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Homemade Ricotta Cheese and Ricotta Gnudi Pasta

Photograph by Steve Young-Burns

March is Milk month at Kalona SuperNatural and I’ve been asked by the folks there in Iowa to come up with recipes on occasion.   This month we’re making homemade ricotta cheese.  You will need two half gallons of organic whole milk and a pint of heavy cream to make this ricotta.  Since you will be carefully heating milk to just about 185°F you will also need your instant-read thermometer [1].

It’s easier than you might think, but it does take a little bit of time.  Most of it can be completed while you are grocery shopping, enjoying lunch with a friend or looking through a new cookbook.  Your results will be delicious and far better than anything you will find in a supermarket.

After making the cheese, you can use it in a variety of dishes like a Ricotta and Strawberry Tart [2].  There will be enough remaining to make Ricotta Gnudi (pronounced “nu-dee”).  Gnudi is a type of gnocchi made with whole milk ricotta cheese and a little bit of all-purpose flour.

I served these little pillows of heaven with a Bolognese sauce (see recipe below).  Generally, a sauce like this is very dense and hearty.  Since I was serving it with the gnudi, I lightened it by adding some homemade chicken stock.

Homemade Ricotta
Makes about 2 3/4 pounds Ricotta Cheese

128 ounces (two half gallons, 64 oz. each) Kalona SuperNatural organic whole milk [3]
16 ounces heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt (more if you want a saltier taste and if you are not going to use it for desserts)
1/3 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar, divided

Rinse the inside of a large non-reactive pot with cold water (this helps prevent the milk from scorching).  Add the milk and cream to the pot and place on medium heat.  Add salt and stir briefly.

Allow milk to heat up slowly, stirring occasionally.  After a few minutes, you will notice steam starting to form above the surface and tiny bubbles appearing on the milk.  You want it to reach 180-185°F, which is near scalding temperature, just before it comes to a boil.

Check the temperature with your instant read thermometer.  When it reaches the correct temperature, take the pot off the burner.

Add the vinegar and stir gently for only one minute.  You will notice curds forming immediately.

Cover with a dry clean dishtowel and allow the mixture to sit undisturbed for a couple of hours.

When the ricotta has rested for about 2 hours, take a piece of cheesecloth, dampen it and place it inside a colander.  With a slotted spoon, ladle out the curds into the prepared colander. Place the colander with ricotta curds inside a larger pan so it can drain freely.

If there is still a great deal of milk in the pot, return it to the fire and heat again to 185°F.  Take it off the heat.  Stir in an additional 2 tablespoons of vinegar and allow to sit again for another two hours.

Ladle out the additional curds into the other that is draining.  Let it drain for about two hours or even overnight, depending on how creamy or dry you want your cheese to be.

When it has drained to the desired consistency, remove it from the cheesecloth and store it in a tight sealed container.

Refrigerate until ready to use.  It will keep for up to 7 days.  Ricotta does not freeze well but any remaining that is not used can be spread on crackers for a delicious snack.

Ricotta Gnudi

15 ounces whole cow’s-milk ricotta cheese
1/4 cup (1 ounce) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup (4 ½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, 1/4 cup Parmigiano, egg, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Sprinkle 3/4 cup of the flour over the ricotta mixture and fold it in.

Dust the dough lightly with half of the remaining flour and shape into a log about 2 inches thick.  Using the remaining flour, lightly dust work surface, roll the dough out to a rope about 1-inch thick.

Using a bench knife or dull butter knife, cut it into 1-inch pieces.  Transfer to a baking sheet lined with a non-stick baking mat or parchment paper.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, boil the gnudi until tender and cooked through, about 6 minutes; drain.

Spoon the gnudi and sauce into bowls.   Sprinkle with cheese and serve.

Bolognese Sauce

2 ounces diced pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, finely chopped
3 tablespoons butter, unsalted
1/3 pound ground beef
1/3 pound ground pork
1/3 pound ground veal
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

To make a soffritto, heat butter in a sauté pan.  Add pancetta, onion, celery, and carrot and cook over medium heat until onion turn pale gold.

Add the beef, pork, and veal to the soffritto, and increase the heat to high; cook until browned. Add the garlic and sauté with the cinnamon and pepper.

Stir in tomatoes, bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to medium. Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.  If you are using whole canned tomatoes, break them up as you add them to the sauce.

Season with sea salt.  Turn down the heat and simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours stirring at least every 20 minutes.

If the sauce gets too dry and starts sticking to the pan add 1/4 cup of stock and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Add remaining stock for a more broth-like consistency.