How to make ricotta cheese.

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)


 Step 1.

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. image

Step 2.

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.image

Step 3.

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.

Straining the whey from the curds.
If you use cheesecloth cleaning up is a little easier…
1 gallon of milk came out to be 515 grams,  18 oz., 1.1 pound or around 3 cups. (This is a large serving bowl)

Flour, salt, milk, oil.

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.)

Ricotta cheese

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. 






Il Formaggio!


This blog does have pizza in the title after all so I figure now that I’ve gotten some thoughts on basic elements out in front, it’s time to post some eye candy for the pizza lovers in my life.  This is the first pizza I ever made with homemade cheese. Thanks to Casey Coman for tutoring me on making mozzarella cheese at home! This is also a heads up that a ricotta-cheese making tutorial is coming your way soon. (uh, Casey thanks again for teaching us all in the IMS kitchen how it’s done). This will lead into a demonstration of my first ever ravioli making attempt…

This pie is composed of the following elements:

flour, water , salt, yeast, tomatoes, oil, garlic, milk, fresh basil. That’s it. with-homemade-mozz-april-27

More essential elements.






Picked up a couple of pantry staples while out tonight and spotted a miraculous full moon just over Mt. Wachusett on the way down-town. I’m super lucky that even though I live in a central Mass. backwater of 5,000 people I can still buy Caputo 00 flour any day of the week at a very good price from the local gourmet food store called “The Country Gourmet”.

I’ve decided to start learning how to use 00 flour in other things besides pizza crust. I suppose there are other things in life besides pizza so why not try pasta and cookies with it too?!  00 flour is very common in Italian bakeries and pizza shops; it’s more finely milled than what you would find on the shelves in the US and has a gluten level roughly equivalent to that of all-purpose flour.  Since 14-15% gluten is best for pizza crust like (what you’d get with bread flour), it’s nice to mix in some gluten flour or do a 50/50 mix  of 00 and other kinds of flour such as AP or bread. You’ll also need to cut back a tiny bit on the amount of liquid in your recipe as the 00 doesn’t absorb as much as other flours. It’s really an amazing flour to work with. Kneading a pizza dough made with this flour is like kneading a cloud made out of silk and the cooked crust is full of air and extremely lightweight  but sturdy at the same time. Only the Italians could architect something that is so contradictory, useful and sensual all at the same time.

There’s not much to say about the salt. It’s good salt. Salt is old, it goes in everything. The ocean, tears, pasta water. Use salt and eat. img_1048

The transformation of three elements.

alchemists-compounding-a-balsam-in-medieval-times-bj8draWhat you can do with flour, eggs and salt. For these pasta experiments I decided to use up a wheat/white blend I had in my cabinet that I was using for sourdough at one time; it made a stiff and nice-looking dough that I feel hopeful about (eating).

I’ve decided that making ravioli is my newest short-term cooking goal however to do that you have to make very precisely shaped but also sturdy and thin sheets of pasta. So I set out to practice that with my Mercato pasta roller and succeeded more that I expected to on this night. I ended up trying a few different way of cutting the pasta as well when I was done making sheets. At the same time I’m trying out putting half of the pasta dough in the freezer to see how it keeps. These are some of the cuts I tried, some machine and some by hand, and the sheets themselves. In Italian, the word la pasta actually means dough and can mean other things such as a cake or pastry, a mix or a paste, and of course pasta. The Italian verb impastare means to knead or to mix.

The Element of Olive Oil

The element of olive oil can be both the foundation and the garnish for a variety of dishes.  It’s the indispensable lubricant of every Italian-leaning kitchen.  I’ve broken with many decades of tradition recently and bought a domestic brand of olive oil. I was skeptical when I started to read, and hear from friends, that a lot of the most popular brands of olive oil on the market (even ones that might originate in Italy, Greece or Spain) aren’t as pure as they are advertised to be. After reading from several different sources, as well as tasting directly from the bottle of the well-known brand I had in my kitchen, I’m a believer. Many are said to be cut with other oils like canola or sunflower or contain coloring agents that aren’t listed on the bottle.  Considering how much of the stuff I use, and how many health benefits extra-virgin olive oil has, as well as the very negative effects of using sub-optimal oils at high cooking temperatures,  I’ve decided to be a lot more finicky about my oil. I know that there’s countless varieties of high-quality olive oil out there, but they can be both pricey and hard to pick out of the crowd. This brand is what I’m using now. The taste and the smell are awesome-it’s got that nice spicy kick that creeps up on you when you down a teaspoon of it straight. The price is pretty decent too considering the heavy, darkened glass bottle. To gauge the quality and authenticity of your extra-virgin olive oil, look at the bottom of the bottle. There should be some pulpy stuff settled on the bottom.  Non-Extra Virgin olive oil has been refined so it won’t have this stuff in the bottom. And oil that’s just posing as E.V.O.O. won’t have it either ’cause it’s fake.  Give the bottle a shake to get those bits all up in your food. Real extra-virgin olive oil will also have a harvest date on the bottle, so you can gauge it’s freshness, and this tells you that the company actually tracks when the olives where picked, instead of just buying humongous quantities of oil at market and throwing it it a bottle without knowing where it’s from or how old it is. Has the whole world gone mad?!


Fruity olive bits that have settled to the bottom of the bottle. Shake it or tip upside down before you’re using it to get that junk in your food.

La Chitarra

Nothing happens without the ancestors. 

Although I never knew my maternal grandmother Erminia Cenerizio, the owner of the traditional Abruzzese pasta making implement pictured above, I did know some of her siblings, and have done a  great deal of research on her branch of the family in recent years. One of 7 children at that time, she came to Boston in 1919 with brother Corrado and my great-grandmother, Anna. The patriarch of the family, Edoardo Cenerizio, came to the U.S. first in 1913. He was a shoemaker who was taught the trade by the man who adopted him just after his birth, Nunzio Polidoro.  I can only assume that Anna decided to follow to the U.S. after the 1915 earthquake in Avezzano destroyed their village, San Benedetto dei Marsi, in the region of Abruzzo, and also killed 5 of her children. Here the chitarra is getting its first use  after at least 42 years of dormancy,  along with a picture of the family, below,  from 1950 taken in Lexington, Ma.  Erma is third from left, with her mother first from the right. The town in the photo below is Nocciano, also in Abruzzo, where my grandfather Angelo Di Meco, a stone mason and builder, was from. He’s first on the left in the family photo. Although both of my grandparents were from small villages less that 50 miles apart, they met and were married in Greenfield, Ma.  in 1929. 1951-photo-2nocciano-vista