Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Homemade Ricotta Cheese & Lemon Ricotta Pasta with Arugula

Can my titles get any longer? Jeeze. 

There are some mornings where I wake up and think "Do they deliver pizza at 10am?" (Translation: How do I keep from having to cook today. Alt translation: I am hungover.) Then there are other mornings where I wake up and think, "That laundry won't smell that much worse tomorrow. If a bill is already late what's one more day?" (Translation: I love cooking so much that you can't get me out of the kitchen today). Today is a "Let the mold grow on my old towels, I'm finding a home-made cheese recipe" day. 

Rich is playing dead on the couch with a tweaked back. This happens to him sometimes. He is old now. It could be worse. He could be actually dead on the couch. Not that I would know, today I'm busy being a cheesemonger. I kid. Usually I would feel bad for him, but this time I think his agonizing pain may have to do with karma and the location of his wedding band being somewhere in the middle of Melrose Avenue (read more here) but either way..... I take playing nurse very seriously and as the world's best nurse- I know that curing a man is just as easy as making him fall in love with me.... through his stomach, of course. 

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

We were at a friend's party a few months ago... you know, one of those super grown up, bring a dish to contribute, cook with your friends party. A party like that is usually my favorite kind because I can show off a bit,  but oh no. Not this time. Some girl walked in the door and announced that for her "party trick" she was going to make homemade ricotta cheese because "it's so much better to eat it fresh and warm." I bet she's an actress. I should give her some notes and make her say that again, but in a way that didn't make me want to gag. Who am I kidding, it wasn't how she said, it was what she said. I hated her instantly. I hate most people that show me up (I also hate other gingers for a similar reason. Except for Prince Harry. Rich, I dare you to lose another wedding band.) So, everyone gathered in the kitchen (I sulked in the back corner) and began ooh-ing and ah-ing at how much cooler this girl was than me. Even worse, they didn't even bother to compare her to me. Now, usually after such a traumatizing experience I would have gone home that night and made 6 batches of perfect ricotta just to repair my ginger ego... (which is as tender as ginger skin in the June sun) but this time was different. I needed a few months before I was ready to tackle this cheesy masterpiece... and today seemed like the perfect day. 

Now, had I known that ricotta cheese is literally one of the easiest things I have ever made, maybe I would have been a little bit less of an embarrassment to myself in the story above. But, alas, nobody is perfect... including Ms. Party Ricotta (worst Halloween costume ever.)

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp kosher salt
3 tbsp organic white wine vinegar

Set a large strainer over a deep bowl. Dampen 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the strainer with the cheesecloth.

Combine the milk, cream and salt into a pot and bring to a full boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat and stir in the white wine vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for a couple of minutes until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth and any remaining whey.

That's it! So simple and it really makes such a difference to use fresh ricotta in a recipe..... like this one:

Lemon Ricotta Pasta with Arugula

I love pasta so much. I have said this 1000 times just today. My favorite pasta dishes are bright, hearty, and fresh tasting and this one is exactly that! Now, you do not have to use homemade ricotta cheese, though I do recommend it. If you MUST buy a store-bought cheese, try to find a whole milk ricotta so that you get a creamier texture. Not a vegetarian? Add some grilled chicken to this dish for a great dinner.

1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 lemons, juiced and zested
2 cups fresh ricotta cheese (the above recipe should yield about that)
A few big hand-fulls of arugula (I used both baby and wild)
A pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup reserved pasta water
Kosher Salt

Cook pasta in well salted water. Cook it to al dente- it's better that way.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil, sliced garlic, and red pepper flakes over low heat. You are just infusing the oil... do not brown the garlic or your pasta will taste bitter. Strain the garlic and pepper flakes from the oil. 

Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup or so of the water, and toss the pasta with the garlicky olive oil, ricotta cheese, lemon juice and zest, and arugula. The heat from the pasta should be just enough to wilt the arugula. If your pasta is a little dry, you can add the reserved pasta water a little at a time. 

Season with kosher salt and serve. 

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