A few years ago, after the news startup I worked at at the time unceremoniously folded, I found myself freelancing full-time—i.e. working from home—and not by choice. The first month of that new life was a difficult adjustment.
There are some pretty big differences between that near-decade-old layoff and the collective social and economic upheaval COVID-19 has the world going through right now—not to mention the fact that plenty of people, whether by choice or necessity, have quite happily worked from home for most of their careers. But the first weeks of physical distancing reminded me, in some ways, of what that long-ago pocket of time felt like. Time, for one thing, got a little too malleable. Until I learned to structure my days, many were a hazy blur of starting assignments after dinner and forgetting to eat lunch. Without co-workers or the diversions of an office environment to break up the day, I often ended up starting a computer screen, uninterrupted, for hours at a time, convinced I could get more work done this way (spoiler: I didn’t). It felt awful—and I didn’t even have to deal with childcare at the time.
A couple of weeks into that first freelance life, while fact checking for a publication, I came across a recipe for ricotta. It had so few ingredients, it didn’t even seem like a recipe: just milk, lemon juice and salt. Maybe I was hungry at the time, or maybe it was the fact I hadn’t left the apartment in three days, but something convinced me to put on my shoes, walk down the street, and buy a bag of whole milk. Half an hour later, I had a bowl of soft, fresh cheese draining in a bowl.
There is something restorative about quick, closed-loop acts of making. Unlike, say, starting a new knitting project or foraying into the world of sourdough breads—something that seems like a big thing right now—making this quick cheese whenever I felt I was spiralling was like hitting a reset button. The steps were too simple and the process too quick for me to give up at any point while making it, and almost without fail there was a concrete reward for my small efforts at the end. If you’ve got a spare bag of milk at home, maybe this recipe can do the same for you.
An easy homemade ricotta recipe
- 1 bag (5 ½ cups) of whole or 2 percent milk
- 1 cup heavy cream (optional)
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- ¼ tsp of salt
- Mix milk with cream, if using, in a saucepan. Add salt.
- Slowly bring milk mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir to keep milk from burning.
- Once it hits a boil, turn off heat and thoroughly stir in lemon juice. Let sit for two minutes, and stir again for another two minutes; the milk should separate into thick, soft curds.
- Line a sieve with cheesecloth and put over a bowl. Using a slotted spoon, strain out curds out of the saucepan into the sieve, and leave to drain: 20 minutes for “wet” ricotta, 30 minutes to an hour for a thick, denser cheese.
- Discard leftover liquid, transfer ricotta to a container and refrigerate immediately.
Looking for ideas for what to do with all that ricotta now you’ve made it? Get our recipe for Lidia’s penne with ricotta and mushrooms here, or try our classic lasagna recipe, or these protein-packed ricotta oat-bran pancakes.