Ricotta cheese is a staple in a lot of Italian cooking. I use it in lasagna, stuff shells, on pizzas, or even desserts. I always knew that making ricotta from scratch was pretty easy – there are only 4 ingredients, all of which were on hand and it took less than 30 minutes from start to finish. I had a hankering for Ricotta Cheese with Peaches and Spicy Chili Honey, where the cheese is the star of the show, and wanted a high quality, fresh cheese. The selection at the grocery store in Austin is a bit, well, lacking for Ricotta, so now was the time to make my own. The results were fantastic, and luckily there was quite a bit left for more dishes throughout the week.
Even though it was one of the easiest things I’ve ever made, it felt pretty fancy to make my own cheese.
½ gallon whole milk (8 cups)
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. kosher salt
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice (juice from approximately 1 lemon)
Line a colander with 2 layers of dampened cheesecloth and place over a large bowl.
On medium heat, combine milk, heavy cream and salt, stirring occasionally until starting to boil. Reduce heat to low and add lemon juice. Mixture will start to curdle in about 2 minutes. Continue to simmer for approximately 2 minutes more. Pour mixture into lined colander and let sit about 20 minutes so the excess liquids (whey) drain from the cheese. Empty bowl occasionally to ensure proper draining. Store unused ricotta in the refrigerator for about a week (like it would last that long!) Enjoy!
Inspired by a recent meal at Italic in Austin, Texas, I wanted to recreate their orecchiette dish at home. The spice of the sausage and red pepper and the bitterness of the kale were cooled by the perfectly fresh lemon ricotta. Named after “a small ear,” orecchiette is the perfect shape to capture all of those flavors working in perfect harmony.
Ingredients (serves 2-3):
8 oz. ricotta cheese
Zest of ½ lemon
3 tbsp. olive oil
¾ lb. ground Italian sausage
1 bunch kale, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ tsp. crushed red pepper
4 oz. orecchiette pasta
¼ cup pasta water, reserved
Salt and pepper to taste
To make the lemon ricotta:
Zest ½ lemon into 8 oz. ricotta and a sprinkle of salt. Be careful to zest only the yellow part of the lemon, because that’s where the flavor is. The white part, called the pith, is very bitter. Stir to blend. Set aside while cooking to let the flavors meld together.
Bring pasta water to a boil, salt liberally. Cook orecchiette al dente according to directions, reserving approximately ¼ cup pasta water when draining. Pasta water is great because it’s already seasoned with salt and it’s a little starchy, which helps to bind ingredients.
Chop kale into roughly two inch pieces, discarding large stems. Rinse in colander and remove to dry.
Meanwhile, on medium heat, brown sausage in sauté pan. Remove sausage from skillet, draining excess oil. Return skillet to medium heat and add olive oil. Add garlic and red pepper and sauté for 2 minutes until fragrant before adding kale. Within a few minutes the kale should start to shrink and turn darker green. Add reserved pasta water and cook for approximately 5 minutes until kale is cooked. Give a quick taste before adding salt because the pasta water is already salty. Add sausage and pasta and stir to combine.
Serve immediately with a big dollop of lemon ricotta.