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!
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.
For the ricotta (see [url:1]this tutorial[/url] for more information):
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.
For the pizzas:
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.
Lasagna is great, but it can be time-consuming. Which is why, when I was short on time the other day, I decided to scrap my plans for a traditional lasagna and take it to the stovetop.
After simmering some broken lasagna noodles in vegetable broth, I stirred in some fresh chopped spinach, tomato sauce, spices and ricotta cheese, and topped the whole thing off with a healthy layer of mozzarella and parmesan. Once it was nice and melty, it was dinnertime.
The skillet lasagna was delicious, an the whole thing couldn’t have taken more than 30 minutes, start to finish. I had made make my own ricotta earlier in the day, but that hardly takes any effort, and it tastes so very much better than store-bought. Nora would have been satisfied just eating spoonful after spoonful of the warm fresh ricotta, but I cut her off so we’d have some left for dinner.
She gave the lasagna a good review (as did the hubby and I), although she was more interested in just the plain lasagna noodles than anything else.
Maybe some of those spinach nutrients got absorbed in there somehow… right? Right.
Bring the vegetable stock to a boil in a large skillet. Add the lasagna noodles, breaking them into bite-size pieces, and cook then for 8 minutes (or until about 2 minutes before done).
Add the spinach and lower the heat. Stir until wilted, about 2 minutes.
Add the garlic, spices and crushed tomatoes, stir well, and bring to a simmer once again. Simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Lower the heat and stir in the ricotta cheese and stir until warm. Sprinkle with the mozzarella and parmesan and heat, without stirring, until the cheese begins to melt. Remove from the heat and serve warm.
When Nora was still a wee newborn, the in-laws came out to visit us. As I thought was prudent, I made it clear to anyone planning to visit us within the first few weeks that they would be there not only to see the baby, but to help take care of some cooking and cleaning, too.*
* I highly recommend this to anyone having a baby. You’ve got to make sure everyone’s expectations are the same or you may end up playing hostess with a newborn attached to you 24-7. Doesn’t sound like fun to me!
I fondly remember my mom making a batch of chocolate chip cookies from my recipe, since I had craved them for weeks. My mother-in-law made an absolutely delicious baked ziti from a recipe that we had clipped from the San Francisco Chronicle, but not gotten around to trying before we received our (slightly) early arrival. I have dreamed about it ever since.
Sweet dreams are made of this.
It was, to my mind, the perfect baked ziti. It had ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses mixed right into the sauce. Into the sauce, people! No less important, it turns out that it is also rather easy to make, especially when you do the heavy lifting ahead of time and then just slide it into the oven to bake when it’s almost dinner time. I finally got around to making it again last night, and I was not disappointed — memory had served me well. And now I’m going to have some leftovers for lunch. Glorious.
Author: Lightly adapted from this recipe published in the San Francisco Chronicle
1 28-oz can tomato puree (San Marzano preferred)
1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 onion, halved
2 Tbsp butter
Kosher salt, to taste
1 tsp dried oregano
1 lb penne rigate or ziti (preferably whole wheat)
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ lb high-quality ricotta cheese**
½ cup heavy cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
12 oz grated mozzarella (about 1½ cups)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Place a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and bring the tomatoes, onion halves and butter to a steady simmer. Simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt, and add the oregano to finish. Discard the onion halves, cool the sauce slightly and set aside. The sauce can be made up to 2-3 days in advance.
Preheat the oven to 325°. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions until slightly firmer than al dente. Drain, and toss with all but 1 cup of the tomato sauce.
In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, cream, egg, mozzarella and half of the parmesan. Fold the cheese mixture into the sauced pasta.
Spread the mixture into a 13 x 9 or similar-sized baking dish. Spread the remaining 1 cup sauce over the top, and sprinkle with remaining ½ cup parmesan. Cover with foil, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the foil, and place the pan under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes to melt the cheese on top. Serve hot.
** As ever, I recommend making your own. It's so easy, and you'll never go back to store-bought!
Lasagna has never been a weeknight meal around here. It just involves too many steps: preparing the filling(s), boiling the noodles, building it layer by layer and finally baking the whole thing. So when I saw Food Fetish’s post proclaiming “10-minute lasagna”, I was skeptical. However, after reading it through, it actually sounded do-able. In the interest of eating dinner together, we are all about make-ahead meals around here these days, so I decided to give it a shot.
Come and get it.
Did it take me only 10 minutes to put together? No. But I am also incapable of following a recipe without tweaking it to my own specifications, so I can hardly blame Food Fetish for that. I didn’t do the no-boil noodles, I made my own ricotta* and instead of spinach, I used chard from our garden. And I simply had to use the stems (how can you let those go to waste?), so I sautéed them up with some onions and wilted the chard leaves before layering the lasagna.
* It’s easier and quicker than you think, really!
Nonetheless, the lasagna was still quick to come together, easy to layer and, important for me, able to chill in the fridge for a couple of hours and then pop in the oven closer to dinnertime. Of course, the most important part was that it was delicious.
No longer will I discount lasagna as a weeknight meal — it just has to be simplified a little bit. If you’re a fan of saucier lasagna, this is probably not the one for you, but I’m fine with a few crispy edges, myself.
1 batch (about 2 cups) homemade ricotta, or one 16 oz container store-bought
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 cup shredded mozzarella
Preheat the oven to 350° and lightly oil a lasagna pan or similar-sized baking dish.
Boil the lasagna noodles according to package directions and set aside (lay out on plastic wrap to keep them from sticking).
Separate the chard leaves from the tough steams. Chop the leaves roughly and the stems finely.
Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large sauté pan and add the onions and chard stems. Stir until softened and the onions are translucent. Add the chard leaves and sauté briefly to wilt. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir in the chard mixture.
Line the bottom of the prepared pan with lasagna noodles. Spread a layer of the ricotta and chard mixture over the noodles. Repeat until you have used all the filling, and top with a final layer of noodles.
Sprinkle with the mozzarella and bake for 30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown.
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I made ricotta! I’ve wanted to try it for ages, and it really was as easy as people say it is.
Easy and delicious.
It’s also at least twice as good as store-bought ricotta. It actually has flavor — imagine that! The texture is so much lighter and fluffier, too. I used this tutorial, which is a great intro for a cheesemaking novice. I think ricotta may be a stepping stone drug, since I totally want to try something else now. Maybe mozzarella?
In any case, I had to make something that would showcase my beautiful homemade ricotta, and the weather is just plain too hot for lasagna, so I threw together a lovely summer pasta with some of our Sun Gold tomatoes, olives, and parsley from the garden. Simple and delicious!
It was also fabulous for lunch the next day. Nora gobbled down about as much of it as I did. Everything except the olives, that is; apparently they weren’t to her liking. That’s okay, she has years to cultivate a taste for them!
Rotini with Ricotta, Tomatoes, and Olives
1 lb rotini or other small pasta
1 recipe homemade ricotta
3 Tbs olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 Tbs Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
zest of one lemon
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and toss with the ricotta, olive oil, garlic, parsley and olives. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
I’m a recovering lawyer-turned-freelance writer, aspiring domestic goddess, and mom to a spunky and demanding preschooler and a tiny and demanding baby girl. I love all things food and drink, and I’ve rediscovered a love for cooking now that I’m not spending most of my days locked in the office, but I often have to improvise, since having ankle-biters around makes it more challenging!