One of Italy’s Greatest Dairy Inventions
This week we are talking about one of Italy’s greatest inventions. Created as a by-product, it is now one of the most versatile and useful ingredients in Italian cuisine. It is white, fresh, creamy, and delicious … Can you guess what it is yet?
Yes, it’s ricotta! And you can hear all about it in our latest video in which we investigate the history, traditions, science, and recipes of this fabulous foodstuff.
What It’s Used For
Thanks to its milky flavor and creamy texture, Italians use ricotta for a host of recipes, both sweet and savory. It is often found in the filling for ravioli or thrown into pasta sauce, ricotta gnocchi are a light, fresh, dreamy alternative to the classic potato version, and there are numerous cakes, tarts, mousses and pies which all utilize the adaptable characteristics of ricotta cheese. It can also be eaten by itself, perhaps accompanied by honey or jam, or spread on fresh, warm bread.
Made from the leftover curds from cheese making, ricotta is a prime example of the Italian tradition of never throwing anything away. In Italy, it is a sin to waste food and it is a huge part of the culinary culture to recycle and reutilize leftovers, for example using stale bread for salads, soups, and meatballs, or taking the leftover grape skins from winemaking to make grappa.
Although ricotta is quite mild in flavor, the milk used in production will have an effect on the strength of its taste. Cow milk ricotta generally has a more delicate flavor while sheep or goat milk gives it a bit more of a kick.
What Is Ricotta?
But hang on a second! Although we often refer to it as ‘ricotta cheese’, ricotta is, in fact, technically not a cheese but is instead classed as a dairy product. That’s because it is a side product of the cheese-making process. To make cheese, milk is heated until the curds, or solids, separate from the whey. Once the cheese has been formed and removed, there are still flakes of curd left in the liquid so it is reheated which will magically cause these flakes to clot and form ricotta. This process also gives ricotta its name which in Italian means ‘recooked’.
The Recipe and Italian Cooking Course
Although ricotta is used in many dishes, there is one recipe that is very close to our hearts. As little girls, we would visit our grandmother in the mountains where she would buy freshly made ricotta from a local shepherd. As a special treat, she would prepare a small bowl of ricotta, pour some espresso coffee on top and sprinkle with a little sugar. As we weren’t allowed to drink coffee when we were little this was a big deal, so still today we often nostalgically prepare this dish as a trip down memory lane, and also because it makes a fantastic breakfast or dessert!
Want to try more recipes with ricotta? Check out our online cooking school Italian Home Cooking (made simple!). Subscribe today to get the insider knowledge and skills to make pasta (including those ricotta-filled ravioli), every type of gnocchi (including ricotta ones), and much much more.