Ricotta cheese, though now not as universally, is traditionally made from the whey that survives unscathed from the cheese-making process. At home, we can create ricotta cheese from milk (and heavy cream if we’re feeling decadent which we obviously are).
Acid and heat together create the perfect storm for the two milk proteins, whey and casein, in our ricotta endeavor.
We begin by heating the milk and cream. The heat will cause the whey proteins to unravel a bit, gather together, and stick. Acid follows up and drops the pH of the milk/cream mix. That drop in pH alters the casein proteins. Casein proteins have little hairy ends that are negatively charged and therefore repel each other. When we mess with the pH, those hairy ends become neutral and aggregate together.
And what have we got now? Whey sticking with other whey proteins, caseins sticking with other casein proteins, and, indeed, whey proteins sticking to casein proteins. The combination of whey and casein suddenly becoming attracted to each other means that the proteins will inevitably form a network together trapping proteins in its matrix and forcing water to get out of the way.
The result? A soft cheese to make all of your ricotta dreams come true. Looking for more cheese science fun? Check out my friend Pat’s Cheese Science Toolkit for everything you’d want to know and more.
But onto this lovely pasta! I know that I just shared a pea recipe a couple weeks ago for Wine Wednesday, but I simply couldn’t resist another one. I am a pea addict, after all, and ‘tis the season for peas! This is one of my favorites from Smitten Kitchen that combines some of my most adored flavors in one delectable pasta. I think this recipe lends itself to a richer, smoother ricotta (for which the recipe is below), so I suggest making it from scratch. However, feel free to use a store-bought ricotta—just make sure you get the full fat one for best results!
Lemon Ricotta Snap Pea Pasta
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 4-6 generously
1 Pound sugar snap peas
1 Pound dried medium shells (or another type of smallish pasta noodles)
1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano grated cheese (or another type of parmesan)
Glug olive oil
3 mint leaves
1 cup ricotta (recipe follows)
Lots of salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Heat a large pot of salted water over medium-high for the pasta.
- Cut the sugar snap peas into half inch diagonal slices (width-wise). Set aside.
- When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until very al dente (about 1-2 minutes less than you normally would). Add the sugar snaps and cook for one minute more.
- Reserve about 1 ½ cups of pasta water and drain the pasta and peas. Return the pasta and peas to the now-empty pot with half of the pasta water, a glug of olive oil, ½ cup of shredded cheese, the juice of one lemon, and ½ cup of the ricotta. Mix together and add lots of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- Cook on high for about one minute stirring constantly. Add more pasta water if it ever starts to look a little dry.
- Turn the heat off and add the rest of the ricotta. Stir gently, but you don’t need to stir it all in evenly. Be content with little pockets of ricotta.
- Transfer the pasta to a serving platter. Roughly chop the mint leaves and sprinkle over the top of the pasta. Sprinkle ¼ cup of the cheese and the juice of half a lemon over the top as well.
- For serving, use the remaining cheese and lemon juice for each bowl as desired, and enjoy!
Makes a little over 1 cup
3 ½ cups whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
- In a large saucepan, add the milk, cream, and salt. Heat the mixture on medium-low until simmering. Check with a digital thermometer and heat it to 180⁰F.
- Once to temperature, turn the heat off and remove the pot from the burner. Add the lemon juice and stir it gently a couple of turns to combine. Let the pot sit for 5 minutes without any further manipulation.
- Line a colander with a few layers of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl (to catch the whey if you’re interested in using it!). Pour the contents of the pot into the lined colander.
- Let the mixture sit for one to two hours. Don’t touch it.
- When the time has passed, transfer the contents of the cheesecloth (your ricotta!) to a container until use. If using immediately—like the above pasta—keep at room temperature until ready. If you will be using it later, seal tightly and keep in the refrigerator.