Caprese salad with homemade ricotta.

I know what you’re thinking: Fresh tomato salad in March? Are you crazy?

Yes. (And yes.)

Rob and I recently returned from a few days in Florida, lugging not only our golf clubs home but also a stash of fresh produce scored at a local farmers’ market. Specifically, the most flavorful strawberries and yummy beefsteak tomatoes.

We make this trip south about every March, and the farmers’ market outing keeps me sane right about the time I freak out and think we’ll NEVER get summer produce here in Cincinnati again. Right about the time I desperately pick up a clamshell pack of rock-hard imported strawberries at the grocery, only to come to my senses and return it to the shelf. Right about the time I give up on hamburgers entirely, for lack of good slicing tomatoes.

Out for dinner one night during our trip, we had an honest-to-God caprese salad, with housemade fresh mozzarella and perfectly vine-ripened local heirloom tomatoes. Heaven. So with the tomatoes I hauled back in my luggage, I vowed to make a summer-dreaming caprese salad at home, using fresh homemade ricotta.

Which brings us to this recipe for easy-to-make homemade ricotta. Two ingredients + heat + time = the most delicious, creamy, luscious ricotta cheese. Keep this ricotta recipe in the bank for July, when the first local tomatoes come in (or until May, when local farms like Neltner’s that grow in high tunnels have them). Or, make it now, add some fresh herbs and a drizzle of really good olive oil, and schmear the fresh ricotta on crostini.

homemade sweet and creamy ricotta cheese recipe

3 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 Tbsp. 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 and cream; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture registers 190° on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the lemon juice; watch in amazement as the mixture begins to separate into soft, small curds and watery whey. Let the mixture stand—do not stir—for 5 minutes, 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 30 minutes, max, for tender, light ricotta, or up to an hour for a firmer, schmear-able ricotta. 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 (whey's easily digestible proteins and amino acids are good for you).

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