Rich And
Creamy Ricotta

When you think of ricotta cheese, you most likely think of the classic Italian lasagna. Ricotta, however, works well in many dishes, from savory pasta and salads to sweet cakes and pies. Prepare your own homemade ricotta or purchase store-bought and indulge in this fresh, soft cheese whenever you get the craving for something rich and creamy.

Ricotta Cheese

What is ricotta?

In principle, ricotta is not exactly a cheese - it is made from the by-products of other cheeses. The word "ricotta" actually means "cooked again." Ricotta is mostly made from the whey of other cheeses like mozzarella or provolone and cow's milk.Ricotta is a soft, fresh, white cheese with the consistency of cottage cheese or sour cream. Available in whole milk and skim-milk varieties, ricotta is naturally lower in fat and salt than other cheeses and it is high in calcium.

Storing ricotta

Because ricotta is a fresh cheese, it is very perishable. It should always be stored in the refrigerator and eaten within two weeks of purchase or by the expiration date. Once opened, ricotta should be consumed within one week. Ricotta can also be frozen, for up to six months. Fresh ricotta is white — discard cheese if it has a yellow color. Yellowing is a sign of age.

Recipes with Ricotta Cheese

Cottage cheese and tofu are good substitutes for ricotta cheese in recipes, but the flavor of your dish won't be as divine. Here are some delectable recipes with rich and creamy ricotta.

Homemade Ricotta

Makes 4 cupsDo not use low-fat or skim milk for homemade ricotta. If you are going to make ricotta for desserts, add 1 pint of heavy whipping cream with the whole milk for a richer, creamier texture.Ingredients:
1 gallon whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt, or more or less to taste
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon distilled vinegarDirections:
1. Rinse the inside of a large pot with cold water. Pour milk into pot over medium heat. Stir in salt and let milk heat, stirring occasionally. Fit a kitchen thermometer to the side of the pot. Milk will start to let off steam and tiny bubbles will form. Temperature should be between 180 and 185 degrees F.2. Take pot off heat once temperature is reached and remove thermometer. Mix in vinegar and stir for one minute, very gently. Stir in more salt, if desired. Curds will begin to form. Cover pot with a dry towel and let rest, undisturbed for a few hours.3. Place a large piece of cheesecloth inside a colander. Using a slotted spoon, ladle the ricotta into the colander. Place the colander in a large bowl and let drain for a few hours, depending on how wet or dry you like your cheese.4. Lift the cheesecloth out of the colander and gently squeeze. If the liquid is clear, squeeze some more, if it is milky, it is finished. Spoon ricotta into an airtight container and use within one week.

Swiss Chard and Ricotta Cheese Casserole

Makes 8 to 12 servingsIngredients:
1 cup chopped onions
1 tablespoon oil
4 tablespoon butter
4 to 5 packed cups cooked Swiss chard leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound thinly sliced ham, cut into 1-inch wide strips
1/4 pound Provolone cheese, grated
1/4 pound mozzarella cheese, grated
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup ricotta
1/2 cup cream
6 eggs, lightly beaten
1-1/4 cups milkDirections:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and butter a 9-inch round baking dish. In a large pot over high heat, saute onions in oil and butter until translucent. Add the chard and cook, stirring, until all moisture is evaporated. Season with salt and pepper. Remove mixture from pan and set aside. Cook ham in the same skillet until golden and set aside.2. In a large bowl, combine provolone, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheeses. In a food processor, puree ricotta with cream and transfer to a medium-sized mixing bowl. Whisk eggs and milk into ricotta mixture.3. Spread 1/3 of the grated cheese mixture on the bottom of the buttered baking dish and layer with ricotta mixture, ham, ricotta mixture, and Swiss chard. Continue layering with ricotta in between each layer to hold layers together. Cover dish with wax paper and aluminum foil.4. Move baking dish to a large baking pan and fill pan halfway with boiling water. Bake casserole for 1 hour at 350 degrees F. Turn heat up to 400 degrees F. and bake for 10 minutes or until center is firm. Remove dish from oven (and baking pan) and let rest on a wire rack for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter

Makes 8 servingsIngredients:
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cup all-purpose flour or as neededDirections:
1. Melt butter over medium heat and cook until lightly golden. Take butter off of heat and mix in sage, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Set aside.2. In a large bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan, parsley, and remaining salt. Mix in flour a little at a time until a soft dough forms. Add more flour until dough is not sticky.3. Break off a piece of dough and roll into a 3/4-inch thick rope. Slice dough into 3/4-inch long pieces. Place one piece of dough on the inside curve of the tines of a fork, gently pressing on dough with your thumb as you roll the dough along the tines. Allow dough to drop off fork, slightly curling in on itself, forming an oval. One side of gnocchi will have ridges and opposite side will have an indentation. Repeat with remaining dough. Lay gnocchi in one layer on a large pan with flour.4. Heat a pot of water to boiling. Add gnocchi to water and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and combine with sage butter.

Kiwi Ricotta Cheesecake

Makes 10 to 12 servingsFilling:
2 (8-ounces each) packages cream cheese, softened
2 cups ricotta cheese, drained overnight in cheesecloth
1 cup sour cream
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
5 eggs
3 medium kiwis, peeled, pureed
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon vanillaTopping:
3 medium kiwis, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 cup apricot preserves, warmed in a small potDirections:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and line a 9-inch spring form pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, ricotta, sour cream, and sugar for 3 minutes, until fully combined. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in kiwi puree, flour, lime juice, and vanilla. Spoon mixture into prepared pan.2. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes or until top is lightly golden and a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Let cake cool for 2 hours before serving. Top with warmed apricot preserves and sliced kiwi.For more recipes using ricotta, check out these links:

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

Asparagus with Herbed Ricotta and Pine NutsTurkey Breast, Ricotta, and Broccoli CrepesWhipped Chocolate Ricotta

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