One day when I have loads of leisure and energy, I plan to get really serious about cheesemaking. However, if you have a dairy animal or any other source of good milk, there are times when you have milk on hand but no spare time to do anything fancy with it. On those occasions, make ricotta right away while your milk is fresh. All you need is milk, a large stainless steel pot, a stirring spoon, a strainer, fine cheesecloth, and lemon juice or vinegar. Any child old enough to use the stove at all can make ricotta with a little supervision. Determine approximately how much milk you have and put it in the pot over medium-high heat. Milk scorches easily, and it should be stirred frequently so that it doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pot. As soon as the milk foams and is coming to a boil, remove it from the heat and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar per quart of milk. I don’t recommend cider vinegar or other strong flavored vinegars, and although I prefer lemon juice, I sometimes use rice vinegar, which does not give any off flavor to the cheese. Stir the acid in and let the pot sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, line the strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and set it over a bowl it can drain into, or in the sink, and when the milk in the pot has definitely separated, pour gently into the cheesecloth lined strainer. Let drain a few hours. Squeeze it a bit in the cheesecloth to get excess whey out, salt if desired, chill, and eat. The only reason for the milk not separating is that it wasn’t heated hot enough. If this should happen, heat again, stirring continually, until it separates. But that should not happen if you brought it to a boil in the first place.
The whey is useful and still contains a lot of nutrients. It would be a shame to waste it. I feed it to my chickens, and they enjoy it.
When I mention cheesecloth I am talking about the real thing, specifically marketed for cheesemaking, and you can get it at New England Cheesemaking Supply along with a variety of other entrancing supplies and gadgets.
Besides just eating the ricotta itself with herbs stirred in, or sweetened and topped with fruit, it makes a good basis for a lot of other delicious meals. I especially like it as a fill-in for stuffed vegetables. To make the zucchini above, get some good sized zucchini about 10 inches long. Cut them in half and hollow them out into boats. Sprinkle very liberally with salt and put them in a bowl to drain for at least half an hour. This step is important. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450. When ready to cook the zucchini, dry them off thoroughly with a kitchen towel. Rub with a little olive oil on the inside, put on a parchment lined baking sheet, and put them in the oven until they are fairly tender, which is about 25 minutes for me.
Meanwhile make the filling. Blanch about 2 quarts loosely packed of mixed greens; I used amaranth and lambsquarters. Drain and press the greens dry. Chop them thoroughly. Chop one onion and two cloves of garlic and sauté them in a quarter cup of olive oil until they are thoroughly cooked but not colored very much. Stir in the chopped greens, and cook all together at least 10 minutes. Turn the greens mixture into a bowl and mix in a heaping cup of goat ricotta (or any well-drained ricotta) and a cup of grated Parmesan cheese or crumbled feta. Toss in a handful of chopped herbs. I used about 2 tablespoons of sweet marjoram, a scant tablespoon of winter savory, and a heaping teaspoon of fresh thyme. Now start tasting the mixture and add salt until you feel the seasoning is perfect. I like to add a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice at this point as well. Add more herbs if they seem indicated. Once you have the seasoning the way you want it, mix in two raw egg yolks. Pile the mixture into the cooked zucchini canoes, top with pinenuts and more grated Parmesan, and bake at 400 until they are thoroughly done and the top is just starting to brown. I like to serve them cooled off a bit, drizzled with a bit of extremely good olive oil.