That’s a salad made with minutes-old ricotta, and, yes, it was amazing. Figs are in season now and this is absolutely my favorite summer salad. It’s simple: greens of some sort, quartered figs, balsamic glaze, and cheese of some sort. In the past I’ve used blue cheeses, parmesan, feta and many, many others but when you make ricotta right before dinner is plated, using anything else would be ridiculous.
Ricotta is the easiest cheese to make. It requires almost no equipment and the ingredients are in almost everyone’s kitchen already.
- A gallon of milk of any fat content, or half and half
- Enough lemons to get 3/4 of juice or 1/4c vinegar
- A pot big enough for all your liquid
- A colander
- Butter Muslim or a lint-free cloth (pillowcases, tea towels, bandanas, and cloth flour sacks work)
- A liquid or meat thermometer (though you can get by without and I’ll get into that later)
My kitchen is small. It’s messy and a little cramped and there are 7 of us sharing it. I don’t have a lot of specialized equipment for cheese making because I don’t have money and I don’t have space to spare. That shouldn’t stop anyone so it certainly doesn’t stop me.
I used half and half because Steven works in a coffee shop. When they have a slow week, they end up with milk products that are technically expired but are still good for at least a few days after the date. Expired milk has to be tossed no matter how good it still is, so to save it from waste, he brings it home. Sometimes I make yogurt but with over a gallon of that still in the fridge, ricotta is the order of the day.
A gallon of half and half went into the pot and I heated it to a target of 175 degrees Fahrenheit. This is where your thermometer is handy, but here’s the thing. You don’t reeeeally need it. Milk begins to froth at the edges of the pot right around 170-180 degrees, and ricotta can be made at higher temperatures too so if you overlook your milk, it’s not going to ruin it. It’s an easy and forgiving cheese.
Once you reach temperature, add about 2/3 of your acid liquid(juice or vinegar). The proteins should pull together rapidly, leaving fine white curds, and yellow whey. Add more acidic liquid if you don’t see that reaction. If you run out of lemon, add a couple tablespoons of vinegar. I had to do that myself. Lemon juice makes a lighter and sweeter flavored ricotta while vinegar will leave it a little vinegary tasting, but a combination mostly tastes of lemon. I also prefer apple cider vinegar because it is milder and sweeter tasting.
Line your collander with the cloth so it doesn’t slip down at the edges and place it over a large pot, bucket, or into the sink for drainage. Once your ricotta has successfully curdled, ladle or gently pour the curds and whey into the lined collander to drain. You can save the whey if you like. My mother drinks it warm with almond syrup. Keep in mind that ricotta does not create a live culture so there are no beneficial bacteria in ricotta whey. It’s just tastey, that’s all.
Ricotta should drain for 10-20 minutes until the liquid escaping has slowed to a drip. You can do this in a collander, or, you can get creative and set up a hanging station like I did in the photo above. In this case, I knotted the tea towel around my rolling pin and set it across a pail to drain.
- Three large handfulls of baby spinach
- Ten ripe mission figs, quartered
- 1 cup ricotta, chèvre, or other soft cheese
- Balsamic glaze to taste
Toss all together and enjoy! We had ours with broiled salmon and brown rice.