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TIP OF THE DAY: Ricotta For Breakfast

When you think of ricotta, you probably think of ravioli, stuffed shells, lasagna, cannelloni, manicotti, gnudi and white pizza.

But ricotta is so versatile: It’s a topper, a binder, a stuffing (cannoli, crêpes, dumplings, pillow pasta) and an ingredient in cheesecake, pancakes, puddings and more.

This is the first of three tips on ricotta: Enjoy it for breakfast! If you like cottage cheese, you’ll like ricotta; and if you don’t enjoy cottage cheese, you may well like the flavor and texture of ricotta.

WHAT IS RICOTTA

Ricotta is a fresh (unaged) cow’s milk cheese that’s used extensively in Italian cooking. It’s soft and spreadable like cottage cheese.

Technically, ricotta isn’t a cheese at all, but a by-product of the cheese-making process. The name “ricotta” means “recooked” in Italian (from the Latin recoctus).

Ricotta is been made from the whey left over from making other cheeses. After the curds are coagulated from the milk with rennet, the whey is drained off and the curds are pressed into cheese.

What to do with all the leftover whey had long been a concern with cheese makers. Many simply fed it to their pigs, a practice continued today. Famously, the whey drained from making the “king of cheeses,” Parmigiano-Reggiano, is used to feed the pigs that become Parma ham (prosciutto).

   
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Ricotta and honey for breakfast. Delicious! Photo courtesy Murray’s Cheese.

 
Somewhere along the line, some cheese maker hero whose name is lost to history discovered that whey contained proteins and milk solids that could be coagulated into curds. Using an acid and high heat, ricotta was born. Early mentions and depictions of the ricotta-making process date back to the 1100s.

While ricotta in the U.S. is typically made from cow’s milk whey, in Italy it is also made from goat whey, sheep whey, even water buffalo whey.

Regardless of the whey used, ricotta is the freshest of cheeses and should be consumed promptly. Supermarket brands tend to be stabilized for longer shelf life, but there is nothing like fresh-made ricotta—higher in price, but so worth it. Ask for it at a cheese store or an Italian specialty market.

 

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Depending on the preference of the cheese maker, fresh ricotta can be the consistency of cottage cheese or slightly less moist. Photo courtesy Caviar Russe.

  HOW IS RICOTTA SALATA RELATED TO RICOTTA?

Ricotta salata is made specifically from the whey of sheep’s milk, but it not sold fresh like ricotta. It is pressed, salted (salata) and aged into a hard, white cheese. Mildly salty, nutty and milky, it is an excellent grating and shaving cheese, often used to garnish pasta, salads and cooked vegetables.

Here’s a photo and more about ricotta salata.

There’s also ricotta affumicata, an aged cheese that is smoked in the early part of the maturing process. Like ricotta salata, it can be eaten with bread or grated over other foods.

 
USES FOR RICOTTA AT BREAKFAST

When Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet*, eating her curds and whey, she was having a bowl of cottage cheese: Curds are the lumps and whey is the liquid. That was in England. If she’d have been in Italy, she would have eaten ricotta instead. Here’s how we enjoy it at breakfast:

 

  • Spread on toast. We like it plain on crusty toast with a pinch of fresh-ground pepper, but you can add sweet accents (cinnamon sugar, jam) or savory seasonings (cracked black pepper, herbs).
  • Toast with toppers. Green pea and ricotta toast is delicious for breakfast, as a snack, even as a first course at dinner. You can substitute edamame or sugar snap peas (more). Or, you can add fruit yogurt and/or fresh fruit.
  • Ricotta with honey, with or without toast, untoasted bread or a muffin. Here are recipe variations.
  • Ricotta pancakes. Add one cup of ricotta to two cups of pancake mix. Here’s a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis, and another for lemon ricotta pancakes from Bobby Flay.
  • Omelet or crêpe filling. As with the previous tip, you can make it sweet or savory. Or, make scrambled eggs with ricotta and chives.
  • Curds and whey update. Top ricotta (as the curds) with fruit yogurt (as the whey). Add fresh fruit.
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    We’re off to enjoy a breakfast of these “curds and whey.” Do you have a favorite way to enjoy ricotta for breakfast? Let us know.
     
    *Have you ever wondered what a tuffet is? It’s a hassock, a piece of furniture used as a footstool or a low seat. Your great-grandmother likely had one that matched the sofa.
      




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