Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta

Dear Reader,

I’m back!

I made ricotta. It was so much easier than I ever imagined.

Here’s the crazy part — it takes only three ingredients, milk, salt, and vinegar, and twenty minutes.

I might never have tried this had I not been cooking in the kitchen of the non-profit, The Nashville Food Project the morning fellow volunteer cook, Ann Fundis realized there was no ricotta in the walk-in for the vegetable lasagna she was about to make. Never flummoxed about anything, Ann pulled out a gallon of milk, vinegar, and salt and made her own. While she was at it, she pulled out butter, flour, thyme, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and more milk to make a béchamel sauce. She is a rockstar.

I started taking notes as I often do when I cook with Ann. She brought milk and salt to a boil and then added vinegar “until the milk starts to break up.” She let it rest a few minutes and then used a spider (a wide and shallow, wire-mesh spoon) to scoop out the spongy curds that had floated to the surface of the milky-yellow whey.

I tried a spoonful while it was warm. Oh my goodness, the ricotta was moist, fluffy, and delicious. For me, ricotta is at its best when it is freshly made and still warm like this. As it drains and cools, the texture firms up. It has a different mouth feel — still excellent, just different.

Making ricotta was in my future. I stopped at the grocery store on my way home to get a gallon of milk.

Ingredients for one quart of ricotta:

1 gallon whole milk (do not use old milk)
1½ teaspoons fine salt
⅓ cup white distilled vinegar or other acidifier (like lemon juice or white balsamic)
olive oil or cooking spray to coat bottom of the pot

Instructions:

Read the Cooking Notes below before starting.

Lightly grease a heavy-bottomed 8-quart saucepan. Pour in milk. Add salt.

Heat milk slowly over medium heat, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking, until the milk foams and starts to boil. This should take about 15 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat.

Add white vinegar, or whichever acid you have chosen to use, and stir. Once the vinegar has been distributed, stop stirring and let the milk curdle for 5-10 minutes without disturbing. It will separate almost immediately into curds and whey, and the curds will float to the top.

There are two ways to extract the curds. One is to use a slotted spoon or a spider.

The other way is to pour the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined colander or sieve and let the whey drain out. The longer ricotta drains, the drier and firmer it becomes.

I usually spoon it directly into a storage bowl and leave a little whey in the bowl to keep the ricotta moist until I use it.

Cooking Notes:

The pot needs to be large enough to contain the milk as it foams, rises, and comes to a boil.

A common problem that occurs when heating milk is it often burns the bottom of the pan. A scorched pan is a pain to clean and lends a burnt flavor to the end product, often resulting in having to throw the milk out and start over again. I found a solution on Cook’s Illustrated’s website. They suggest lightly spraying the bottom of the saucepan with oil to keep the milk from sticking. Their explanation follows: “When you add milk to a dry pan, it flows into the microscopic imperfections in the pan bottom. As the milk heats, its proteins coagulate and stick to the pan and each other. Misting the pan with vegetable oil spray prior to adding the milk creates a thin film on the pan’s surface, which acts as a barrier and makes milk proteins less likely to adhere.”

I found that when I cooked old milk, milk that was close to its “sell by” date, the ricotta had an unpleasant aftertaste bad enough that I had to throw it away.

Thinking more flavorful acidifiers like lemon juice or white balsamic vinegar would improve the flavor of the ricotta, I gave them each a try. I did not detect an appreciable difference in flavor and went back to using plain vinegar.

I experimented with varying amounts of salt and settled on 1½ teaspoons per gallon of milk, which is very neutral. Since I don’t always know how I am going to use the ricotta during the week, I prefer to be able to control the  saltiness by adding more as needed.

I used whole milk. You can add a cup or two of heavy cream to make the ricotta more deluxe, if desired. I was surprised to see, in some ricotta recipes, that buttermilk was used as the acidifier. I tried it and it worked.

By the way …

The word ricotta comes from the Italian verb to recook. Traditionally, Italian cheesemakers saved and recooked the cauldrons full of whey left over from making other cheeses. The reheated whey would produce clumped proteins, or curds, that were skimmed off and called ricotta. Some cheesemakers still make it this way.

Ways we use homemade ricotta at our house:

Tomato Cobbler and Ricotta Biscuits, a fantastic recipe from The New York Times. It has changed the method I use to make biscuits.

Spinach tortellini, a dollop of ricotta, and @JudysChickens Marinara Sauce

Toast spread with ricotta and a drizzle of local honey. This is what I often eat for breakfast.

Tomato and peach salad with a dollop of ricotta

Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies

Ann’s TNFP Vegetable Lasagna with Roasted Butternut Squash and Sautéed Greens

How do we use the whey?

This recipe makes one quart of ricotta and three quarts of whey. We save the whey and pour it over the dog’s food. She adores it.

Related Posts:
How to Make Yogurt at Home
Homemade Grape Jelly
How to Peel an Orange or Grapefruit Quickly
How to Tell If an Egg Is Fresh or Hard-Boiled
How Canola Oil is Made (from plants grown locally)
How to Make a Thaw Detector for the Freezer

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Always check this website for the most up-to-date version of a recipe.

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Banana and Granola Multigrain Pancakes

This is my new go-to pancake recipe. You almost feel virtuous eating these carbs with their nutritious complement of grains (oats and cornmeal) and flax and sesame seeds.

The recipe is based on the banana multigrain pancakes I had at First Watch restaurant, my favorite of the breakfast food restaurant chains.  After ordering the pancakes two Saturday mornings in a row, I was taking notes on how to make them when I spied the First Watch, Yeah It’s Fresh cookbook on a countertop. I bought the book and made the pancakes the next morning with a few modifications.

These pancakes are delicious — light, crunchy and healthy. I love them!

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ cup rolled oats
1½ teaspoons cornmeal
1½ teaspoons ground or whole flax seeds
1½ teaspoon sesame seeds
3 eggs, beaten
1¼ cups whole or 2% milk
½ cup butter, melted
Banana, blueberries, or strawberries
@judyschickens Granola

Instructions

In a medium bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. Set aside.
In a larger mixing bowl, beat eggs and add milk. Set aside.
Melt butter. Set aside

Now you have three containers of ingredients.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and gently mix on slow speed until blended, maybe 20 seconds. Add the butter and blend briefly until ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Pour ¼ or ½ cup of batter into a preheated, ungreased, pan. Add thick slices of banana (or any fruit) and two tablespoons of granola to each pancake.  Smush the add-ins down into the batter a little. Cook on medium heat for about 2 minutes on each side.

If you don’t plan to eat them right away, cook all the batter, cool the pancakes on a wire rack, and store in the refrigerator.

I recommend buying the cookbook and trying the Lemon RicottaPancakes too. They are scrumptious! You can buy the cookbook online here.

By the way, if you are looking for a few recipes for Easter dinner, check out this link where you can learn to make this bunny cake and my favorite ways to prepare lamb.

Oldest trick in the book …

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

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Follow my stories about how to grow vegetables in your backyard, raise a small flock of chickens, or come up with healthy ideas for dinner on Instagram and Pinterest at JudysChickens

Always check this website for the most up to date version of a recipe.

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

How to Make Artisan Bread the Easy Way

In this post, I am going to show you how to make a boule of bread as beautiful as this one

using just flour, yeast, salt, and water.

There will be no kneading, no proofing of yeast in a bowl to make sure it is active, and no punching down dough that has doubled in size. In fact, you will pretty much need to forget everything you ever learned about making bread from scratch and use the new and “revolutionary” methods developed by bakers Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francis in their bestselling cookbook, The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The authors even have a book on gluten-free bread.

Since reading their book and using their method for the last two months, I feel very comfortable making bread and have not needed to buy any.

This bread is wonderful toasted for breakfast,

lovely for sandwiches at lunch,

and chewy and tasty when served warm at dinner along with a stick of butter.

But, I haven’t told you the best part: you pre-make and store the dough in the refrigerator until you are ready to shape and bake it. Yup, open our refrigerator door on any given day, and you will see a Cambro (a large, lidded, commercial grade food storage container) of dough, ready to be pulled out whenever we desire warm, crusty bread. The dough is good for up to two weeks and develops a mild sourdough flavor as it ages.

Let’s get started. Read over the entire post before you begin. It might sound complicated, but once you do it a few times, it will become second nature. Some tools that are helpful, but not required, are a digital scale, a round, 6-quart Cambro, a pizza stone, a pizza peel, and parchment paper. Know that the first few times I made this recipe I was in a beach house without any of the tools mentioned above, and I was able to make delicious bread.

Yield:  3 one-pound boules of bread
Preheat Oven: 450º, but not until you are ready to bake the bread.

About Flours:  This recipe calls for all-purpose (AP) unbleached flour.  The authors use Publix’s brand. I bake with King Arthur flours which have more protein than other AP flours and thus require an extra ¼ cup of water, per the authors. The authors suggest bumping up the water to 3⅓ cups if using bread flour. The authors suggest not using cake or pastry flours.

Measuring Flour — Weighing vs. Scooping:  For accurate and consistent results, use a digital kitchen scale. If you use a scale, zero out the weight of the empty container before adding flour. If using a measuring cup, do not pack the flour and be sure to level the cup with a knife.

Ingredients: this is the basic recipe
2 pounds (6½ cups) all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 tablespoon (fine) salt or 1½ tablespoons (course) kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated, active, dry yeast
3 cups lukewarm water (at 100º)

Ingredients: Below is my modification of the recipe. It still has 2 pounds of flour, but I’ve incorporated about 15% whole wheat flour without affecting the chemistry.

5 ounces King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour (a heaping cup)
1 pound, 11 ounces King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon (fine) sea salt
1 tablespoon granulated, active, dry yeast
3¼ cups lukewarm water (at 100º)

Instructions

Mix the Dough:
Weigh a 6-quart mixing container on a digital scale. Zero it out. Add in the flour(s), salt and yeast. Mix dry ingredients together with a wire whisk.

Add the warmed water. Mix the ingredients with a spatula, incorporating all of the flour from the bottom of the container. Put the lid on, but do not seal it so the gasses can escape. Allow dough to rest for two hours on the countertop. It won’t be resting though; the yeast will become activated by the water and the subsequent fermentation process that ensues will make the dough bubble and rise — and become delicious.

The dough will be wetter than what you may be used to.

After two hours, you could make your first loaf of bread, but I prefer to put the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. Chilling it makes the dough easier to shape into a boule, and it gives time for the flavors to become more complex. Do not punch the dough down. Ever.

Shape the Dough
Before you get started, prep the workspace where the dough will rise. I shape the dough and let it rise over a parchment paper-lined pizza peel, but you could put the dough on a cornmeal-covered baking sheet if you don’t have a peel. Sprinkle flour on your hands and over the top of the dough in the Cambro before diving in to scoop out dough. This will help keep the tacky and moist dough from sticking to your hands. Pull out one pound of dough, about one-third of it.

Shape the dough into a ball. This next step is important: stretch the top surface of the ball around and tuck it into the bottom, rotating the ball a quarter-turn at a time. Repeat this motion for about 30 seconds.  Here’s a video by one of the authors. Add just enough additional flour to keep your hands from sticking to the dough. The goal is to flour the “skin” or “cloak” of the boule and not to incorporate flour into the interior. Place the dough on a sheet of parchment paper, uncovered, to rest and rise for 40 minutes.

The dough will spread out as it rises. It doesn’t get tall. That’s okay; the heat and steam in the oven will cause the dough to rise and round out as it bakes. The process is referred to as “oven-rise.” As proof, I once dropped a loaf of risen dough on the flour as I was putting it in the oven. I picked it up, quickly reshaped it, put it back on the peel, and slid it into the oven. The bread still rose — higher than ever. It’s a mystery. (PS: I swear the floor was spotless.)

Prepare the Oven:
While the dough is rising, prep the oven space. Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven. If you have a pizza stone, put it on the rack. On the rack beneath it, place an empty pan (that will be filled with water later) to create steam. The steam created by the addition of hot water once the bread is placed in the oven is the most crucial step in getting the bread to rise higher. Turn oven on to 450º. Here’s a photo of the set-up.

Back to the Rising Dough:
After the bread has risen for 40 minutes,

dust the top of the dough lightly with flour and using a sharp knife, make 3 or 4 slashes on top. Allow dough to rest for five more minutes after that.

Slide the dough onto the pizza stone if using one, or if not using a stone, place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the dough for about 35 minutes. The bread will be browned and sound hollow when tapped when done.

Remove bread from oven and place on an open wire rack to cool so the bottom of the loaf can crisp up. Allow to cool completely before slicing, or the interior could become doughy.

The only times I skip the step of cooling bread completely is when I’m serving it hot for dinner. These three boules were still hot when I quickly sliced them for a tableful of waiting family members sitting around the dinner table.

(photo credit: Kristen Ivory)

The bread disappeared with lots of gushing going on by those who were slathering each slice with butter as they ate them. That’s always a sight to behold for a cook.

To have a continuous supply of dough in the fridge, make a new Cambro of dough whenever the last container is emptied.

Failures:
There haven’t been any failures in the taste department. Something magical happens while that moist dough ferments. Every loaf I’ve made has tasted extraordinary, even if it wasn’t always a pretty loaf.

My early failures were related to getting the dough to rise sufficiently so the bread wouldn’t be too dense. That problem went away when I started weighing the flour and added steam to the oven to encourage oven-rise.

I hope I’ve inspired you to give bread-making a try. It a very fulfilling experience. Please feel free to ask questions in the Comments section.

(photo credit: Andrew Wright)

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Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Thick Rolled Oats, Walnuts, and Summer Preserves: The Yummiest of Oatmeals

I volunteer at The Nashville Food Project, a non-profit in Nashville whose mission is to bring people together to grow, cook, and share nourishing food with the goal of cultivating community and alleviating hunger in our city.

Occasionally, friends, restaurants, and neighborhood, school, and church groups call me to ask if TNFP could use their surplus food after an event or a glut of vegetables from their home gardens.

Just before Christmas, a few friends emailed to ask if TNFP would like their stash of unopened jars of fruit preserves and relishes. TNFP’s Donations Coordinator, Booth Jewett, was happy to accept the donations. If you or your organization ever wonder what to do with excess food, email Booth at booth@thenashvillefoodproject.org. He will let you know if TNFP can accept the food and will help make drop-off arrangements at our Green Hills kitchen.

These recent emails about what to do with homemade preserves got me thinking about my own abundance of preserves: Roasted Strawberries with Rosemary, Crabapple with Rosemary Jelly, and Campanella Grape Jelly and the jars of jelly given to us as gifts by friends and clients (which we adore receiving!).

I had an idea.

Almost every morning I make oatmeal for breakfast. In the summer, I add fresh fruit and walnuts to it, and in the fall I add sliced apples or pears with a little honey. What if I started stirring in a teaspoonful of homemade fruit preserves during the winter months?

I gave it a try with Lil’s Blackberry Jam gifted to us by jack-of-all-trades and master of all, nurse practitioner, Heather O’Dell. The oatmeal was delicious! Add to that a few chopped walnuts, and it was like eating an ice cream sundae only much more nutritious.

(The photo above is fake news. I do not set the table for breakfast every morning. Ask Kelly.)

Ingredients (2-3 servings):
2 cups of boiling hot water
dash of salt
1 cup THICK rolled oats

Instructions:
Bring water and salt to a boil.
Add oats. When water returns to a boil, reduce heat to low.
Simmer for 5-7 minutes until water is absorbed by oats.

Oats Explained 
A few months ago, I discovered thick rolled oats. I now can’t go back to the regular “five minute” old-fashioned oats; they seem mushy by comparison. I buy the oats in one of the bulk bins at Whole Foods. It’s one of my favorite new foods.

They are special because of their extra chewy texture and nutty flavor. Bonus: oats are good for you; they are full of protein (7 grams from a ½ cup dry serving), fiber (4 grams), vitamins, and minerals.

Oats processed for oatmeal start out as oat groats. Groats are the hulled kernels of cereal grains. From there they are processed into either steel-cut, rolled, or quick or instant oats. All oats are nutritionally equivalent except for the bags of individual serving instant oats which generally have lots of added sugar and sodium.

Steel-Cut Oats: oat groats that have been cut into two or three pieces. They are very hard and take about 25-35 minutes to cook. They remind me of brown rice in texture and cooking times. I don’t buy the steel-cut oats very often, but when I do, I cook them in a rice cooker. For instructions, check out this post: Ode to a Rice Cooker
Rolled Oats (aka old-fashioned oats): whole groats that have been rolled flat. They take about 5-7 minutes to cook depending on how thickly they are rolled. Often they are steamed in the processing plant to soften the groat before rolling. Some varieties are lightly toasted.
Quick or Instant Oats: these oats are often pre-cooked rolled oats that have been dried and then chopped into smaller pieces for faster cooking.

There is a nice website with photos of each of the different styles of processed oats on The Whole Grains Council website.

Other Recipes with Oats
Oats, Sorghum, and Ginger Cookies
Sorghum, Oats, and Cranberry Granola

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe or pattern.

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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.