Tag Archives: ricotta

Ricotta orange cookies

1 May


This is gonna be a quickie.

See, I had a pound of fresh ricotta that needed to be used (yeah, I know, poor me!) and for some reason cookies came to mind. Don’t ask me why.

Anyhow, I searched around to get a general sense of proportions. Y’know, like how much flour would make sense for the amount of ricotta that I had on hand. Then I just kinda winged it.

Which is to say that I had no idea what I was doing. Not much of an idea anyway. And so should you decide to proceed with caution (or, gasp!, some personal knowledge of cookie baking), I will not be offended in the least.

Oh, the cookies turned out pretty well, I’d say. In no small part due to the orange that I decided to toss in late in the game.


Ricotta orange cookies

Makes around 4 dozen cookies


1 cup sugar

1 stick sweet butter, softened

1 pound ricotta, preferably fresh but not a deal breaker

Zest of one large orange (or two smaller ones)

1 tablespoon orange liqueur 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 large eggs

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Using a mixer beat together the sugar and butter until fluffy, around 5 minutes or so.

Add ricotta, orange zest, liqueur, vanilla and eggs; mix until thoroughly blended.

Add the flour, baking powder and salt; mix until a dough forms. (Add some milk if dough appears dry.)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a tablespoon (or your fingers, as I did) drop balls of dough around 2 inches apart. Bake for around 25 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned.


Pumpkin ricotta pie

13 Nov

There’s a reason nobody ever asks me to cook Thanksgiving dinner: I’m not wired for it. And can’t be trusted to do things the traditional way.

Let’s face it, my idea of a Thanksgiving feast isn’t so much about the bird and the stuffing and the side dishes as it is about starting things off with my mother’s manicotti (and possibly ending them with cousin Josephine’s biscotti). Not exactly what most folks expect when they gather to celebrate such a uniquely American holiday, and so I don’t blame people for keeping me away from the kitchen year after year.

Last Thanksgiving I did manage to snooker my way into the dessert portion of the festivities, by promising to bake a simple and completely traditional pumpkin pie.

“You’re not gonna screw around with it, right?” asked My Associate, understandably dubious of my intentions. “We’re talking about a straight-up, old-fashioned pumpkin pie. That’s what you’re offering to make, nothing else?”

Anticipating the woman’s resistance I had come prepared with unimpeachable evidence to prove that my motives were pure.

“Is this traditional enough for you?” said I confidently, holding in my hand an original edition of Joy of Cooking. “It’ll be by the book, I swear.”

Once given the go ahead I had every intention to follow Joy of Cooking‘s recipe to the letter, and in fact did so in every way but one: At the last minute—while no one was watching—I decided to, well, not exactly bake a straight-up old-fashioned pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

There was some very nice fresh ricotta in the fridge, you see. It was only a small amount, leftover from the batch of mom’s manicotti that I had prepared and stored away earlier in the day.

“Why not?” I muttered, looking around to see that I was indeed alone. “Nobody will even notice.”

The full list of ingredients is below but basically the deal is this: Instead of using the 2 cups of pumpkin that the recipe called for, I went with 1 1/2 cups pumpkin and that 1/2 cup ricotta in the fridge. They’re about to be spoon-mixed with the two eggs that are in the recipe.

Then the white and brown sugar and spices are mixed in.

Along with evaporated milk.

The pie crust is one that I swear by. It’s from Cook’s Illustrated and the complete recipe is below. Pour the mixture into your pie shell and bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees F, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 45 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean.

And there you have it, a not entirely traditional pumpkin (and ricotta) pie that’ll go along just swell with your Thanksgiving feast.

One other thing. People did notice. Who knows, they may even request the pie again this year.

Of course, I can’t promise not to mess with the recipe all over again.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

For the pie crust
From Cook’s Illustrated
NOTE: This recipe is for a double crust but only the bottom crust is needed here.

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water
Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses.
Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour).
Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together.

Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
For the filling
Adapted from the original Joy of Cooking
1 1/2 cups cooked pumpkin 
1/2 cup ricotta (This is the only alteration I have made. Should you be looking for Joy‘s recipe simply ditch the ricotta and go with 2 cups of pumpkin.)
1 1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or allspice
1/8 teaspoon cloves
2 slightly beaten eggs

How to make gnudi

20 Apr

I won’t lie to you. Making these things is not for everyone. The ingredients—the whole recipe—is simple enough. Nothing to it, really.

But few things are lighter and more delicate than well-made gnudi. And so it all boils down to patience. You’ll need a lot of it. And a very light touch wouldn’t hurt.

If you come up short on either, my advice might be to take a pass on these. Or share this link with somebody who can whip some up for you. (Ask a ye shall receive… and all that.)

Gnudi (pronounced “new-dee”) are basically just ricotta gnocchi. Both are dumplings, but gnudi seems to show up in a wider variety of shapes, at least so far as I can tell. Normally I’d make my own ricotta, or buy fresh, but this time I went with regular store bought. Calabro is my favorite brand, and this is a two-pound tub. (If you live in a place where Calabro distributes its fresh ricotta then definitely go with that.)

I wanted to make the gnudi a lot like my cheese gnocchi, meaning that there’d be very little else in them but the ricotta. That means making certain to drain as much moisture from the cheese as possible; since I was a little short on time I lined a colander with paper towels and swapped them out three or four times over a couple hours.

In a bowl place the two pounds of ricotta, 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, some freshly grated nutmeg, salt, pepper, and 1/4 cup of semolina. Taste to make sure the seasoning is right, and adjust if necessary.

A couple important things about the semolina: First of all, it should neither be super fine nor very course. Go with a medium grain semolina. You might also consider upping the amount. Most recipes call for a lot more semolina than I’ve used here, and for good reason: It will make the gnudi much easier to work with—and a lot less likely to fall apart. My way is more risky, and it absolutely requires great patience and care, particularly when cooking and saucing. Don’t get me wrong, this recipe works just fine—for me. But it does make me a little nuts because it is so very delicate.

Cover a baking sheet with a thick layer of the same semolina used in the cheese mixture.

To form the gnudi scoop out a heaping tablespoon of the mixture. (No matter how much flour you decide to use the mixture itself should be firm enough to work with easily when forming.)

Gnudi come in all sizes and shapes. I like them large and oval. These measure around three inches long and better than an inch thick, and so the recipe yielded around 20 dumplings. (Smaller would be easier to work with if you want to play it safer.)

Roll the gnudi in the semolina so that the flour completely covers it.

Once you’ve finished rolling all of them place the tray (uncovered) in the fridge for a while.

Which bring us to another important point. I formed my gnudi at 6 am and didn’t serve them until 8 pm, so they sat in the fridge for more than 12 hours. During that time I turned and covered the gnudi with more flour at least twice. What’s happening here is that the flour is slowly hardening and the cheese is drying a bit. (I’ve seen recipes where you leave the gnudi in the fridge for three days.) If you decide to go the safer route and use a good bit more semolina in the cheese mixture then this stage isn’t all that important, if at all. Most recipes skip this stage entirely, in fact, because most use a lot more flour than I do. Again, it’s a personal choice.

As for cooking the gnudi, again, patience. Drop them into a pot of well-salted water—quickly but one at a time! These took four minutes to cook (it’s always best to test just one and see how long it takes before committing to an entire batch). Only remove them from the water with a slotted spoon, then place them directly into individual plates and apply sauce (roasted tomato & prosciutto here). At this size the gnudi boiled for four minutes.

And they were totally worth all the effort.

Orange ricotta torte

16 Nov

The Lemon Ricotta Torte recipe that I use all the time just couldn’t be any simpler.

But I may have just made it better. By switching to orange instead.

Finely chop 1/2 cup of candied orange rind.

In a large bowl mix together 3 pounds of ricotta, 3 extra large eggs, 1 cup of sugar, the orange rind, the zest of one orange, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Butter and flour a 9-inch spring form pan and fill it with the ricotta mixture.

Smooth the top as best you can, then place the pan in an oven that’s been preheated to 400 degrees F. In about an hour check to see if the top has browned a bit and that the torte has stiffened. If it’s still very jiggly and hasn’t browned yet keep checking for doneness every 10 minutes or so.

This torte took around 80 minutes to cook. Once it cooled thoroughly I let it sit in the fridge for three or four hours before taking it out and allowing it to come up to room temperature before serving.

And in about 20 minutes I watched eight people polish off the whole thing.

How to make cheese gnocchi

4 Apr

I’m not going to lie to you, okay. It takes patience to make a really good gnocchi.

Fortunately I have a bit of that. Put me in the kitchen with a bucket of fresh ricotta, a bit of flour, and a little something to sip on while I’m working and I am all set, thank you very much.

Gnocchi are not supposed to be dense or heavy; they’re supposed to be light and airy. The best ones practically melt in your mouth. I find that the most delicate potato gnocchi are made with baked—not boiled—potato. The lightest cheese gnocchi? They’re the ones made with ricotta, as little flour as you can get away with using, and very little handling. 

You probably can’t tell from the photo, but these are the melt-in-your-mouth type. 

Like I said, I am a patient man.


1 pound ricotta (fresh or good-quality packaged)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (more as needed)
1-2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 extra large egg

Drain the ricotta of any excess moisture.

In a large mixing bowl combine the two cheeses and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Taste. Add more salt, or cheese if you wish, if needed. (The saltier the cheese you use, the less salt you’ll need to add.)

Add ¾ cups of the flour and the egg. Start mixing together with a wooden spoon or spatula, adding small amounts of additional flour until it begins to act like a very light, very moist dough.

Empty onto a work surface and begin lightly kneading. You may need to add a little more flour but be careful not to add too much. The dough SHOULD NOT be the consistency of, say, a bread or a pasta dough; it should be moist and held barely enough together in order to work with.

Once the dough is ready cut it into several pieces. One at a time lightly roll each piece with the fingertips of both hands until the pieces are around ¾-inch thick.

With a knife or pastry cutter cut the pieces into 1-inch gnocchi.

If you have a gnocchi board roll each gnocchi lightly along the board to form faint ridges. If you don’t have this tool, just roll the gnocchi along the back side of fork.

These can be eaten right away, refrigerated for later use, or frozen.

These gnocchi are extremely delicate and require some extra care when cooking. Make sure to use as wide a pot as you have to boil the gnocchi; that way they can spread out and not cook two or three deep in the water. Quickly place the gnocchi into the (well-salted, rapid-boiling) water one or two at a time until they’re all in.

In about 4 minutes test one gnocchi for doneness. When you cut into it the color should be uniform; if you detect a white center that means it isn’t fully cooked and might need another minute. What I do is boil just one or two gnocchi first in order to get a sense for how long they’ll take to cook, THEN cook the entire batch.

Also take care in handling the finished gnocchi. DO NOT dump into a colander as you would a cooked dried pasta. Instead remove the gnocchi from the water using a large slotted spoon. They can be placed directly into individual plates and then sauced. Or, as I often do, have a sauce ready in a very wide saute pan, gently place the gnocchi into the sauce, and then into individual plates.

How to make ricotta

8 Apr
No matter how many times I make this stuff, and I make it all the time, somebody in the crowd always winds up gazing at me dreamily as though I were a wizard. Or a pork chop.
“You made it?” they’ll ask breathlessly. “Really? You made your own ricotta?
Which is often the time that I find myself being offered a wide variety of interesting courtesies should I arrive at their doorstep some evening to deliver a private lesson, presumably in cheese making.
All well and good, flattering surely. But let’s get real here, people, okay.
I ain’t no wizard.
Making ricotta is stupid simple. All you need is milk, a little vinegar and a pot. Oh, and a spoon.
So much for that interesting courtesy you might have considered offering, yes?
Here is the milk that I used to make fresh ricotta last week. There’s a gallon of it. This particular gallon of unpasteurized milk came from a nearby farm, but any old whole milk will do just fine.
The milk goes into a non-reactive pot (I always use enamel-lined). For a full gallon you need to add in six tablespoons of distilled white vinegar. Now turn on the heat, but at a very low setting. It will take some time for things to come up to temperature, but it’s better that it happens gradually.
I like a fairly loose ricotta and so when the temperature gets to around 185 degrees F or so I’m figuring we’re pretty much done. If you prefer your ricotta a bit stiffer then just allow the temperature to rise to around 200 degrees F.
This is how things are going to look at the 185 degree point. Now is when you take a slotted spoon and start to scoop out what’s now your very own homemade ricotta cheese.
Transferring into a colander lined with cheesecloth allows for further draining. As the ricotta is warm, now is a good time to add salt to taste. And that, my friends, is pretty much that.
Last week’s batch had initially been allocated to making fresh ravioli, but plans abruptly changed and so I got to use the ricotta for one of my favorite appetizers. Basically you stir in a little milk to the ricotta so that it gets nice and loose. Add herbs, a little sea salt and cracked pepper, and then drizzle in a nice extra virgin olive oil. 
It’s a great spread on top of some toasted crusty bread. And, like making your own ricotta, stupid simple.

Homemade ricotta salata

7 Dec
So I’m in the middle of making a batch of fresh ricotta (that would be the same fresh ricotta that was scheduled to wind up being my famous cheese gnocchi) when the call comes in that scraps the entire evening’s plans.
I am not a vengeful man. And so rather than driving to the caller’s house after dark and plastering the front door with a good thick layer of formaggio, I decided to go in another direction and whip up a batch of ricotta salata, the salted and dried version of my beloved cheese. (I arrived at this decision after a long and painful discussion with an overly persistent frequent traveler friend of mine who tried to browbeat me into frying the ricotta as they do at Matricianella in Rome. It is a dish, he insists, “that makes life worth living.”)
To make the ricotta, start out with a gallon of whole milk in a non-reactive pot, then gently stir in six tablespoons of distilled white vinegar. Turn the heat on very low; this means it will take a long time for the milk to heat, but it’s better that way. Stir occasionally and gently until the temperature reaches around 190 degrees F.
Turn off the heat and start scooping.
A cheesecloth-lined colander does the trick. 
At this point you’re all set if all you want is fresh ricotta; the only thing left to do would be to salt it to taste and let it drain a little while.
To make the ricotta salata, though, the cheese must be drained further. I tied the cheesecloth with string and hung it from the kitchen faucet.
After about an hour the cheese had sufficiently dried.
At this point you add about a tablespoon of kosher salt and mix with a spoon.
Then it’s time to pack the cheese into a mold with drainage. I used these tins that I saved from fresh store-bought ricotta.
Weight it down for another hour, occasionally applying pressure to get out as much moisture as possible.
After popping the cheese out of the mold, all that’s left to do is apply more salt. Very lightly sprinkle kosher salt all over the cheese once a day for about a week, keeping it covered in the fridge the whole time. More moisture will seep out of the cheese during this time, so keep draining it off. After you’re done salting, keep the cheese covered in the fridge for another week or two and that ought to do it.
Just one other thing. If the cheese winds up too salty (as this one did) I place it in a bowl filled with water and allow the salt to leech out for as long as it takes to suit my taste. This batch soaked for about 24 hours, and I changed the water three times.
Then my friend Gloede showed up and sprinkled some of the ricotta salata on a caramelized onion and prosciutto pizza he was making in my wood-fired oven.
And I forgot all about the guests who did not come for my gnocchi dinner.

Pumpkin & ricotta ravioli

2 Nov
I’m a big fan of the freshly baked pumpkin pie. (Hear that, Josephine?) But I’m more of a pasta maker. And roasted pumpkin makes a really swell ravioli filling.
Our guest of honor, an American Tondo. This pumpkin’s roots (so to speak) are in Italy. It is relatively new to the U.S., and I like it a lot. A local farmer grew them this year.
Pretty, huh?
Anyway, so you cut it up into one-inch pieces, toss into a roasting pan and season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, rosemary and (of course) garlic.
About half an hour at 375 degrees ought to do it.
And it’s ready for the Cuisinart. (You could just mash it all up by hand instead, which would give the filling more texture. I’d have done that had I not been adding the cheese.)
Get (or make) yourself some ricotta. (The pic doesn’t show this, but I wound up with two-thirds pumpkin and a third cheese.)
And mix it up by hand, like so.
Then it’s on to the pasta sheets. (Yes, Jeannie, I will one day dedicate an entire post to making fresh pasta.)
Cover and shape with pasta sheet No. 2.
Let the pastry cutter do its thing.
And there you go.
A simple brown butter sauce will do. But, hey, it’s your ravioli, do what you want.

Dark side of the ravioli

29 Apr

I’m a big squid guy. If it’s on the menu, I’m ordering it, at least once just to see how the place handles it. Sometimes I even score some when it isn’t on the menu. Just the other day, whilst lunching at Saigon on Forest Ave., I managed to coax a couple of nicely grilled squid out of the kitchen. It was good. I was happy.

Lately, it also appears that squid ink has come running through my veins (see “The squid and the shrimp” post from 4/11). Possibly I ought be concerned over this. I am not.
As is often the case (sorry if I bore you here), I am forever in pasta-producing mode. Here’s what went down.

You got your walnuts, your grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a little nutmeg, pinch of salt, like that.
The Cuisinart does its thing.
Add in some fresh ricotta.
And you got your basic mushy mess of a filling.
Bop, bop, beep, boop.
And ravioli!
That is all.
Now go eat something.