Ever since i can remember i've thoroughly loved ricotta cheese. But not just any ricotta - i prefer Poly-O ricotta. Even their "part skim" is very good. When Amanda worked for me i turned her onto it and i remember she told me her mother bought ricotta as she requested, but she bought Precious brand, which just won't do. Once a Polly-O girl, always a Polly-O girl. Um... until you learn to make it yourself.
After completing my new kitchen i thought it would be fun to take a cooking class or two. I then decided a mozzarella or ricotta cheese making class would be ideal. Low and behold, HipCooks in West LA had just listed a new class entitled "The Cheese Whiz", where we would learn how to make mozzarella, ricotta, chevre, mascarpone and fromage fort. I was in heaven! Not only would i learn to make these two wonderful italian cheeses, but i got mascarpone and goat cheese as a bonus.
We did a lot with the various cheeses, and i was impressed with how easy it is to make these different cheeses, as well as the lovely hors d'oeuvres we made in order to sample the goods. I decided that, since this is the height of our tomato season, i would make the roasted tomatoes stuffed with ricotta cheese and then drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Yummm. Other than the small amount of fat in the cheese, it's actually a healthy and low calorie dish that can be used as an hors d'oeuvres, a snack, or have one or two along with a green salad and call it lunch! Also, the nice thing about making ricotta is that you use buttermilk, which contain the enzymes necessary to turn the milk into curds and whey. No necessary cheese-making enzymes necessary for ricotta. We'll save those for the mozzarella.
Ingredients and necessities -
- 1 gallon of organic, whole milk*
- 1 quart of buttermilk**
- a large, non-reactive stock pot that holds at least 8 quarts
- Pour both containers of milk into the pot and place on a medium burner.
- Slowly and occasionally stir the milk ensuring nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Just stir occasionally; you don't want to stir too often.
- When the milk gets to about 120°F., you will notice the curds forming.
- The goal is to get the milk to 180° F.
- Turn your stove off and remove the pot.
- You now have a pot of curds and whey.
- Carefully, and with a serrated spoon, scoop out the curds and place into a cheesecloth lined colander or strainer. Use about 4 or 5 large layers of cheesecloth.
- Gently pull together and twist the top of the cheesecloth so that it compacts the curds (which is now ricotta).
- Place it in the colander or strainer and put that over a bowl in the refrigerator.
- Refrigerate for at least 6 hours and then your ricotta is ready to be eaten.
*I tried making this with low fat milk, but i was only able to get about 2 tablespoons of cheese out of a gallon of milk. Apparently, for this recipe, you must use whole milk.
**Buttermilk is actually a low-fat milk product, and not made from butter. In fact, it's the remaining liquid after churning milk into butter, which is why you might see very small flecks of yellow in the milk, which are tiny pieces of butter that didn't make it to the top in the skimming process.
- Any kind of delicious tomato (I find compari, or roma tomoatoes are a great size and work well for roasting. Heirlooms are too large, although they would be delicious.)
- fresh oregano or basil
- extra virgin olive oil
- kosher salt
- fresh garlic is optional
- Slice the tomatoes in half (lengthwise).
- Scoop out the seeds.
- Lay the tomatoes face up (scooped out side face up) on a cookie sheet.
- Sprinkle the chopped herb, salt and pepper so that each tomato half has a little of each.
- If you want the garlic flavor, now's the time to add it.
- Brush a little extra virgin olive oil on top of the tomatoes.
- Slowly roast in a 300°F. oven for about 4 hours or until the tomatoes look shriveled up enough, yet you don't want them charred.
- After the tomatoes have cooled down, fill each one with some of your homemade, delicious ricotta cheese.
Over a low heat, pour 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar into a pan, stirring occasionally. The heat will slowly reduce the liquid, turning the balsamic into a delicious syrup.
Drizzle a little onto the top of each tomato stuffed with cheese, and enjoy.