FRESH WHOLE-MILK RICOTTA CHEESE
For fact-checkers, know that ricotta means “twice cooked” in Italian. There, it’s made from the whey left when making mozzarella. Since we’re making it from scratch, our recipe is kind of a “faux ricotta.” Delicious, all the same. Use fresh milk, cream and freshly squeezed lemon juice. The recipe doubles easily, but best to make a smaller amount the first time. Find cheesecloth in most hardware and grocery stores; it is necessary to keep small curds from escaping through the holes in the colander.
• 2 quarts whole milk
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/4 cup fresh, strained lemon juice
Line a colander with 3 to 4 layers of lightly dampened cheesecloth, and set it in, or over, a larger bowl. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of a heavy-duty 7- to 8-quart pot. Pour the milk and cream into the pot and slowly warm the mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the thermometer registers 185 degrees, about 20 minutes. Watch carefully, as milk likes to scorch.
Remove from the heat; add the salt and stir until it dissolves. Slowly pour the lemon juice over the surface of the milk. Once all of the juice has been added, stir gently, using a slow lifting motion, for 1 to 2 minutes to encourage curds to form. When you begin to see the curds form, slowest stirring is essential. Gently transfer the curds into the colander using a strainer or perforated ladle. Do not pour the mixture.
The draining time determines the ricotta’s firmness. Fold the ends of the cheesecloth over the curds to lightly cover, and allow to drain anywhere from 30 minutes (for soft curds) to 4 hours (for a rather firm, dry cheese). Transfer the fresh ricotta to a jar, cover and refrigerate.
Makes about 2 1/2 cups.
— Adapted from Fine Cooking
RICOTTA GNOCCHI WITH PARMESAN, BROWN BUTTER AND SAGE
This is a quick and easy weekday supper. Because I cook for two, I sauté half the gnocchi and freeze the rest. You can also sauté the gnocchi and serve them with a simple tomato sauce. If you make a batch of caramelized onions in advance, you can almost pretend they are pierogies, but with a subtle and more complex flavor.
For the gnocchi:
• 3/4 cup flour, plus additional for dusting
• 1/4 cup (3 ounces) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
• Zest of 1 lemon, grated
• 1 cup (8 ounces) whole milk ricotta cheese, drained
• 1 large egg
• Pinch salt
For the sauce:
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1/2 shallot, thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)
• 12 to 18 sage leaves
• 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
• Juice of 1 lemon
• 2 tablespoons water
• 1/3 cup (about 2 1/2 ounces) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
• 2 tablespoons parsley leaves, chopped
• Chopped hazelnuts, optional
Combine flour, Parmesan cheese and lemon zest in bowl. In another bowl, mix ricotta cheese, egg and salt. Add to the flour mixture and stir until the dough just comes together. Do not overwork or the dough can toughen.
Scrape the dough onto a well-floured work surface. Divide the dough into 4 sections. Using your hands, lightly roll each piece into a 12-inch rope. Cut each rope into 1/2-inch pieces. Place pieces on 2 floured paper plates and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to two hours to rest.
Heat butter over medium-high heat in a sauté pan large enough to accommodate all gnocchi without crowding, but not so wide that the sauce evaporates. When butter foams, add gnocchi and cook, until light brown on all sides, about, 5-6 minutes. Use a spoon and a chopstick to flip the gnocchi.
When gnocchi are almost cooked, lower the heat to medium and add shallot and sage leaves; cook briefly, to release flavors, then add garlic, lemon juice and water. Cook briefly, allowing sauce to thicken a bit. Add Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley. Toss to coat the gnocchi.
Spoon gnocchi and sauce into shallow bowls, top with a sprinkling of hazelnuts and serve right away.
Makes about 40 pieces.
— Chef Michael Symon
CANNOLI, MOSTLY HOMEMADE
If you buy the shells, you can have “homemade” cannoli any day you like. Drain the ricotta in a strainer set over a bowl for at least a half hour before making the filling. You can sweeten and spice to taste.
• 2 cups whole-milk ricotta, well-drained
• 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, or to taste
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
• Zest of a small lemon
• Pinch fine salt
• 1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped fairly stiff
• Mini-chocolate chips, about 1/3 cup, divided
• Powdered sugar for dusting
• 6 large or 12 small cannoli shells
For the filling: in a medium bowl, whisk the ricotta until smooth. Sift in the confectioner’s sugar and spices; add the lemon zest and salt. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until fairly stiff. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the cream into the ricotta mixture. Stir in half the chocolate chips. Refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour.
To fill the cannoli: just before serving, use a pastry (or plastic) bag without a tip to pipe the ricotta into the cannoli shells. Fill them from both ends so the cream runs through the whole shell. Dust with a sifting of powdered sugar and dip ends into remaining chocolate chips.
Makes 6 large or 12 small cannoli.
— Marlene Parrish