I had a lemon ricotta cheese in Sorrento that was a game changer. Compared to dense, tangy, NY style cheesecake (which is delicious in its own rite), this was so light, so brightly flavored with regional citrus, it was the most heavenly thing I had tasted during my 4 months in Italy (in addition to cinnamon gelato, rosemary potato pizza, and fresh ricotta calzone).
- Unlike homemade chicken stock, you don’t need 98765432 ingredients. You need 4.
- It doesn’t take 3.5 hours. It takes 0.5 (and you don’t even have to stand watch over it for the majority of that time).
- You don’t need any special ingredients/equipment (screw cheesecloth! I used a papertowel!)
- It is awesome over toast (or fruit) with a drizzle of honey and slivered almonds (that is, unless almonds trigger your eczema). Breakfast all week! Use it to kick your lasagna up a notch! The recipe I’ve used all these years advised defrosting frozen spinach, mixing it with some ricotta, eggs, and seasonings and adding it as a single layer. It was my least favorite layer. So, this time, I heated up minced garlic and oil in a saucepan/wok. I cooked the spinach in it, seasoned it with salt, pepper and nutmeg, then added it to my homemade ricotta, decreasing the ricotta to spinach ratio quite a bit. No egg. It was divine. I didn’t think this process through very thoroughly. I boiled all the lasagna sheets. I just kept adding layers while I had stuffing/noodles. The top layer didn’t receive its due (read: I ran out of sauce). I’m sorry top layer. I still loved your nutty, cheesy contribution. And now I have leftover cooked lasagna noodles in my fridge. Roll ups next week? Another thing to make with your fresh ricotta – lemon (or in my case lime) ricotta cookies! Not pictured: the tangy, sweet glaze that goes atop these lovelies. And hopefully, your baking powder isn’t out of date, like mine was, and yours more resemble fluffy clouds rather than lemon disks.
For the Ricotta (recipe courtesy of Ina Garten – surprise!)
- 4 cups whole milk
- 2 cups cream
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tbsps white wine vinegar
- Heat milk, cream and salt in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil.
- Turn off the heat, add vinegar, and stir. Let sit 3-4 minutes while mixture curdles.
- Place a mesh sieve over a big (preferably deep) and line it with cheesecloth or a paper towel. Carefully pour mixture in and allow the whey to separate from the curds for 20-25 minutes. Voila! You have ricotta cheese.
For the Lasagna (warning: did not measure – approximations below)
- 3/4 lb ground beef
- olive oil
- 1/2 large onion, diced small
- 2 carrots, peeled, diced into about 1/4 in pieces
- 2 celery sticks, chopped small (if you don’t have carrots or celery, don’t let this stop you from making this meat sauce!! use peppers, or more onions if you need to!)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3/4 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp chili flakes
- 1 28 oz can crushed tomato
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp sugar
- about 2/3 box lasagna noodles (about 15 sheets)
- 16 oz frozen spinach
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1 cup of ricotta cheese
- about 7-8 oz mozzarella cheese
- 1 1/2 cups freshly grated parmigiano reggiano (sorry, no shortcuts allowed for this step)
- For the meat sauce: brown meat in lightly greased skillet or wok over high heat, breaking up the meat and cooking until meat is no longer pink and has a nice crusty exterior. Remove from pan using a slotted spoon. Set aside on a plate. Add a bit more oil, then onions, carrots, and celery. Sauté until translucent (about 5 min). Add garlic, oregano, chili flakes, and about 3/4 tsp each of salt and pepper. Mix to combine. Add crushed tomato, bay leaf, sugar. Stir then cover and reduce heat to low. Let simmer for about 20 min, stirring occasionally. At the end of 20 min, turn off heat and check for seasoning (it should taste GOOD – if not, add 1/4 tsp more salt). Set aside.
- In a medium skillet/wok, heat 1 tbsp oil or butter over medium high heat. Add 1 clove of garlic, minced. After about 30 seconds, add frozen spinach. Stir to break down clumps of spinach. Add about 1/2 tsp salt and pepper and 1/4 tsp nutmeg. Cook down until spinach is warmed through and flavorful (4-5 min). Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a tbsp of salt and lasagna noodles and cook according to package directions (6-8 min). Drain, then drizzle with oil to keep from sticking. Set aside.
- Assemble the darn thing: preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Add 1/3 of meat sauce to the bottom of a casserole or lasagna dish. Add one layer of lasagna noodles (3 of the traditional barilla noodles). Then add 1/2 of the ricotta/spinach mixture. Top with 3 more noodles. Then add another third of the meat sauce – spreading to distribute evenly. Top with half of the mozzarella cheese (shredded or sliced). Top with 3 more lasagna noodles. Add remaining spinach/ricotta mixture. Add 3 more noodles. Top with remaining meat sauce. Add 3 final noodles. Top with remaining mozzarella cheese and grated parmesan.
- Cover with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes. Uncover, then stick back in the oven for 10 more minutes. It should be bubbly and the parmesan should just be starting to brown. Let cool before slicing unless you want messy, gooey pieces like the one pictured here =).