Just smile and say 'Ricotta'

For Picture-Perfect Homemade Cheese...

If you have not yet tried your hand at making cheese because last week’s recipe for homemade mozzarella looked too involved, or you couldn’t get hold of good cheesemaking milk, then this recipe for Fresh Ricotta Cheese offers another opportunity to have a go at it. Although it is not made in the traditional way — with the leftover whey from other cheesemaking endeavors (such as from making mozzarella cheese) — it is every bit as delicious, dependable and versatile. (In Italian, ricotta means “twice-cooked,” or “re-cooked. This version is cooked only once.) Where it took four tries to nail a respectable mozzarella cheese, I managed to make about the best ricotta cheese I’ve ever tasted (or cooked with) from the get go. And, so will you, as long as you carefully follow directions and use precisely the ingredients called for in the recipe, which are readily available in any supermarket. The recipe, which makes two pounds of cheese, may be halved, but with all the ways there is to enjoy ricotta cheese, for instance in snacking, recipes such as lasagna, manicotti and ravioli, or for making desserts, such as cheesecake, or cannolis, you may wish to make the full two pounds. Most cheese recipes take a good bit of time before you can begin to see the fruits of your labor — not so with ricotta cheese. As soon as you bring your milk mixture up to the desired temperature (near boiling), large, cloudlike curds will have already started to form. When that happens, be encouraged. You’ve just begun to master the challenge of changing milk into cheese.

Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at kitchenade@yahoo.com.

Fresh Ricotta Cheese

8-quart covered stainless steel, or other non-reactive type, saucepot with heavy bottom
Thermometer (one that goes from 0 to 220 degrees)
Large strainer or colander for draining curds
Cheesecloth, or linen (non-terry cloth) dishtowel, for lining strainer (If your strainer is made of very fine mesh, you do not need to line it with cheesecloth.)
Pot or large bowl to catch draining whey
Mesh strainer, or slotted spoon, for removing curds from saucepot

1 gallon whole milk (do not use ultra-pasteurized milk)
1 quart full fat buttermilk
1 pint heavy cream, preferably not ultra-pasteurized (see instructions if your heavy cream
 is ultra-pasteurized)*
1 teaspoon kosher salt, more or less to taste, optional
Yield: About 2 pounds finished cheese

1.    Line a large colander or strainer with several layers of cheesecloth. Place the cheesecloth-lined strainer over a large pot or bowl; set aside.
2.    Place milk, buttermilk, heavy cream and salt in a large, heavy saucepot over medium-low heat. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, cooking until little bubbles appear on the surface. *(If the heavy cream you are using is ultra-pasteurized, heat it to 100 degrees before adding to the pot.) Continue heating, without stirring, until the temperature reaches 190 degrees, being careful not to let the mixture boil over. Large, billowy (cloudlike) curds will form in the pot. Once the mixture reaches 190 degrees, remove the pot from the heat, and allow to stand, undisturbed, for 1 hour. (You do not have to cover the pot.)
3.    Using a mesh sieve, or slotted spoon, ladle the curds into the prepared cheesecloth-lined colander. Gently pour the liquid (the whey) left in the cookpot over the solids in the cheesecloth. Allow to drain for 1 hour. (Be sure cheesecloth is not resting in liquid while it is draining.) Once the cheese is drained, chill, covered, in the refrigerator. Will keep for up to 2 days. Kitchen Ade Note: If you opt to save the leftover whey for other recipes, such as using it to replace the water for making bread, be sure to store it in the refrigerator. It, too, should be used within 2 days.

Barilla No-Boil Lasagna

(9-ounce) box Barilla no-boil lasagna
2 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese, or 1 pound (2 cups) homemade
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, store-bought, or homemade, divided
1/2 cup (2 ounces) parmesan cheese (optional)
1 pound bulk Italian sausage or ground beef, cooked, crumbled and drained
2 (24-ounce) jars Barilla Marinara sauce (or any variety you like), or 6 cups homemade

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray baking pan (about 13 x 9 x 3-inches deep*) with non-stick cooking spray. Remove 16 barilla Lasagna sheets from box. Do not boil. In a medium bowl, beat eggs. Stir in ricotta, 2 cups of the mozzarella cheese and the parmesan.

To assemble
1. Spread 1 cup of sauce on bottom of baking pan.
2. Layer 4 uncooked sheets, 1/3 of ricotta mixture, half of browned meat, 1 cup of mozzarella and 1 cup of sauce.
3. Layer 4 uncooked sheets, 1/3 of ricotta mixture and 1 cups of sauce.
4. Layer 4 uncooked sheets, the remaining ricotta mixture and browned meat and 1 cup of sauce.
5. Layer 4 uncooked sheets, the remaining sauce and remaining 1 cup of mozzarella.

*(If using a 2-inch deep pan, make three layers to avoid possible boiling over

1. Use same amount of filling and 12 uncooked sheets. Spoon half jar of sauce on bottom; layer
 with 4 sheets, half ricotta mixture, browned meat and remaining sauce from first jar. Add 1
 cup of mozzarella.
2. Layer 4 sheets, remaining ricotta mixture and browned meat and half of the second jar of
3. Top with four sheets, remaining sauce and 1 cup of mozzarella.
4. Bake as directed.

To bake and serve
Bake, covered with foil until bubbly, 50 to 60 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting. Makes 12 servings. For freezing and pre-cooking instructions, call Barilla at 1-800-922-7455.