homemade ricotta & a batch of baked spinach ricotta 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

  • 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 saucepan, 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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