version, use 3 1/2 cups whole milk and a 1/2 cup heavy cream.
1. Pour the milk, cream and salt into a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan. Heat to 190°F, stirring occasionally to keep it from scorching on the bottom. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, then stir it once or twice, very gently. Let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.
2. Line a colander with a few layers of cheesecloth (we used four single layers) and place it over a large bowl to catch the whey. Give the pot a stir, then pour the curds and whey into the colander. Let the curds strain for at least an hour. At an hour, you’ll have a tender, spreadable ricotta. At two hours, it will be spreadable but a bit firmer, almost like cream cheese. (It will firm up as it cools, so don’t judge the ricotta from what you have in your colander.)
3. Eat the ricotta right away or transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use. Keeps in the fridge 3 or 4 days.