Post by Alison Hein.
One recent morning, groping around in my fridge for the usual breakfast fare, I came up empty-handed. No eggs. No cheese. No juice. Well, wait a minute. I did have one quart of whole milk and a couple of lemons. Add to that a few slices of French bread from last night’s dinner, and an image begins to form in my mind… Rich, homemade ricotta cheese, still warm from the stove, slathered on buttery golden bread, generously sprinkled with tangy lemon zest.
Ricotta cheese is astonishingly easy to make. You’ll need whole milk, and some lemon juice or vinegar. And, although it can be made without, a little cheesecloth and a candy thermometer make the process even easier. Some people like to add cream or buttermilk for a richer flavor. Add salt or not, and let the cheese rest longer for a heavier feel. I encourage you to try it a few times, then hone the recipe to your taste. So nice to cook with – add some to an omelet, or your favorite Italian dish.
Turns out necessity is not only the mother of invention, but sometimes the genesis of a simple, rich and tangy breakfast in bed.
1 lemon (2 tablespoons juice)
1 quart whole milk
½ teaspoon salt (optional)
1 tablespoon butter
4 slices French or Italian bread
Salt and pepper, to taste
Using a lemon zester or grater, remove one to two teaspoons of lemon zest. Slice lemon in half. Juice lemon and set lemon juice and zest aside. Line a colander with a double layer of cheesecloth and place in sink.
Pour milk into heavy saucepan, and stir in salt. Place over medium heat, until milk reaches a temperature of 180° to 185°. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Let milk mixture sit for one to two minutes, until curds and whey separate. Carefully remove curds with slotted spoon, and place in cheesecloth-lined colander to drain. Discard whey. Allow curds to drain for at least 10 minutes, up to one hour. (The consistency of the cheese will become firmer with longer draining time.) Place in bowl and refrigerate if not using right away. Fresh ricotta will last several days in the refrigerator.
To grill bread, melt butter in heavy frying pan over medium heat. Add bread slices and cook until golden brown, turning once, about 2 minutes. Spoon equal portions of ricotta onto bread, season with salt and pepper, and garnish with lemon zest.
This recipe can be easily increased to make more cheese – use the same proportions, up to one gallon of milk.
Makes about ⅔ cup ricotta cheese, and 2 servings of grilled bread.