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How to make ricotta

Making ricotta at home is really much simpler than it seems, and once you’ve tried it, you’ll never go back to the rubbery store-bought version ever again. It’s easier to manage using the microwave, but I’ve included stovetop instructions for the purists among you.

The key is to use whole, pasteurised milk and just the right amount of vinegar: too little and the curds will not form; too much and it will taste sharp and vinegary.

You can refrigerate your homemade ricotta for up to one week.

You will need
2 cups (500ml) full cream milk
A pinch of fine salt
2T (30ml) white vinegar

Stovetop ricotta
It’s best to use a thermometer, as the milk should reach a temperature of 85°C (just below scalding). 

1. Place the milk and salt in a suitably sized pot and heat up slowly, stirring occasionally. Check the temperature the second you see steam rising from the pot.
2. When the milk reaches 85°C, remove it from the heat, add vinegar, and stir slowly for about one minute. The milk will begin to curdle, which is exactly what you want. (These are the curds separating from the whey). Cover with a tea towel and set aside for at least two hours.
3. Dampen a bit of muslin or cheesecloth and place inside a colander. Using a slotted spoon, ladle the ricotta onto the cloth and leave to drain for the desired period. (See the ‘how to serve’ section below for timing.)
4. Once you’re happy with the consistency, slowly lift the cloth, twist it closed and wring gently.

Microwave ricotta
It may sound unconventional, but the microwave method works every time – without using a thermometer! Unlike a stovetop that heats liquids from the bottom up, a microwave distributes heat evenly from the centre. Visual inspection is all that’s needed, and your ricotta will be ready in a third of the time.

1. Place the milk, salt and vinegar in a glass bowl and microwave on high until you see bubbles appearing around the edges of the bowl. This should take around two to four minutes. Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir gently for a few seconds. Curds should form almost immediately. If not, return the mixture to the microwave for 30 seconds more.
2. Cover and set aside for about two hours.
3. Follow steps 3 and 4 as above.

How to serve

Soft ricotta (five minutes of draining time) is best served still warm, drizzled with olive oil, sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. For a sweet treat, serve with a squeeze of honey and fresh berries.

Medium to firm ricotta (15 to 20 minutes of draining time) can be added to lasagna or used to fill ravioli. It is also delicious eaten as you would cottage cheese.

Firm ricotta (two to 24 hours of draining time) is perfect for making gnocchi and pastries.

By Bernadette le Roux

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