Freshly made cheese can’t be beat. Some cheeses are actually very complicated to make and involve many different elements and steps but ricotta cheese is without doubt one of the easiest cheeses to make. Heat milk, add an acid as a curdling agent, stir, strain, eat. Ri-cotta,in Italian means re-cooked, because this cheese was traditionally made from the whey that’s left over after making mozzarella.
For this recipe I’ll use:
A. 1 gallon of whole milk. Raw milk is best, and it’s guaranteed safe to use in this context (it’s safe anyway…) since heating to 180° is beyond the usual pasteurization temperature (which is around 165°). I’m using just regular grocery store milk right now because I just didn’t have 7.00 to shell out for a gallon of milk this time…
B. 1/2 cup of white vinegar or lemon juice.
C. Optional: 1 teaspoon salt (you can mix it with the vinegar and pour them into the milk together)
Pour your milk into a pot and heat it to 180°. Be careful not to burn it! Stir frequently, heat slowly and use a ‘flame tamer’ if you’ve got one. Burned milk in not fun.
The moment the milk reaches 180°, turn off the burner and pour in the vinegar or lemon juice. Stir it gently for a minute or so to distribute the acid evenly and watch in amazement as the curds separate from the whey. That’s chemistry, folks. Molecules and stuff. You can let if sit for a few minutes to continue separating.
After a couple of minutes have passed, strain the newly curdled mess into a colander lined with cheesecloth or just a colander if the holes are relatively small. It’s going to make a mess, there’s no way around it. You will likely have ricotta cheese clinging to the walls. When most of the liquid has run out, after sitting anywhere from 10 minutes to a half-hour, you can pick up the corners of the cheesecloth to squeeze out the remaining liquid. How much you strain the cheese will depend on what you’re using it for. As this is going in ravioli, I want it to be on the drier side. Ok, you’re done! Smear some still-warm cheese onto some toasted sourdough with kosher salt and olive oil and feel your brain synapses freaking out.
Now to turn this all into butternut squash ravioli filling:
What you’ll need:
Roasted and mashed butternut squash, (cooked with olive oil, salt, pepper and sage is how I do it, make sure you’ve got some nice browning on the edges.)
Grated parmesan cheese
And a last minute addition on a whim, pure maple sugar grated into the mix:
Use 50/50 squash/ricotta mix and add the rest of the ingredients to taste. Just mix it all together in a bowl and you’re done.