It is an unfortunate fact that ricotta cheese is often relegated as a filling for savory dishes such as ravioli or lasagna and, on occasion, as one of several cheeses featured on a pizza. It makes even rarer appearances as a dessert. I have even found that an alarming number of people are unable to identify it by name. This is an incredibly disappointing discovery as, in my experience, having fresh ricotta in the house is always a reason to celebrate.
So who is this familiar-looking mystery cheese I speak so highly of? Ricotta isn’t really a cheese at all; it is technically a cheese by-product whose name is taken from the Latin ‘recocta’ meaning “cooked again.” This recooked delicacy is made from the whey drained from other, more well-known cheeses such as mozzarella or provolone.
Now matter how you classify it, ricotta is a king among cheeses. It abounds with protein and is lower in fat and salt than cottage cheese. As a milk product, it is also high in Vitamins A and D. With a rich and slightly sweet flavor, this moist cheese holds its own in savory dishes and desserts as well as a complement to dinner entrees. Ricotta pairs well with flavors from chocolate and cinnamon to spinach, tomato, lemon and vanilla.
When serving pasta, don’t be afraid to offer fresh ricotta as a side dish. Your guests will undoubtedly question taking a bite of this firm, grainy cheese but will be rewarded in kind by the sweet and salty combination when eaten with a marinara sauce. As warm weather approaches, complete your meals with a cooling bowl of fresh ricotta and berries. Ricotta’s best kept secret? Spoon fresh, chilled ricotta onto crusty french bread and drizzle with honey and fresh basil. Paired with a glass of Prosecco or sparkling white wine and before long ricotta will become an old friend.