Mention ricotta cheese and the first thing to come to mind is probably a classic Italian lasagna. Ricotta works well in many desserts as well as savory dishes. Learn about ricotta, and get some cooking tips before delving into the ricotta cheese recipes.
What is ricotta cheese?
Technically, ricotta is not a cheese at all, but a cheese by-product. Its name, ricotta, means cooked again, an obvious reference to the production method used to make it.
Ricotta is made from the whey drained from such cheeses as mozzarella, provolone, and other cheeses. American ricotta is generally made with a combination of whey and whole, low-fat, or skim cow's milk.
Ricotta is a fresh, soft, snowy white cheese with a rich but mild, slightly sweet flavor. The texture is much like a grainy, thick sour cream. Ricotta is naturally low in fat, with a fat content ranging from 4 to 10 percent. It is also low in salt, even lower than cottage cheese. Since ricotta is made primarily from lactose-rich whey, it should be avoided by those who are lactose-intolerant.
Unrelated to soft ricotta, ricotta salada is made of sheep's milk. The liquid is pressed out and the solids are compacted into rounds, enabling it to be cut with a knife. Its texture is a crumbly but firm.
Ricotta Cheese Storage
Ricotta cheese is highly perishable. The cheese should be snowy white in color. Yellowing is an indication of age and deterioration. Check the container for an expiration date. Ricotta should always be refrigerated in its container with the lid tightly affixed. Once opened, use within one week.
Ricotta may also be frozen up to 6 months. Defrost slowly in the refrigerator before using.
Ricotta Cheese Cooking Tips and Equivalents
- Discard ricotta cheese at the first sign of any mold. Do not attempt to scrape off the moldy portion to use the rest.
- 8 ounces ricotta = 1 cup.
- Dry cottage cheese may be substituted for ricotta in equal measures, but the flavor will be milder and a bit saltier. For some recipes, you may wish to smooth the cottage cheese by putting it through a blender with 1 Tbsp skim milk.
- Tofu can also be substituted in equal measures for ricotta in many recipes.
- Ricotta cheese is a good source of calcium. One-half cup provides 42% of the recommended daily allowance of calcium.