Memory is ultra selective. What differentiates the things we remember versus the things that fall through the cracks? I’m often dumbfounded as I listen to friends recount detailed stories wherein I was one of the main characters, but all I can recall is a foggier picture of that same tale. [And, I know what you're thinking, so let me pre-empt you: Alcohol was not involved in the majority of these "memories."] After reflecting on this for a while, I began to think that maybe that’s why I feel the need to document every moment of this life with photographs.
One of the random memories that always stuck out in my mind is a Sunday dinner many years ago at my mom and dad’s house. The table was set with the standards: a mixed green salad, a bowl of rigatoni, a pile of meatballs and sausage, a side of ricotta, some fresh parmesan, a loaf of bread, and, of course, some extra gravy. Towards the end of the meal, I began soaking up any left over sauce on my plate with a slice of bread. With another, I smeared some ricotta on it and sprinkled with salt, something that I’d never done before and certainly wasn’t the norm at our table. At that moment, my mom said, “That’s exactly what Grandpa Mike used to do. That’s how he would eat his bread.” And, that’s it. That’s the memory.
Why did this particularly random and seemingly meaningless moment stick with me all these years? I have to think it’s because I never really got to know my grandfather, as I was only three when he passed. When you never really had the chance to know someone, things like this make you feel connected; like if I had gotten to spend more time with him, maybe we would have been best friend ricotta-smearin’ pals. Who knows?
Homemade ricotta has been on my short list of things to make and this weekend just felt right. I followed Ina Garten’s recipe from “How Simple is That?” and, boy, was she right. It couldn’t have been any easier. It took 40 minutes from start to finish and most of that time was labor-free as you let the ricotta drain.
As you can guess from the story above, I was happy to consume this cheesey delicacy simply smeared across a piece of bread, with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and some flaky sea salt. Here are a few ways to fancy that combination up for an appetizer:
Clockwise from top: Thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma, simple homemade ricotta, sun-dried tomatoes and toasted pignoli nuts, lemon zest and fresh basil
Additionally, there are countless uses for this cheese, but here are some ideas to get your imagination started:
- Mix with mozzarella cheese, Pecorino Romano, egg, and spinach (optional) for stuffed shells, eggplant rollatini, or manicotti filling
- Ricotta cheesecake
- Cannoli cream
- Ricotta pancakes
- Drizzle with honey and fresh strawberries
by Ina Garten
Yields 2 cups
4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. good white wine vinegar
Cut two sheets of cheesecloth large enough to completely line a large fine mesh strainer. Dampen the cheesecloth with water and line the strainer.
Pour the milk and cream into a stainless-steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 2 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 liquid. Use immediately or refrigerate in an air-tight container for up to 4 days.