Thanksgiving is in our rear-view mirror, and we look ahead to Christmas. As Italians, we integrate some form of Italian food favorites into every holiday, birthday, and event. Trustworthy and versatile, let’s review ricotta cheese. (C’mon, I know some of you still have the five-pound container in your fridge)
What is Ricotta?
I am going to defer to the experts at Food.com for the professional definition:
A rich, fresh cheese made from skim or whole cow’s milk that is slightly grainy but smoother than cottage cheese. It’s white, moist, and has a slightly sweet flavor. Most Italian ricottas are made from the whey that is drained off while making cheeses such as mozzarella and provolone. Technically not a cheese because it is made from a cheese by-product, Ricotta cheese is most frequently used in Italian cooking. The origins of Ricotta cheese reach back into Latin and Mediterranean history. It is believed to have been created in the Roman countryside as travelers cooked their food in big kettles over open fires. The product was cooked twice to extract the cheese from the buttermilk. The name Ricotta is derived from the Latin word recocta, meaning re-cooked or cooked twice. It became a popular food for serving to important guests.
Good ricotta cheese should be firm, not solid, and consist of a mass of fine, moist, delicate grains, neither salted nor ripened.
In my house, Ricotta is a very versatile cheese. Chip eats it by the spoonful while I cook, and even Izzy liked a little taste now and then. Ricotta is available in three options:
- Fat-free Ricotta is an absolute hard no! No discussions, please.
- Part-skim Ricotta is ok if you use it with intense complimenting flavors to flex its muscles and carry it.
- Whole milk ricotta is the Ferrari of ricotta cheese. It is thick, strong, and carries a smooth and delicate flavor to every dish.
Ricotta cheese weighs in with some serious calories depending on the version you use:
- Whole Milk: 428 calories per cup
- Park Skim: 340 calories per cup
- Fat-Free: (why am I even telling you this?) 120 calories per cup. You might as well eat bark!
(These are averages and vary by manufacturer.)
To all of my vegan friends, and there are many of you, please know that I love you and support you, but I cannot discuss vegan options here. Please forgive my Italian soul.
Who are Ricotta’s best friends?
Fresh Ricotta should always be your first choice; however, it can be difficult to find here in Upstate New York. Cappiello Foods in Schenectady. NY made the best fresh Ricotta. Cora’s is made in Utica, NY, and is very good. If you must purchase manufactured Ricotta, choose carefully, and find the option with the lowest sodium. This is important because many of Ricotta’s best friends are sodium heavy.
- Castelvetrano Olives are my new favorite. Of course, found fresh at Wegman’s, these olives are meaty, salty, and almost sweet. They come from the town in Sicily from which they are named. You can purchase bottled Castelvetrano Olives on Amazon.
- Meats are a perfect accompaniment to toasted Italian bread or pasta. Try pairing with prosciutto, Calabrese salami, Soppressata, or, if desperate, pepperoni.
- Toasted and seasoned pistachios sprinkled over a plate of ricotta cheese and drizzled with olive oil. Spoon onto warm bread or plain crackers.
- Fruits sweeten the cheese, such as figs, apricots, peaches, and berries. A drizzle of honey makes it!
- Anchovies, fresh or canned, and smoked salmon make great bedfellows.
Wine selections will vary based on the recipe or pairing. Be adventurous and choose something outside of your comfort zone. Need help, visit my contact page and let’s talk.
How do I use ricotta cheese in recipes?
First and foremost, there is a Golden Rule: there is no substitute for Ricotta, and do not even tell me you can sub in cottages cheese! Think outside of the American standard of lasagna, manicotti, and ravioli. Try some of these recipes or create your own.
- Prosciutto with Oranges and Olives – fantastic recipe
- Zucchini Ravioli– light on the carbs but bold in flavor
- Clams Casino Pizza (with a twist)
You cannot lose with ricotta cheese so test the waters. You will not ‘break anything.’ Ricotta will be there for you every time, just like your Nonna!
Author’s note: To my Women Who Wine squad: once this world we live in allows us to gather again, I will feed you like Queens!
resources: https://www.food.com/about/ricotta-cheese-291 and https://www.seriouseats.com/2014/09/guide-to-olive-varieties.html#:~:text=Castelvetrano%20olives%20are%20Italy’s%20most,flesh%2C%20and%20a%20mild%20flavor.