As summer draws to a close, most of us have cleared out our garden beds either to let them rest for the winter months or turn them over for fall...
Although I am always sad to see summer turn to fall, there is something about the crispness in the air that I can’t help but love. As the fires in our outdoor grills transition to the cozy fires warming our hearts, the fall weather has me craving those simple fall favorites we all return to time and time again. Oddly, fresh homemade ricotta is one of my fall comfort foods. Perhaps it is a simmering pot of milk on the stove that gives my soul comfort. Or possibly the fact that I often serve it fresh from the oven and topped with some garlic-infused oil for a super easy antipasto. A recent fall afternoon had me tucked snugly in front of my stove, stirring a huge pot of simmering milk while watching the raindrops stream down the windowpane. True comfort for my soul.
Fresh ricotta is ridiculously simple to make. The cloud of creaminess from a fresh batch has me salivating from the minute those little curds start to take shape in the bowl. A simple slather while still warm atop a crusty toasted slice of bread is groan worthy. And a dollop or two stirred into a plate of warm pasta is comfort food that comforts beyond measure.
One wonderful food memory for me takes me back to Easter in Sicily with my friend, Danielle. Danielle lived with his parents in the apartment above their home. On Easter morning, the doorbell rang and there stood his friend, who had driven down from his village near Mount Etna, to deliver a freshly killed baby goat for roasting, still warm, fresh ricotta and a loaf of freshly baked bread wrapped in simple brown paper. We immediately sat at his kitchen table slathering fresh, warm ricotta on the bread. (I quickly forgot about the poor baby goat which he promptly, and thankfully, delivered to his parents.) How I still remember the taste of that ricotta – warm and wonderfully creamy.
The uses for this delicious treat are endless – slathered on bread alone, with a drizzle of honey, with warm roasted tomatoes, in ravioli, with fresh figs, in desserts. The list goes on. Three simple ingredients; about 30 minutes. Boom. Impress your loved ones and friends at your next dinner party. Simply let slip – ‘Ooh, I hope you like the homemade ricotta I made’. Pause. Wait for the applause.
I have included the baked ricotta dip recipe that I mentioned above. I also occasionally serve with simple, roasted cherry tomatoes alongside for a pop of sweetness.
So light up those fires and invite over some friends for a simple cozy dinner featuring your homemade ricotta. Entertaining at its best. Happy Fall!
• 4 cups whole milk
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar or lemon juice
1. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and salt to a gentle boil over medium heat.. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon to prevent scorching.
2. Meanwhile, line a colander with three or four layers of cheesecloth and set over a medium bowl just larger than the colander.
3. Once boiling, remove the milk mixture from the heat. Add in the white vinegar and let stand for about 5 minutes. Stir gently until the mixture starts to curdle into solid white curds and a cloudy liquid (whey). Let stand another 5 minutes.
4. Gently pour the mixture into the prepared colander. Cover the top with plastic wrap and allow to drain until the desired texture is reached. (I let mine drain for about 20 minutes as I like my ricotta still on the wet side.)
5. Gather up the sides of the cheesecloth and transfer the fresh ricotta to a bowl. Serve immediately or in a covered container in refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Baked Ricotta Dip with Oil-infused Garlic
• 6 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
• Extra virgin olive oil
• 16 ounces (preferably fresh) ricotta
• ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano, divided
• 2 eggs, lightly beaten
• Freshly ground black pepper
1. Place the cloves of garlic and about ½ cup olive oil in a small sauté pan over low heat. Slowly simmer the cloves until they are soft and brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Allow to cool. Using the back of a wooden spoon, mash a few of the cloves until soft.
2. Heat the over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly coat a small baking dish with oil.
3. In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta, about 2/3 of the Pecorino , eggs and some of the mashed garlic. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
4. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining Pecorino and drizzle with the garlic-infused olive oil. Bake until heated through and the cheese on top is melted and browned, about 30 minutes.
5. Serve with nice crusty toasted bread and enjoy!
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog OurItalian Table.com.