Ricotta you could almost say is Sicily’s mascot cheese. You can find it in so many different dishes, desserts and applications and comes in a variety or degrees of fresh, cooked and dried. Take a look at how ricotta is made, and how it is best enjoyed in Sicily. If you like cheese, you will certainly enjoy it when you join me on my Sicilian Tours.
Sicilian ricotta is produced fresh from the whey left from making pecorino cheese. With the addition of a small amount of fresh milk, the new liquid is reboiled and thus the word ricotta. This first production is eaten fresh and I mean fresh straight from the boiler. It is still warm with its whey ladled into tubs or containers. It must be eaten within the day as breakfast or a morning sosta (break or snack). The addition of sugar, honey or a drizzle of virgin olive oil is often appreciated for those who find the fresh flavour a little too much.
The next form of fresh ricotta comes drained in wicker cane or plastic baskets. This allows the whey to drain out but not completely, still leaving the ricotta very soft. It is almost like a pannacotta or delicate jelly. At this stage, the ricotta can still be eaten warm drizzled with olive oil, chilli and a squeeze of lemon. Or, with scented honey and scattered with crushed pistachio nuts or almonds. This style of ricotta stays soft like this even when chilled. This is because it still has some of the liquid within the cheese.
Left to drain completely in the baskets the ricotta becomes slightly firmer to the ricotta that we are familiar with purchased from our local deli. This ricotta is used whipped with sugar to fill the loved cannoli, the Sicilian Cassata and cornetti con ricotta. Or in savoury dishes such as ricotta and spinach pasta, tarts, pies, pizzas, stirred through hot pasta and for most cooking purposes.
Baked ricotta is also very popular served as part of an antipasto and produced in quite a few different ways. The ricotta is baked in an oven of 400c in old terra-cotta bowls. These are often kept for years, giving the ricotta a blackened surface, unique flavour and heavy crust which is not eaten. The firmer textured consistency is delicious with a very slight smoked flavour.
The other baked ricotta is slightly firmer after being slowly baked for 3 days. This is baked at a low temperature of about 70c. This produces a rich flavour and golden almost toasted colour to the cheese. There is a slightly more smokey flavour to this baked cheese and it is commonly eaten fresh. Ricotta Salata is ricotta which has been salted and then left to age or dry out. This produces a drier cheese. It is often grated or shaved and served with pasta, commonly pasta Norma with eggplant and tomato sauce.
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