Although I’ve been Italian all my life, it took becoming Jewish to motivate me to make my own ricotta. Passover, specifically, bears responsibility for sending me down this path. Even though you can find kosher ricotta, getting your hands on kosher for Passover ricotta is a challenge for most people. So if you want to follow kosher rules for Passover and want ricotta, the best option is to make it yourself. Challenge accepted.
For coaching and a recipe, I consulted Jewish-Italian chef and my second-cousin-in-law Richard DiNenna. He makes his ricotta with buttermilk, and he walked me through the steps. Now, what we make at home isn’t officially ricotta, which means “recooked” and is made from whey leftover from other cheesemaking. No matter, because you know what? The homemade version of ricotta works. And it tastes fresh, creamy, and pure—with none of the off flavors you often get with store-bought ricotta. I put spoonfuls of my first batch of homemade ricotta on our pizza later that night, and my husband asked whether we could have it on our pizza every week. (Nope, more on that in a minute.)
Next, I tweaked the recipe to avoid buttermilk (which often contains stabilizers and would be difficult if not impossible to find kosher-for-Passover certified). Lemon juice mixed with milk to create a cup of sour milk (buttermilk, essentially) worked beautifully. I only had one flop in testing; it happened my third time out when I made it on an electric stovetop that I wasn’t used to using. I think the heat was too low during cooking, and the curds did not form properly. However, if the heat had been too high, the mixture might have scorched on the bottom. It’s a little bit of a balancing act. But other than one miss, each run through the recipe yielded a nice batch of ricotta.
So all the rumors were true—it is not difficult, and in fact, it is quite delightful to make your own ricotta. Much of the process is largely unattended; I was able to make this successfully while preparing other recipes in the kitchen. But it does require keeping an eye on, and you will be using a large pot, a thermometer, a large strainer, and cheesecloth, among other items, and if you are like me, you’ll probably be spilling a little whey about the kitchen. It’s all in service of a good cause, but I understand that this is not an everyday process for most of us (and I count myself in that—sorry, dear, about the pizza). Store-bought still works fine for many occasions, especially when the ricotta is mixed with other strong flavors, such as in lasagna. But homemade ricotta is a spectacular recipe and technique to have in your back pocket for special treats like topping crostini or a mild pasta dish, or especially for Passover’s matzah pizza.
Thanks to Judaism, I’ve delved a little deeper into Italian cooking once again.
You might be surprised at just how pure and fresh ricotta can taste when you make it yourself. Although the real deal is made from whey leftover from making other cheeses, you can get a fine all-natural approximation at home by starting with your own homemade “buttermilk” made with lemon juice and milk. Enjoy your ricotta’s mild creaminess on crostini or matzah perhaps topped with a little smoked salmon, or my favorite way, spooned on pizza. You’ll need cheesecloth and a candy or deep fry thermometer. Don’t use an aluminum pan, which could discolor the ricotta. Adapted from a recipe by Portland-based chef Richard DiNenna.
- 1 generous tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 5 cups whole milk
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Pour the lemon juice into a liquid measuring cup. Add whole milk to make 1 cup of liquid. Stir and then let the mixture sit and thicken for 6 to 7 minutes. Stir once more before using.
- Place 4 cups whole milk, the lemon-milk mixture, and salt in a heavy pot and attach a candy or deep fry thermometer to the inside of the pan. Cook on medium to medium-high heat, stirring gently with a wooden spoon every 5 minutes or so, until the mixture reaches an approximate temperature of 170 degrees and begins to separate, about 25 minutes.
- Turn down the heat slightly to prevent scorching. Cook another 6 to 7 minutes without stirring, and adjust heat as needed to keep the mixture steadily bubbling but not rigorously boiling. The temperature should reach 185 to 190 degrees (if heating too slowly, increase the heat slightly). The mixture should be puffy. Remove pan from heat and set aside for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Line a large colander with a double layer of cheesecloth dampened with water and set the colander over a large bowl. Use a slotted spoon to transfer just the curds (solids) to the cheesecloth to drain for about 15 minutes. Discard the whey (liquid) or save for another use. If you like moister ricotta, drain for less time. It will thicken further in the fridge.
- Use right away or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.