Oh So Simple Homemade Ricotta

Ricotta means ‘recooked’ in Italian, and is traditionally made from the whey that is leftover from other cheese making.

Fresh ricotta is the easiest cheese to make from scratch. Simple, real food. 🐄

Ingredients

  • 2 litres (½ gallon) of full-fat milk

  • ⅓ cup lemon juice

Method

  1. Warm the milk in a large saucepan on the stove. Stir the whole time to avoid it catching on the bottom of the pan.

  2. Just before boiling (when the milk starts to steam and froth a little) remove from the heat. (If you have a thermometer this will be when the milk is around 94oC / 200oF).

  3. Immediately add the lemon juice and gently stir for 3 seconds. You’ll start to see the milk break into chunky curds and watery whey. Let it sit for 10 minutes.

  4. Set up some cheesecloth* over a sieve over a large bowl. Using a slatted spoon, gently lift the larger chunks of curd into the cheesecloth. Now carefully pour the remaining mixture into the cheesecloth (try to avoid pouring it from a height so as not to break the curds up too much).

  5. Allow the ricotta to drain anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on your desired texture.

  6. Ricotta is now ready for eating. It will keep for a few days in the fridge.

Serve sweet:

➕ Figs, walnut and a drizzle of honey

➕ Toast with jam or honey

Serve savoury:

➕ Add to pasta with olive oil, prosciutto, lemon zest and shaved parmesan

➕ Serve on top of ripe, chopped tomatoes along with fresh oregano or basil, olive oil and sea salt

👌🏽

* Notes:

  • Whey is a great source of protein. Add to smoothies or use on muesli.

  • If you can’t find cheesecloth, a clean tea towel or Chux cloth will do.

  • Lemon juice can be substituted for same measure of white vinegar or ½ teaspoon of citric acid dissolved in water.

  • Don’t use UHT (ultra pasteurized) milk, it won’t work. Use fresh, full-fat milk.

Italy

A spontaneous trip to Italy in the middle of the busy European summer holidays. I had a ticket to Naples and little else. No plans, nothing booked, just a hankering for good pasta and sunshine.

Italy delivered 🙌🏼🇮🇹

Italia!
Italy zoomed in

Napoli (Naples)

Arriving in Naples was like stepping into a different world. The city was run down, falling apart, grimy and hectic. Yet it held its own and after some exploration, revealed its charm.

 Swimming in Naples 

Swimming in Naples 

Deeply tanned Neapolitans shouting out to one another from tiny, rusted balconies. The alluring smell of home cooking wafting from partly-opened windows (glimpses of nonna stirring a pot in the still, cool darkness of her kitchen). Washing, flapping in the salty breeze. Noisy Vespas hurtling through crowded streets, dodging kids, dogs, fruit sellers and tourists. Catholic shrines illuminated with neon lights. A chaotic fish market.  Focaccia, pizza and a calzones for sale on every corner. Hot, strong espressos, only 60 cents.

Even though Naples is the birthplace of pizza, all I could bring myself to order (for after I tasted it once I wanted nothing else) was simple tomato and basil spaghetti (spaghetti al pomodoro).

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Amalfi 

We met Giacomo in the tiny, picturesque town Montepertusoso in the Amalfi mountains, perched high above the blue Mediterranean sea. Together we foraged for wild herbs and leafy green vegetables in a green patch of land overgrown with what I'd assumed were weeds. 

Our passionate host Giacomo showed us how to identify what was edible and which parts of the plant to pick. He explained how the changing of the seasons affect the availability and the flavour of the plant, discussed the nutritional benefits of the plants, and described how we would use them in our cooking. 

Further up the mountain at his family's farmhouse, we prepared our foraged produce, and spent the following hours cooking, eating, drinking and marvelling at the spectacular view. 

 The view from the farmhouse patio 

The view from the farmhouse patio 

One of the aperitivo snacks we enjoyed was fior di latte, which I (finally!) learned is exactly the same as mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella), except that it’s made with cow milk instead of water buffalo milk. We melted this fresh, locally made cheese onto a  lemon leaf, which lets it takes on a subtle lemon flavour.🍋 

We made cavatelli pasta from scratch, wild rocket and sun dried tomato pesto, a foraged salad, bruschetta decorated with valerian flowers, pecorino quiche, tempura pumpkin flowers, and countless other dishes.

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To prepare our dessert we used the same pasta dough that we used for the cavatelli pasta, rolled thin in a pasta machine and filled it with a mixture of fresh ricotta, lemon zest and wild mint. Deep fried and served with honey, garnished with wild fennel flowers. Delizioso!

Fresh pasta

We drank local Amalfi white wines, and finished the meal with a digestivo of homemade fennel liqueur (strong anise flavour… not my favourite) and homemade walnut liqueur (mmm). 

Given the spontaneous nature of my trip, I didn't have time to organise accommodation in Amalfi prior to arriving (and in summer it's all booked out), however Giacomo knew a place nearby that had one room available. Villa Sofia - what a location!

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Rafaele who owns the refreshment 'truck' in the beautiful Amalfi town of Nocelle is Sofia's son (he looks like an Italian Javier Bardem, right?!). He greeted me with an Amalfi lemon granita and pointed out the way to Villa Sofia.

This family-run B&B was just perfect. So welcoming and generous, and with unbelievable views.

 View from the balcony of my room.

View from the balcony of my room.

Brekky with a view

🇮🇹

Abruzzo/Lazio

Next stop - a farm located at the foothills of the Abruzzi national park mountains, in the heart of the Italian countryside. Fruit trees and vines heavy with ripe produce - apples, figs, plums, peaches, grapes. A massive vegetable garden overgrown with pumpkin and zucchini vines, green beans, lettuce and all varieties of tomato plants. An above ground pool to combat the Italian summer heat. Also, chickens, geese, horses, sheep and a donkey named ‘Burro’. 

Guiseppe

Old Guiseppe is an ex-military cook. He is a keen gardener and (as I’m realising is quite common in Italy) a forager. On the farm he makes his own wine (rosato), olive oil, conserves, tomato sauce. 

He showed me how to make spaghetti alla chitarra (literally, ‘guitar spaghetti’), a typical pasta of the Abruzzo region. The dough is much the same as any pasta dough -  durum wheat semolina, eggs, and salt. It is then worked and, after a rest, rolled flat with a rolling pin. So simple:

Spaghetti alla guitarra

On learning that I was interested in cheesemaking, Antonello (Guiseppe’s son) made a call to the local shepherd’s wife and organized a visit for me for the next day.

I woke a little after 5am, downed an espresso and set off on foot into the pre-dawn morning. It was a 30 minute walk up the hill to the next town, Forcella, where the local shepherd (Enzo) and his wife (Antonetta) lived. Before I arrived they’d already been out and milked their sheep and goats, and for the next couple of hours we made pecorino cheese (pecora is Italian for sheep) and fresh ricotta from the whey. They didn’t speak a word of English, and my Italianized Spanish wasn’t very useful, but we somehow managed to communicate okay. To finish up the morning’s work we ate a cup of fresh, warm ricotta. 

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Zagarolo

Why Zagarolo? Italians I told about this town were perplexed as to why I'd stayed there. To be honest, I chose this this village by pure chance. I’d put my dates into AirBnB, zoomed the map right out and randomly chose a place that was on the train line and that wasn’t too far from Rome.

I’m so happy I did, this was one of my memorable stays. 

My host, Anna Maria, picked me up from the quaint Zagarolo train station in her tobacco colored Renault, greeting me with a hug and kiss and a loud, heavily accented “Hello, my Australian friend!”.

She wondered if I liked wine. I told her I was partial to a glass. She called her friend Claudio, who had a vineyard nearby. A five minute drive through the hilly, semi-rural outskirts of town and we arrived at the vineyard (a beautiful Italian homestead with hundreds of years of winemaking tradition) and tasted wine and ate cheese. 

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We left the winery and drove a short distance to Anna Maria’s home. This house is like nothing I’ve never seen before. Situated on top of a hill, overlooking fields and forest. A shrine to her late husband, the Italian artist Silvio Alessandri. The exterior covered almost completely in thick vine, the interior, an extensive and eclectic collection of art. Sculptures, wall hangings, mosaics, even hand painted tiles in the shower. It was absoltuely inspiring.

That evening Anna Maria prepared the classic Roman pasta, Cacio e Pepe.  Made with only three ingredients - pecorino cheese, black pepper and spaghetti - it's spectacular! 

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Rome

Rome is a majestic city, and for the time I was there it was bathed in endless sunshine. Also, this city is  flush with excellent eating opportunities. Cafes and alimentaris on every street. Picturesque trattorias, osterias and ristorantes spilling out onto sidewalks. Gelaterias, pizzarias and delicatessens everywhere. So good. 

  Supplì alla Romana  - A type of arancini famous in rome (with mozzarella in the centre).

Supplì alla Romana - A type of arancini famous in rome (with mozzarella in the centre).

I attended a cooking course one evening on a rooftop terrace in central Rome (it looked straight out onto an ancient Roman aquaduct - of course).  Andreas and his Chinese-Roman wife Ming taught us recipes passed down from his nonna. Classic Napolitan sauce, a generic ‘Italian sauce’, and meatballs.

Andreas and Ming

We finished the meal with the bitter digestivo, Amari. The perfect way to wrap up a fun evening and this mini Italian adventure. 

🇮🇹

My 5 steps to amazingly good pork crackling (every time!)

I've never managed to achieve crackling on a pork roast. Ever. Despite the countless tips I've received over the years from various people who have told me that their techniques are foolproof, my roasts have always been decidedly uncrackled. It's one of life's greatest disappointments.

Until now.

Looklooklooklook! Pork crackling 🙌🏼

How did I do it? I'm glad you asked. I've cracked the code and have unleashed the secret to great crackling each and every time (based on my experience of this one, excellent pork roast 😜). Here are my 5 fail-proof steps to drool-worthy crackling:

1. Dry out the rind.
Leave it overnight in the fridge uncovered so the cool air dries out the skin as much as possible. When you take it out, use paper towel to give it a cool final towelling.

2. Score the rind.
Criss-cross cuts through the skin (but not down to the meat) - easiest with a stanley knife so you can get the depth of the cuts just right.

3. Get the rind to room temperature as much as possible
Not sure if this is vital but it's what I did and so I've added it in. 

4. Rub the rind with oil and heaps of salt.
Slop some (olive) oil over the top and get it glistening, then sprinkle like a handful of salt over rub it all in, getting it into the cuts (ouch) and everything.

5. Put it into a super-hot oven 🔥
Max it out - I pre-heated my oven to the highest temp possible (240 degrees Celcius) then quickly put the roast in to avoid the heat escaping. Leave it in for about 30 mins (although if it smells like it's burning, act on this) then turn it down and cook as per your usual roast instructions. (Here's a how-to guide for roast pork, thank you Australian Pork. The presenter is gold.)

🐷 🍴 😍

How to cook a whole lamb (I looked on and I ate. Rustic meat perfection.)

A weekend on the farm with a big group of us called for a feast. And nothing says feast quite like cooking an entire beast! 🔥

We brined the lamb overnight (in the bathtub) in salty water, to lock in the moisture. Then the next day, we strung the little guy up on a homemade frame and positioned him over a slow burning fire. Mr Lamb stayed like that for the next 7 or so hours, with an occasional basting (the pit masters were collecting the melting fat in tin foil, as it dripped off the lamb). Then, it was time to eat!

Slow roasted whole lamb feast

We hacked the slow cooked beast into steaming piles of succulent meat. Finished off with a generous drizzle of Jules' 'special sauce' (a Basque recipe involving oil, vinegar and a lot of garlic). The best!