This is my first year growing tomatoes, and I have been patiently waiting while my first three tomatoes ripen. Today was the day, they smelled delicious and their skin was a perfect red, we decided to harvest our first tomatoes!
How do you do your first tomatoes justice though? I didn’t want to cook them down into a dish, I wanted to let them shine and have a presence. First, I figured a caprese salad, but I didn’t feel like going all the way to the market for good mozzarella, so I went to the grocery for a gallon of milk instead. On the walk back, I decided why not make something a little different (and simpler, since I am in the process of editing my book and didn’t want to spend all day on this), I decided to make ricotta.
Generally, ricotta is made from whey (the leftovers of making cheese once the curds are removed), but it can be made just as easily from milk. Technically you are making a queso fresco but with slightly different acids to separate the curds.
There are varied recipes calling for different acids. Some use lemon juice or vinegar, I use citric acid since I have it on hand to make mozzarella anyway. I always find that I need variable amounts of lemon juice to process a gallon of milk, but I always need to teaspoons full of citric acid.
Ricotta is a very easy cheese to make, you just have to wait a bit as it drains.
1 gallon whole milk, pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon citric acid
Combine all ingredients and stir for about 30 seconds.
Heat the milk in a Dutch oven until it reaches somewhere between 170-180°F. Be careful not to go above 190.
Let rest for 15 minutes to allow curds to form.
Carefully ladle out the curds and put in a colander lined with a cheese cloth. Let drain for 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on how dry you want your ricotta to be.
For this recipe, I like to add oil and herbs, so I let it dry for 2 hours.
Total cooking time: 30 minutes + 2 hours drain
Herbed Ricotta and Tomato Salad
1 1/2 cup ricotta
large handful of fresh basil, slivered
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, optional
3 large very ripe homegrown (if possible) tomatoes
salt and pepper
To make the herbed ricotta, combine the cheese with half of the basil, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Slice up tomatoes to 1/4 inch slices and arrange on a platter.
Arrange herbed ricotta on top.
Sprinkle with remaining basil and finishing salt.
Mix together remaining olive oil and balsamic vinegar to make a vinaigrette, drizzle over salad just before serving, or just use a drizzle of olive oil!
Total cooking time: 5 minutes, serves 2-4