I love making my own ricotta. I know it sounds nuts, but (as I have gone over ad nauseum by this point) it really is ridiculously easy, and so very much better than store-bought. It’s just a matter of bringing some milk (with a little buttermilk and cream added) to a boil, watching it separate into curds, and then scooping out the cheese. Voila!
The other night, I made a batch of ricotta intending to serve it along with spinach and a light cream sauce on pasta, but I changed plans at the last minute. It was a ridiculously gorgeous day, and it seemed almost a crime not to fire up the grill. We had some frozen pizza dough ready to be quick-thawed and used, so I conscripted the hubby as soon as he got home to roll out the dough and grill some pizza crusts.
I sautéed some spinach and sliced some fresh local mozzarella from Full Quiver Farm. We topped hubby’s signature herb-garlic crust with the spinach, mozzarella and a few dollops of ricotta, and threw it back on the grill to finish cooking. A sprinkle of crushed red pepper sealed the deal.
It was so good we repeated the whole thing a few nights later, when my in-laws were in town to visit. In place of the spinach, though, we had delicate broccoli fresh from our garden, and we added caramelized onions (always a favorite).
The spinach, mozzarella and ricotta, though, was a classic, and one that we’ll definitely be repeating around here. I’m going to give you the recipe for the whole darn thing, from pizza dough to ricotta, so hang on to your hats!
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- 1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
- 4 cups bread flour, plus extra for dusting hands and work surfaces
- 1 envelope (2¼ tsp) instant yeast
- 1½ tsp salt
- 1¾ cups warm water (110°)
- 4 cups whole milk (preferably organic, pastured milk)
- 1 cup buttermilk
- ⅓ cup heavy cream
- 1 Tbsp olive oil, plus additional for the pizza crusts
- 1 bunch spinach, washed, trimmed and roughly chopped
- Fleur de sel or kosher salt, to taste
- 4 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced
- crushed red pepper, to taste
- Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and rosemary and saute briefly, until fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat and cool to room temperature.
- Place the flour, yeast, salt and garlic-rosemary mixture in the bowl of a standing mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix briefly to combine on low speed. Slowly add the water and continue to mix on low speed until a cohesive mass forms.
- Stop the mixer and replace the paddle with the dough hook. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
- Form the dough into a ball and place it in a well-oiled deep bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about an hour to an hour and a half.
- Press the dough down with your fist and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Use a bench scraper or a chef’s knife to divide the dough into 8 pieces. Form each piece into a smooth, round ball and cover them with a damp cloth. Let the dough relax for at least 5 minutes, but no more than 30 minutes.
- Working with one ball of dough at a time and keeping the others covered, flatten the dough ball into a disk using the palms of your hands. Starting at the center of the disk and working outward, use your fingertips to press the dough into a round about ½-inch thick.
- Use one hand to hold the dough in place and the other to stretch the dough outward. Rotate a quarter-turn and stretch the dough again. Continue turning and stretching until the dough will not stretch any further. It should be about ¼-inch thick. Use the flat of your palm to press down and flatten any thick edges.
- Transfer the dough rounds to lightly floured baking sheets, and cover with a damp cloth until ready to use.
- Fold a length of cheesecloth so that it’s four sheets thick, and set it in a colander in the sink.
- Bring the milk, buttermilk and cream to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Keep watch over the mixture, stirring occasionally, until you see the curds start to separate. When this happens, turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to scoop the curds into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Keep scooping under all you’ve got left is a light-yellowish liquid (whey).
- Sprinkle the cheese with a little kosher salt and let it drain for about 5 minutes. Use immediately, or store in the fridge in an airtight container.
- Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat in a skillet, and add the spinach. Saute until wilted but still bright green. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- Sprinkle the top of each prepared crust with olive oil and kosher salt, and, using your hand, quickly flip the crust onto the grill. Cook on one side for 5-8 minutes. Move once in the first 30 seconds or so to make sure it doesn’t stick to the grill, and stab a few times with a fork once bubbles start to appear. Turn over and cook for about 2 minutes.
- Top the fully-cooked side of each pizza crust with a couple of mozzarella slices, spinach and a few dollops of ricotta. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper, if desired.
- Grill the pizzas until the cheese is melted and the bottom of the crust is done, about 5 minutes. Slice and serve warm.