What is ricotta and how it’s made
Fresh and delicious, ricotta is one of the most appreciated Italian dairy products, a versatile ingredient that can be used in many recipes. It’s one of the best fresh pasta fillings ever, and it is also delicious in sweet tarts and cakes. The best way to taste it, though, is eating ricotta on its own. But what exactly is ricotta? The name literally means re-cooked or cooked two times, and here’s why: in the production process milk is heated until the curds and whey separate. By reheating the whey, dairy farmers create the fine grains that compose the soft and moist ricotta. It can be made either with cow or sheep milk, sometimes also goat or buffalo milk, or even a mix of different milks: in any case, ricotta is of of the most ancient dariy products ever.
The origins of ricotta
Its origins date back to the Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations: ricotta is also mentioned in Homer’s Odissey, where the one-eyed giant Polyphemus is told to be working on a white and congealed milk. It was probably thanks to Egyptians that ricotta got its shape: they used to sell it to the Greek sailors, who developed the recipe. One of the most famous written records about the product is the one from Virgilio, but it can also be found in different texts. Ricotta, however, remains one of the most widespread and popular products.
Ricotta uses in the kitchen
Ricotta can be used in lots of different ways. You can blend it together with spinach or wild herbs to create the perfect filling for a savoury pie, or mix it with some sugar and cinnamon to fill a pie crust. Ricotta is also delicious in pasta sauce: blend it with some sun-dried tomatoes, add some almonds, a good olive oil and a handful of Parmesan cheese and you’ll have a great seasoning for your pasta dishes. Besides, you can use it for cheesecakes and soufflés. Here is a recipe for the perfect homemade ravioli.
Ricotta and spinach ravioli recipe
For the pasta dough
400 g. durum wheat flour “00”
For the filling
500 g. cow’s milk ricotta
300 g. fresh spinach
50 g. Parmigiano, grated
Form a volcano with the flour, make a hole in the centre, drop the eggs in it and start beating with a fork. Gradually mix the flour and knead until the mixture is smooth and even. Leave the dough to rest for a few minutes. Meanwhile, carefully wash the spinach, boil and once cooled, chop with a knife. Add the ricotta, a pinch of nutmeg, grated Parmigiano, salt and a sprinkle of black pepper, and mix everything together. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin to about 2 millimeters thin and cut squares of 12 centimeters per side. Place the filling (about 50 grams per each) on each square of pasta and close with another square. Press firmly with the fork on all sides so that the filling does not escape during cooking. The perfect condiment? A classic brown butter and sage, which is a delicate condiment capable of enhancing fully the flavour of the ravioli.
by Michela Becchi