One of the foods I miss most from Italy is fresh ricotta – the real deal of course, not the industrial type which I can get also here, a tasteless and pappy substitute. Fresh ricotta is another thing altogether: sweet, milky and light, creamy and yet not insubstantial: with a sprinkle of sugar or with a drizzle of olive oil, it is culinary nirvana. Here in the UK, even in London, fresh ricotta is still very hard to come by: I tried the Neal’s Yard’s one (made in England) and I was not impressed, but I also saw beautiful looking Italian fresh ricotta at Gastronomica, in Borough Market (I was told it is flown in every few days).
Because it’s so hard to find good ricotta in the UK, many years ago I started making “home made ricotta” – though it is actually nothing more than fresh cheese: milk coagulated with some acid (lemon juice, vinegar, rennet, citric acid the most common) . So far, I have found that the version that gets closer to real, fresh ricotta is the one you can find in the beautiful books of Rosetta Costantino,this one. It is really good, especially when freshly made. I use full fat non homogenized organic milk with a 4% fat content per litre and the results are excellent; I also tried with semi-skimmed milk but I did not like the final product as much. It is at its best warm, but it keeps for a few days in the fridge. It does not have the same texture of true ricotta and feels heavier to the palate, but it is a very good substitute.
I had a batch of this “ricotta” in the fridge and I decided to make a coffee flavored ricotta cream, a homely dessert that exemplifies Italian home cooking at its best: very few ingredients, minimal intervention from the cook.
Ricotta al caffè/Coffe ricotta cream
fresh ricotta – 350g
instant espresso powder – 4 teaspoons
caster sugar – 80g
pinch of cinnamon (optional)
2 tablespoons rhum (optional)
unsweetened cocoa powder
Combine ricotta, espresso powder, sugar, cinnamon and rum.
Using a hand-held whisk, whip it up to a soft cream. Spoon into espresso cups and dust with some cocoa powder.
In some recipes whipped cream is added but I think this is missing the point.
With this same cream one could also make what in Italian is called a mattonella, an uncooked refrigerated layered cake, using Petit Beurre biscuits, lightly dipped in coffee (and rum or marsala).