13 October 2015

What to do with a problem like ricotta...

Ricotta cheese, like hotdog buns, often comes in the wrong size container.  The result is that you are frequently either short of, or very long on, the amount you need for any given recipe.  My solution is usually to avoid buying the stuff for lasagna and subbing in well-drained cottage cheese, which I like better, anyway.  But once in a while I get a hankering for some cheese-filled ravioli and I get stuck with leftover ricotta.  If you have this problem, too, fear not.  There is help.

The last-minute party dip:

Hot Rosemary-Garlic Ricotta Dip
In a small ovenproof skillet, heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom over medium heat. Add a few cloves of sliced garlic and cook until fragrant and just beginning to color, then immediately top with a layer of ricotta about an inch thick. Drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with finely chopped rosemary leaves. Bake in a 375-degree oven until bubbling on top. Serve immediately with toasted baguette slices.

Big-assed balls of cheese and spinach:

Traditional Gnudi
Serves 6
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1 pound frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup grated Parmesan
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus 1 cup for coating
2 cups homemade marinara sauce, heated

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a large bowl, mix ricotta, spinach, Parmesan cheese, eggs, and yolks. Stir in nutmeg, salt, pepper, and flour. Form mixture in to small, flattened balls.

Dredge the formed gnudi in flour to coat, tapping off the excess. Slide formed gnudi into the boiling water. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan; work in batches if necessary. Remove the gnudi using a slotted spoon after they float to the top and have cooked for about 4 minutes.

Arrange gnudi on a platter and lightly drizzle with marinara sauce.
A super-fast pasta sauce:

Pasta con la ricotta
Serves 4-6 people
1 lb. of short pasta (penne, rotini, etc.)
8 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
A garlic clove, peeled and slightly crushed
Olive oil
6-7 oz.of ricotta (or to taste)
Salt, to taste
Grated parmesan cheese (to taste)
Handful of fresh basil leaves, torn

Put the water on the boil for the pasta.

Meanwhile, begin your sauce: add the tomato, a drizzle of olive oil, the whole garlic clove, the basil, and a pinch of salt to a heavy saucepan or pot and let it simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, just enough to lightly cook the tomato and meld the flavors—or, if you like you can keep it at the barest simmer until the pasta is done. Remove the garlic clove.

When the water comes to a boil, salt it generously. Then add your pasta and cook it al dente.

When the pasta is done, drain it—but not too well—and add it to the pot with the tomato sauce over very gentle heat. Mix well, then add a few dollops of ricotta, enough to coat the pasta nicely but not enough to ‘bury’ it. Add a bit of the pasta water if the mixture seems too thick. Then add grated parmesan (a spoonful per person should do) and mix again. Taste and adjust for seasoning. (Remember, ricotta is rather bland and you’ll need to season well.)

Top your pasta and ricotta with some more grated parmesan cheese if you like, and serve immediately.

Bonus: baked leftovers in a casserole dish with more cheese spread on top:

Baked Pasta with Spinach and Ricotta
Serves 8
12 ounces small pasta (penne, shells, etc.)
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg
1 clove garlic, minced
10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess liquid
Pinch of nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and black pepper, to taste
4 cups marinara sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside. Cook the pasta according to instructions for al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, parmesan, and egg. Stir until smooth. Add the garlic, spinach, nutmeg, dried basil, crushed red pepper, and salt and pepper.

Put half of the pasta into the prepared baking dish and top with half of the marinara sauce. Spoon the spinach ricotta mixture on top of the sauce in an even layer. Sprinkle half of the mozzarella cheese over the mixture. Cover with the remaining pasta and the remaining sauce. Top with the remaining mozzarella cheese.

Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes or until the mozzarella is melted and the edges are lightly browned. Serve warm.

Note-you can prepare this dish one day ahead of time. Cover the pan with foil and place in the fridge until you are ready to cook. You can also freeze the leftovers. 

And of course, the recipe that got me in this mess in the first place (but could also be the way you use up little bits of leftover ricotta):

Rachel Ray's Wonton Ravioli
Serves 4
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup thawed frozen spinach, finely chopped and squeezed dried
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 small lemon, zested and juiced
Salt and pepper
40 square wonton wrappers
4 butter
1 1/2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

In a bowl, combine the ricotta, spinach, shallot, egg and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Arrange 10 wonton wrappers on a clean work surface. 
Top each with a rounded tsp. of filling. Moisten the edges with water and, working with 1 at a time, fold in half to form triangles; press down around the filling to seal. Transfer the ravioli to the prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Repeat with the remaining wrappers.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, drop in the ravioli in 2 batches, letting the water return to a boil between batches. Cook until the ravioli bob to the surface, about 3 minutes per batch; strain.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat, swirling, until it browns and smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat immediately. Stir in the lemon juice, capers, and half of the parsley; season.

Divide the ravioli among 4 plates, drizzle with the butter sauce and top with the remaining parsley.

(Freeze uncooked ravioli in a single layer on a baking sheet, then transfer to resealable bags. Drop frozen into boiling water.)