homemade ricotta & a batch of baked spinach ricotta penne

August 12, 2017
baked ricotta and spinach penne

I’m padding around my kitchen barefoot, late at night, on a rescue mission – making homemade ricotta from the milk that’s set to expire and cooking a batch of broccoli cheddar soup before the broccoli expires too. I love this – this quiet solo time in the kitchen. Pots on the stove. Fragrant aromas wafting through the house. Soft lighting. A shaft of moonlight falling across the dining room table. It’s a gorgeous August night. There’s a cool breeze, a waxing gibbous moon, and Neil Diamond singing “Stones” from the Hot August Night album on the radio. I’m on a massive trip down memory lane, remembering my beautiful best friend from high school, who succumbed to cancer way too early. We knew every single word to this entire album.

I keep stirring the milk for the ricotta, pausing to check the temperature using my mother’s old candy making thermometer. I’m remembering my mother making jam and coconut ice, and old-fashioned boiled fudge with this thermometer. I can see her perched over the pan, oven mitts on, peering at the thermostat complaining that the numbers were just too damned small.

I hung around when she was cooking, just as I’d hung around my grandfather in his kitchen years before. I grew up loving the kitchen, loving what happened in there. The magical, chemical transformations. The productivity. The smells and tastes. The tangible results.  The memories. To this day, even when I’m alone in my kitchen, I’m never actually alone. I’m remembering the people I’ve loved, the people I love. There’s a lifetime of memories in every dish I cook.

In my last post, I talked about living alone for the first time in my life. I married my university sweetheart while we were still undergraduates. We ran away and eloped. Partly so that I could get a student loan to keep studying; partly because we couldn’t keep our hands or our eyes off each other; and partly because we completed each other. That marriage lasted thirty-one adventuresome, beautiful, challenging, turbulent, perfect years.  We moved around the world three times and had a pair of beautiful daughters who grew up between Canada and Australia. Those two girls are adults now, and best friends, and the most kind, caring, loving human beings. One’s a doctor about to marry her own sweetheart and the other is set to graduate with her master’s degree in occupational therapy and start her career. And as for that man I married, the relationship isn’t over – it’s just changed, taken on a new shape. He’s still the same loyal, intelligent, well-mannered, handsome man – still one of my favourite people on the planet.

Keep moving forwards, practice gratitude – these are the things I repeat to myself each day. I have so much in my life. A truly beautiful family. Extraordinary friends with a rare gift for friendship. A sweet little house with a well-stocked pantry. A big shaggy diva of a dog. A pile of books on my bedside table. Places to go and friends to go with. Work that I love. I am blessed, rich in so many things. So many memories. So much love in my life and so much gratitude. And so much more to look forward to.

The milk is boiling and I double-check the temperature even though I don’t really need to. I pour in the vinegar and a bit of salt and watch as the mixture starts to curdle. Pour it through a coffee filter in a sieve and let the curds separate from the whey. Such a simple, beautiful thing.

homemade ricotta

Homemade Ricotta

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 4 cups milk (not skim)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2-4 tbsp white vinegar
 

Directions

  1. In either a large Pyrex bowl or a medium sauce pan, mix together the milk, cream, and sea salt. Bring to the boil in either the microwave (Pyrex bowl) or on the stove. If using the stove, stir the milk mixture frequently.
  2. Once the mixture is 200°F, remove from heat, and stir in the vinegar. Let stand for about ten minutes.
  3. Line a large sieve with cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter and place the sieve in a large bowl. Pour the ricotta mixture into the sieve and refrigerate. After about five to ten minutes remove from the refrigerator, and place the cheese into a glass jar. Save the whey for bread-making or soup-making. The longer you let it sit – the drier and more curd-like your ricotta will be. Drier ricotta works well for salads, pizza, and pasta. If you’re using it for dips, pancakes, cheesecake, or tiramisu – you’ll want it a bit wetter and smoother.  Ricotta will last up to 5 days in a sealed jar.
  4. To use the homemade ricotta: substitute for mayonnaise or sour cream in dips; toss the ricotta and some pesto through hot pasta and add a few olives and chopped sun-dried tomatoes; add to salads; spread on toast and top with sliced fresh ripe peaches or pears, or blueberry jam, or drizzle with honey; use in tiramisu in place of mascarpone; serve it in a bowl, topped with olive oil and sprinkled with black pepper and a little extra sea salt for dipping crackers and veggies; make a batch of ricotta pancakes; use it to fill cannoli; add it to pizza; add it to an omelette; use it in lasagna or baked pasta; eat it with granola and fresh fruit; pile it on waffles and top with fruit and maple syrup; or make yourself a ricotta cheesecake.

Baked Spinach Ricotta Penne

  • Servings: 6
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Ingredients

  • 340 grams uncooked penne (I used gluten-free)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • 1 cup pasta water
  • 250 grams cream cheese
  • 1 cup sharp white cheddar, grated
  • 1/2 cup parmesan, grated or shredded
  • 300 grams, frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • lots of ground black pepper
 

Directions

  1. Cook the pasta in generously salted water until the pasta is just al dente – it helps to set the timer for 3 minutes less than the recommended cooking time. Drain, reserving a cup of pasta water. Rinse the hot pasta with cold water to stop the cooking process.
  2. Pour olive oil into a large frypan and cook the onion until tender about 10-12 minutes over medium heat. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another few minutes until the onion and garlic are lightly browned.
  3. Turn heat to medium low. Add the ricotta and cream cheese to the frypan and stir with a wooden spoon until the cheese is blended together. Add a little pasta water as you go and stir to integrate, using the back of the wooden spoon to break up clumps of cheese. Once all the pasta water has been added, turn the heat up a little and add about half the grated cheddar and parmesan, reserving the other half of each to top the pasta. Cook the sauce for about 3-5 minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the spoon but not stiff. Season with salt and pepper. Add a little more salt if required. Add the drained spinach and stir.
  4. Add the penne to the sauce and stir gently. Spoon the mixture into a greased 8 x 10 inch buttered, glass pan or an oval pasta dish.
  5. Top the pasta with remaining grated cheddar and parmesan.  Cover the dish with tinfoil and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and cook another 10-15 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.

 

 

 

 

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25 Comments

  • Reply Stacey August 12, 2017 at 1:16 am

    Such a beautiful, magical moment and post!

    • Reply Lindy August 12, 2017 at 7:25 am

      Stacy – so lovely to hear from you. Thank you, from the heart.

  • Reply Amanda | What's Cooking August 12, 2017 at 1:21 am

    What beautiful sentiments. I feel the same way about the kitchen. You’re never really alone there. And I too have been practicing gratitude. New circumstances can be challenging even if they’re exactly where you need to be in that moment. Facing the world with gratitude is the only way to expand and appreciated all of the gifts you’ve been given. And homemade ricotta!!! A gift in and if itself. How cool is it to recognize that relationships can change and that its not a bad thing, just a thing. Beautiful writing, Lindy. Xo

    • Reply Lindy August 12, 2017 at 7:28 am

      Dear Amanda, truth is I am so grateful for your friendship, even if only via the blogosphere. We’re kindred spirits. I still remember your post on homemade ricotta. With a citrus preserve, I think. On toast. You’re a beautiful inspiration, always. xox

  • Reply Amanda | What's Cooking August 12, 2017 at 1:22 am

    Ahh pardon all the autocorrect typos! I really am literate!

    • Reply Lindy August 12, 2017 at 7:35 am

      Oh auto-correct!! Truth is, I had to go back to reread to even find the auto-correct incorrect corrections! You’re beautifully literate Amanda. No one would ever think otherwise. xox

  • Reply Anonymous August 12, 2017 at 6:08 am

    Lindy, you are a gift, your words are a gift to so many of us, who always enjoy reading your blogs, recipes and articles. Thank you!

    • Reply Lindy August 12, 2017 at 7:30 am

      Thank you – such an honour to be read. Deeply grateful. xox

  • Reply Anonymous August 12, 2017 at 8:52 am

    Thanks for the “fancy” way of sharing yummy food ideas. Getting hungry for these tasty treats and it’s only 7:00 am.

    • Reply Lindy August 14, 2017 at 9:28 am

      And thank you for commenting!

  • Reply Johanne Lamarche August 12, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    Poignantly expressed sentiments Lindy. Through all the ups and down if life, the kitchen is always a place of creative expression and nurturing, as was my mom’s growing up. Making ricotta is on my bucket list and I can only imagine how wonderful it was in your spinach pasta dish! There is always opportunity for gratitude in the kitchen.

    • Reply Lindy August 14, 2017 at 9:36 am

      Johanne, it’s always so heartwarming to hear from you. I was in Quebec recently and thinking of you. Went to a grand cheese event at la fromagerie du Presbytère in Sainte-Élizabeth. Also the jazz festival in Tremblant. But one of my favourite things was a fabulous breakfast in a tiny hole in the wall – Resto Chez Lucky in Saint-Albert – the full breakfast, ham, eggs, beans, toast, homefries, tomato. Then when all that was done – they brought us crepes. All this for $6.15 a head!
      Oh yes, gratitude for abundance!

  • Reply Darya August 13, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Beautiful words, and a lovely recipe, Lindy. I have yet to make my own ricotta, though how it so happens that I’ve never made it is beyond me.
    How important to aknowledge that change isn’t a bad thing, and that it doesn’t mean one should start negating the past. Looking forward and being able to be grateful about what has happened and is happening is such a beautiful gift.
    I do love my one on one time in my kitchen, focusing on what I am actually making, and at the same time reflecting on all sorts of things. Standing over a pot and stirring is such a meditative activity; maybe that’s why I enjoy making jams and marmalades so much these days!

    • Reply Lindy August 14, 2017 at 8:32 am

      Thanks Darya, it is always lovely to hear from you. I was just thinking of you the other day – remembering that it was about this time last year that you were in NY and about how much I’d still like to visit the little restaurant you worked in. You painted such a beautiful picture of it.
      Agree with you about making jam. There’s a stray blackcurrant bush along my walking trail that perhaps someone turfed from their garden. I’ve been picking the currants and saving enough for jam. I really like the jam making process and even more so, I love eating the memories of summer in the middle of Canadian winter. xo

  • Reply Laura August 14, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    What a beautiful description of your kitchen, I can see every detail in my mind. I am so lucky to have shared so much taste and love in that kitchen!
    Xo Laura

    • Reply Lindy August 16, 2017 at 11:00 pm

      Love you my beauty! ❤️❤️

    • Reply Elly August 17, 2017 at 10:18 pm

      So true Laura. I loved this post! So many memories of looking up at you two in the kitchen… watching mum cook or bake and Laura steal bites behind her back. <3

      Love you mumsy! Xoxox

      • Reply Lindy August 20, 2017 at 1:00 pm

        Love you my other beauty!! ❤️❤️

  • Reply Jennifer Smeltzer August 16, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    Might be my fave post ever….
    I can see you in your lovely kitchen, with that beautiful shaggy dog…
    Your gratitude is overwhelming..
    Oh!! And the recipe looks good too!!!
    ❤️❤️

    • Reply Lindy August 16, 2017 at 3:39 pm

      Love you Jen! Thank you so much for your friendship and support. And for reading and commenting. Means more than you know. xox

  • Reply chef mimi August 16, 2017 at 8:37 pm

    Such a beautiful post. I love how fondly you write about your intelligent and accomplished daughters as well as your ex-husband. One was expected, one not. And what is it about baked pasta that’s so good?!! A wonderful, comforting dish.

    • Reply Lindy August 16, 2017 at 11:28 pm

      Mimi – thank you, thank you, thank you. Means so much to me and especially because I adore your blog and am always inspired by what you get up to in your kitchen and in your travels.
      And yes, baked pasta is almost unreasonably comforting, isn’t it?!

  • Reply FrugalHausfrau August 24, 2017 at 1:35 am

    What a beautiful post, and these are the sentiments that bring together cooks and chefs and foodies who understand the transformation of ingredients to food isn’t just about the cooking or the recipe; it’s about the memories, the feelings, the binding of generations. And not least of all, the sharing.

    It is so good to see back and stronger than ever. The ricotta sounds sublime and the pasta comforting.

    Mollie

  • Reply theresakishkan September 10, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    This is such a beautiful post. And it’s made me hungry — for ricotta, for songs in the night, old friends, and my children (who are too far away). Bless you.

    • Reply Lindy September 11, 2017 at 8:52 am

      Theresa – it is lovely to hear from you. I’ve been enjoying your posts. Not even sure how I found you but I’m glad I did.

    I'd love to hear from you...

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