|Ricotta cheese Quick Facts|
|Shapes||Soft, creamy, fluffy and grainy|
|Major nutrients||Vitamin B-12 (43.75%)
Total Fat (36.06%)
Vitamin B2 (28.46%)
Ricotta cheese is a commonly-available cheese used as a filling for lasagna and stuffed shells, as well as a pizza topping, and even as a filling for Italian desserts such as cannoli. You can also make ricotta cheese at home by separating the whey from whole milk. This type of cheese is a mixed bag as far as its healthfulness goes. It is quite fattening and high in calories; however, it has much nutritional value from the vitamins and minerals it contains. Ricotta can also be made in aged varieties which are preservable for much longer.
The production of ricotta in the Italian peninsula is old, dating back to the Bronze Age. In the second millennium BC, ceramic vessels called milk boilers started to appear frequently and were apparently unique to the peninsula. These were made to boil milk at high temperatures and prevent the milk from boiling over. The fresh acid-coagulated cheeses produced with these boilers were probably made with whole milk. However, the production of rennet-coagulated cheese overtook the production of fresh whole-milk cheeses during the first millennium BC. Bronze cheese graters found in the graves of the Etruscan elite prove that hard-grating cheeses were popular with the aristocracy. Cheese graters were also commonly used in ancient Roman kitchens. Unlike the fresh acid-coagulated cheese, aged rennet-coagulated cheese could be preserved for much longer.
The increased production of rennet-coagulated cheese led to a large supply of sweet whey as a byproduct. Cheese makers then started using a new recipe, which used a mixture of whey and milk to make the traditional ricotta as it is known today. The ancient Romans made ricotta, but writers on agriculture such as Cato the Elder, Marcus Terentius Varro, and Columella do not mention it. They described the production of rennet-coagulated cheese but did not write about milk boilers or acid-coagulated cheese. A likely reason is that ricotta was not commercial because its very short shelf life did not allow distribution to urban markets. Ricotta was most likely consumed by the shepherds who made it. Even so, evidence from paintings and literature specifies that ricotta was known and likely eaten by Roman aristocrats, as well.
Ceramic milk boilers were still used by Apennine shepherds to make ricotta in the 19th century AD. Today, metal milk boilers are used, but production methods have changed little since ancient times.
Fresh ricotta can be subjected to extra processing to produce variants which have a much longer shelf life. These production methods include salting, baking, smoking, and further fermentation.
1. Ricotta salata
Ricotta salata is actually a pressed, salted, dried, and aged variety of the cheese. It is milky-white and firm and used for grating or shaving. Ricotta salata is sold in wheels, decorated by a delicate basket-weave pattern.
2. Ricotta infornata
Ricotta infornata is produced by placing a large lump of soft ricotta in the oven until it develops a brown, lightly charred crust, sometimes even until it becomes sandy brown all the way through. Ricotta infornata is popular mainly in Sardinia and Sicily, and is sometimes called ricotta al forno.
3. Ricotta affumicata
Ricotta affumicata is similar to ricotta infornata. It is produced by placing a lump of soft ricotta in a smoker until it develops a grey crust and acquires a charred wood scent, usually of oak or chestnut wood, although, in Friuli, beech wood is used, with the addition of juniper and herbs.
4. Ricotta forte
Ricotta forte, also known as ricotta scanta, is produced from leftovers of any combination of cow, goat, or sheep milk ricotta. These are allowed to age for about a year, during which the cheese is mixed every two or three days to prevent the growth of mold. Salt is added as well. The end result is a soft and creamy brown paste which has a very pungent and piquant taste. It is produced in the southern part of the Province of Lecce and sold in glass jars. It is smeared on bread, mixed with tomato sauces for pasta, or added to vegetable dishes.
- Like mascarpone in northern Italian cuisine, ricotta is a favorite component of many Italian desserts, such as cheesecakes and cannoli.
- A variety of different cookies include ricotta as an ingredient.
- Ricotta can be beaten smooth and mixed with condiments, such as sugar, cinnamon, orange flower water, strawberries, and occasionally chocolate shavings, and served as a dessert.
- Basic combination (often with additions such as citrus and pistachios) also features prominently as the filling of the Sicilian cannoli and layered with slices of cake in Palermo’s cassata.
- Combined with eggs and cooked grains, then baked firm, ricotta is also a main ingredient in Neapolitan pastiera, one of Italy’s many “Easter pies”.
- Ricotta is also commonly used in savory dishes, including pasta, calzone, stromboli, pizza, manicotti, lasagne, and ravioli.
- It also is used as a mayonnaise substitute in traditional egg or tuna salad and as a sauce thickener.
- Local ricotta is dried in the sun and made into a hard, chewy tablet called chhurpi in Himalayan areas, notably in Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling and parts of Nepal.
- The fresh, soft chhurpi is the main ingredient in the Bhutanese national dish of ema datshi.
- It is often used as a substitute for paneer or chena (though the two are not identical) in the Indian dessert known as ras malai.
- Paneer is mostly casein protein, similar to cottage cheese, while ricotta is made of all whey protein.
- It can be substituted for making Indian sweets such as sondesh or dishes such as palak paneer.
- Ricotta and Mascarpone are two extremely popular northern Italian cheeses that are used extensively in creating Italian desserts like cheesecake and tiramisu.
- Ricotta is often beaten smooth and mixed with sugar, cinnamon and chocolate shavings, and served as a dessert in some parts of Italy.
- In traditional egg or tuna salads, mayonnaise is often substituted by a healthy serving of ricotta.
- This cheese also acts as a sauce thickener.
Easy Ways to Eat Your Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Want to put your new ricotta-making skills to use? Here are several easy ways to incorporate fresh, protein-packed ricotta into satisfying meals and snacks:
- Breakfast: Instead of buttermilk, try ricotta pancakes for an extra boost of protein. Make a big batch on Sunday for a quick, re-heat able weekday breakfast. Top with fresh fruit and nuts or nut butter for a satisfying start to your day. You can also add ricotta to your favorite morning smoothie.
- Lunch: Saute some summer squash and make yourself a satisfying ricotta wrap to take to work.
- Dinner: Give jarred pasta sauce a protein boost by mixing in some ricotta, and serve over whole grain pasta, spaghetti squash, or zucchini noodles. Of course, you can always make these delicious stuffed mushrooms or veggie lasagna instead!
- Snack: Instead of avocado toast, dollop 2–3 tablespoons of ricotta on thin slices of toasted baguette, and top with sliced pears, peaches, or nectarines.
How to Make Your Own Ricotta Cheese at Home
Whole milk will give you the creamiest ricotta, but a 2:1 mix of whole and low-fat milk can be used for a part-skim ricotta. Also, avoid ultra-high-temperature (UHT) pasteurized milk since the proteins and sugars are more broken down and won’t coagulate as well as regular or low-temperature pasteurized milks.
- 6 cups milk
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- 5 –6 tablespoons distilled white vinegar or lemon juice (start with 5 tablespoons if your milk is not super fresh)
- Line a colander with four layers of cheesecloth. Combine milk, salt, and vinegar in a saucepan over medium-low heat, and stir constantly with a silicone spatula until mixture reaches 165°F. Remove the saucepan from the heat and set aside until solid white curds form on the surface, about 2 minutes.
- Using a slotted spoon or fine-mesh skimmer, transfer the curds to the prepared colander. Cover the top with plastic wrap and allow draining for 5–10 minutes for soft, spreadable ricotta, or up to 15–20 minutes for firmer curds (pictured below).
How to select
- Ricotta cheese should not be too crumbly or dry but instead be soft and fresh.
- The color of the cheese should be relatively uniform.
- There are 3 types of Ricotta are salted, baked and smoked. These particular methods of preparation ensure your Ricotta lasts longer.
- A pressed, salted and dried variety of ricotta is known as Salata. This hard, milky white cheese is sold in the shape of wheels and is found at gourmet cheese stores. It is mainly used for grating or shaving over pasta.
- Please check the expiry date before purchasing the product.
How to store
- All cheeses, regardless of variety, should be well wrapped and kept in the warmest section of the refrigerator (The refrigerator door is often one of the warmest spots).
- As storage life is related to the moisture content of the cheese, the softer the cheese, the shorter amount of time it will keep fresh.
- Since ricotta is a fresh cheese, it should be consumed within a day or two as it is highly perishable.
- Ricotta from Fine Italian Foods recently won Silver medal at the 2014 World Cheese Awards.
- The name Ricotta is derived from the Latin word recocta, meaning re-cooked or cooked twice.
- You should also be aware that freezing ricotta cheese might somewhat change the taste and texture, but it will still work well in certain dishes like soups, lasagna, sauces as well as other recipes which need cooking.
- Tofu can also be substituted in equal measures for ricotta in many recipes
Pair fluffy pancakes with whipped lemon butter
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 2 cups milk
- 120 grams ricotta, well-drained
- Butter, for cooking
- 1/2 cup butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and slightly softened
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 lemon, zest only
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
- Make the ricotta pancakes: In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt. In a large bowl, combine egg yolks, milk, and ricotta; mix until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and mix gently with a whisk or large spoon.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Stir a spoonful of egg whites into the batter then fold in the remaining egg whites using a rubber spatula.
- Heat oil or butter in a large nonstick frying pan. Pour ¼ to ? cup batter per pancake onto the pan and cook for about 2 minutes or until bubbles form on the surface. Flip pancake and cook the other side for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Repeat with remaining batter.
- Make the whipped lemon butter: In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, place butter and whip on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, grated lemon zest, and vanilla. Continue to whip until light and fluffy, but not melted.
- To serve, stack three pancakes on top of each other. Top with a spoonful of whipped lemon butter and drizzle with maple syrup. Garnish with sliced lemons, if desired.
Ricotta Cheese Cookies
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 3 tablespoons milk
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, with the mixer a low speed, beat the sugar and butter until combined. Increase speed to high and beat until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Reduce speed to medium and beat in the ricotta, vanilla and eggs.
- Reduce speed to low. Add flour, baking powder and salt; beat until dough forms.
- Drop dough by level tablespoons, about 2 inches apart; onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 15 minutes or until cookies are very lightly golden (cookies will be soft). With spatula, remove cookies to wire rack to cool.
- When cookies are cool, prepare icing. In small bowl, stir confectioners’ sugar and milk until smooth. With small spreader, spread icing on cookies; place a candied cherry piece on top of each cookie or sprinkle with colored sugar or candy sprinkles.
Macaroni with Sausage & Ricotta
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 tablespoons finely chopped yellow onion
- 6 ounces mild pork sausage, casings removed
- 1 14-ounce can no-salt-added whole peeled tomatoes, chopped, with their juice
- ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon salt plus 1 tablespoon, divided
- 12 ounces thin tube-shaped pasta, such as pasta al ceppo
- 6 tablespoons part-skim ricotta cheese
- 10 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Put 2 quarts of water on to boil in a large pot. Meanwhile, combine oil, onion and sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Cook, stirring and crumbling the sausage with a spoon, until the onion is golden, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add tomatoes, pepper and ⅛ teaspoon salt; cook until the tomatoes have reduced and separated from the oil, 5 to 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon salt to the boiling water, stir in pasta and cook according to package instructions until just tender.
- Just before the pasta is done, return the sauce to medium-low heat.
- Add ricotta and basil and stir until combined.
- When the pasta is done, drain well and toss with the sauce and Parmigiano. Serve at once.