'Tis spring, the time when we cut back, eat fresh and slim down. Yet somehow, I didn't get the memo. Lately I've been taken with turning out batches of fresh, fattening ricotta.
It all began last week in New York, when I stopped in for a bite at a cacophonous, newish restaurant called Maysville. Though the small plates were incredible (think agnolotti with nettles), I was bummed that they were out of a particular plate: spring peas, mint and ricotta. Once I left, I couldn't get ricotta off my mind. So once I got home, I promptly picked up some cheesecloth, broke out the milk and vinegar and got to work.
Really, this is all you need for simple ricotta — fresh, preferably organic milk, some kind of acid (lemon juice works), a saucepan, a drainage system and about a half hour of (mostly down) time. The reward is warm, luscious, tangy cheese that tells store-bought versions to just go home.
So far, I've stirred my ricotta into pancake batter, blended it with two different versions of pasta with spring vegetables, and spooned it over — yup, peas, which I topped with mint and chives from my garden. I haven't dared step on a scale in the last week.
Fresh Ricotta Cheese
3 cups of whole milk (You can go part-skim, but the product won't be as luscious)
Spoonful of heavy cream (optional)
White vinegar (I use rice vinegar) or a fresh lemon
Cheesecloth or paper towels
Line a strainer with either two layers of cheese cloth or two paper towels, then set it in the sink. Pour milk into a saucepan and place over low heat (you can add cream for extra oomph and body). After about five minutes, begin checking on the milk to make sure it doesn't scald, giving it a stir every so often to keep the bottom from burning. Once the milk begins to froth and rise at the edges, turn off the flame and either spritz in the juice of half a lemon or sprinkle two tablespoons (roughly) of vinegar atop the milk. Stir the milk gently with the slim handle of a wooden spoon until curds form, which should happen almost immediately — then leave them alone so they'll set. Let the pan rest for 10 minutes, and once it's cooled slightly, use a slotted spoon to extricate the curds and lay them into the strainer to drain.
The off-white, fresh ricotta will be ready to eat in 10 minutes or so, though I usually start almost immediately (I can't help it). The longer the cheese drains, the firmer it will get. Use immediately (in frittatas, in tortes, over desserts) or refrigerate for up to three days.
(For the quick salad pictured, I sautéed some sugar snap peas in butter and garlic, then plated them with a dollop of ricotta and a shower of fresh mint and chives from my garden. Fresh, fat spring peas would have been better, but these were still swoonworthy).