One of my first primary school memories is of a ‘science’ lesson in which we discovered how to churn butter. In those days, early school children would receive free milk for mid-morning break; it came in diminutive glass bottles, with stripy straw. The butter churning lesson required us to forego the rich cream bit on the top of our milk, and then shake it up (for wrist-aching ages!) til it thickened and became a butter of sorts, having gone through whipped cream stage. I remember being totally fascinated that it was so easy (young wrists don’t get tired!) to make something I associated only with supermarket shelves and as pre-packed.
Making ricotta at home yesterday, watching the milk curdle instantly, dividing into whey and curd, gave me the same amazement. And the self-satisfaction of knowing I won’t be buying it now, or rarely anyway. It’s not the money saving (probably around a Euro on a 250g tub), but more the fact that it’s really so easy to make, and fun too (get the kids involved as a rainy day activity!). One litre of whole milk, three tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and a teaspoon of salt, and you’ve ricotta. So useful an item to rustle up for all manner of menus – pasta sauces, cakes, salads, or simply for breakfast.
Before my fare and photos get too Christmassy – all reds, dark greens and golds – and because the days are still so warm and so unrepresentative of winter, I decided to create an almost summery-light breakfast snack. I love ricotta drizzled with honey and whatever fruit is to hand, and some oatcakes too on this occasion for a healthy breakfast. Now to make some more batches for that cassatella I’ve been promising J and the lemon dessert I’ve planned for the weekend.
All images © Liz Ayling 2012
Makes a shop-bought regular tub amount; near on 300g or so.
1 litre of whole milk
1 tsp sea salt
3 tbsps freshly-squeezed lemon juice
You will need:
a non-reactive pan (stainless steel)
a deep ceramic or non-reactive bowl
1 large piece of cheesecloth or muslin
wooden spoon to hang draining cheese
In a large, heavy-based, non-reactive pan, gently heat the milk and salt to steaming point (just before boiling). Stir every so often to ensure milk is not burning (shouldn’t if your pan is thick based).
Remove from the heat, and add the lemon juice in a stream stirring as you go. The milk will curdle almost immediately. Stir once or twice, then leave to settle, undisturbed, for around 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, arrange the cloth in a large sieve or colander leaving enough overhang so you can tie the ends over the handle of the spoon. Now, pour the milk curd carefully into the cloth and tie the corners securely over the spoon handle resting over the ceramic basin. Leave to drain for around 45 minutes until no more whey is dripping out of the cloth.
Your cheese is ready to eat! Best made fresh to use that day, but sealed it will keep a day more in the fridge.
5 Quick Ricotta Ideas
Breakfast snack with fruit and honey
Pancake filling with lemon juice and zest & honey
Sponge cake filling with jam layer or as pancake filling above
Add to smoothies to thicken instead of banana
Spread on toasted ciabatta / bruschette and layer with prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes and olives