Caprese salad with homemade ricotta.

In today’s edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer, I shared several variations on the traditional insalata Caprese — that classic combination of sliced ripe tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil and olive oil. If you want to mix it up a bit, substituting homemade ricotta cheese for the mozz and homemade pesto for the basil is a nice change of flavor and texture.

Homemade ricotta is ridiculously easy and, frankly, a lot of fun. It takes just a few minutes of cooking and straining to create your own sweet, creamy ricotta. Give this a try!

sweet and creamy homemade ricotta cheese recipe

3 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Line a colander with two layers of cheesecloth, and place it in a larger bowl to catch the whey. In a medium heavy saucepan, combine the milk, cream and lemon juice; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture registers 190° on an instant-read thermometer. Watch in amazement as the mixture begins to separate into soft, small curds and watery whey (if this doesn't happen right at 190°, keep simmering until curds form). Continue simmering for about 2 minutes, until the curds come together; cook a bit longer if you like ricotta with larger curds. Then use a strainer to gently lift the solids into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Pour any remaining liquid into the colander and let the mixture drain for about 10 minutes for creamy, tender ricotta; longer for a drier, firmer cheese. Salt the ricotta to taste if you'd like. I prefer it unsalted, so I can add seasoning as I use it.

I've kept homemade ricotta in the refrigerator for about 10 days with no problem. Keep the whey, too—you can use it in place of water or milk to make pancakes or biscuits or oatmeal, or for boiling potatoes for mashing.

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