by Caroline

Years ago, the summer between Tony’s and my marriage and my first pregnancy, we travelled in Italy with good friends, gorging on art and wine and food.

In Bologna, we ate in a small restaurant that was dominated by a dark wood, marble-topped hutch. It held bowls of beautiful antipasti: roasted peppers, olives, ricotta cheese, and more. The waiter brought us a selection while we waited for our entrees, and we ate the sweet, creamy ricotta by the spoonful. It was unlike anything I’d ever had before; as similar to American grocery store ricotta as clotted cream is to Dannon yogurt.

Making it at home turns out to be so simple a child could do it (though my children don’t like the stuff, so they stay clear; all the more for me, I figure). And it only takes about ten minutes. Mine might not be quite as delicious as that Bologna ricotta, but that had a whole lot of atmosphere going for it that I can’t really reproduce at home. But still, I just find it incredibly satisfying to go from milk and cream to cheese in such a short period.

Last night, we ate it on pizza with caramelized onions and figs; tonight we’ll add it to our pasta; tomorrow I’ll spread it on my breakfast toast. How else do you eat fresh ricotta?

The recipe:
2 quarts whole milk
1 c cream
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp lemon juice (I just used the juice of one lemon)

Line a large sieve with a layer of cheesecloth or a thin dishtowel and place it over a large bowl.

Bring the milk, cream, and salt to a boil in a heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. The milk can go from nearly-boiling to boiling over very quickly, so don’t totally ignore it. Add the lemon juice and reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles. This only takes 2 or 3 minutes, but mine didn’t seem quite curdled enough at that point, so I simmered it for 4 or 5 minutes longer.

Now, pour the hot milk mixture into the lined sieve and let it drain for an hour. Serve as is, or cover and refrigerate.

(Save the milky liquid that’s strained off the curds and use it in your next batch of pancakes or bread).