In the years that I’ve been working with The Taste of Calabria promoting the food and cuisine from the region I’ve been asked many times what is Ricotta cheese and how does Calabrian use it…
So, first we need to start by understanding:
What is Ricotta Cheese?
Ricotta is simply a bi-product of the cheese making process. It’s made by boiling at 100 degrees exactly the whey left by the curd production. The proteins and fats left in the whey kind of “cook” and form little fluffs of cheese which is what we know as Ricotta, which in Italian means “Recooked” due to the process of how its made.
How to use Ricotta cheese?
In Italy Ricotta is not used as a cheese as such but as a seasoning. The most famous use of Ricotta is the “Ricotta and Spinach” Tortellini or Cannelloni which mainly come from the North of Italy.
In the South of Italy and in Calabria in particular people eat “Pasta e Ricotta” which is simply Ricotta added onto any pasta with a little bit of black pepper. Calabria being the poorest region in Italy meant that almost all of its traditional dishes have humble origins created by what was available in each season. Ricotta being a bi-product it was a cheap alternative to the more expensive cheeses but one that gave a rich creaminess and taste to a simple pasta plate.
This way of living also saw the use of Ricotta cheese as a substitute to oils and butter to many dessert and bread recipes, because of its ease of availability as many families made and still make their own cheeses.
What can I make with Ricotta cheese?
Well, you can actually make anything you want!! In Calabria people use it to make cakes changing butter to Ricotta. You can also make bread changing the oil for Ricotta. A lot of desserts that use Mascarpone cheese can be changed for Ricotta such as Tiramisu. Lasagna can also be made with this cheese changing the Mozzarella cheese for Ricotta or adding it together with the Mozzarella for an extra creamy bake.
In the South of Italy the most famous desserts that use Ricotta are the Canoli Siciliani and the Pastiera Napoletana, and these two dessert for whom ever has tried them would know how creamy and indulgent they are!! And this is thanks to the jumble Ricotta.
Here are two of my favourite desserts made with Ricotta cheese that go excellent for when we have friends or family over and they are sooo easy to make is unbelievable…
Cream of Ricotta and Chocolate
Pears in Ricotta cheese, chocolate and pistachios