Homemade Ricotta and Sweet Red Pepper Relish

 

Homemade ricotta on the left, store bought on the right

Ricotta is an ingredient that I use only occasionally and never thought about very much. I might pick up a tub when I’m planning on making lasagne (and look a bit askance at the price), but I had never even considered the possibility of making it at home. Then I started seeing recipes for homemade ricotta and they looked so easy! I finally decided to give homemade ricotta a try after my mom made some and confirmed that it is, indeed, very simple to make at home.

I used the same recipe as my mom because I knew that it had worked for her. It is recipe by Alex Guarnaschelli (love her show “Alex’s Day Off”) and can be found on foodnetwork.com. The only change I made to the recipe was to stir a large pinch of salt into the ricotta just before putting it in the fridge to drain. I also sort of shaped the ricotta by twisting the cheesecloth into a ball just before unmolding the finished cheese.

Milk solids rising to the surface in the pan

Ricotta draining in cheesecloth

After making the ricotta, I faced the task of deciding how to compare the homemade ricotta to store bought. I ruled out a complicated lasagna or other pasta dish because I thought the flavors of the sauce and meat would overwhelm the ricotta. I finally settled on just testing the ricotta on plain crackers, but I couldn’t resist making a red pepper relish as an accompaniment. My mom brought back this recipe for sweet red pepper relish after a recent trip to visit family in Minnesota and I am completely hooked! I think I ate a whole cup of it the other day at my parent’s house. The ruby red color would make this a fantastic addition to a Christmas table and the flavor is completely addictive, so I had to share the recipe with you (plus it photographs beautifully). I’ll get to the ricotta comparison results after this little detour:

Sweet Red Pepper Relish

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients:

2 large bell peppers, finely diced

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

Crackers and soft cheese, for serving

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the diced red peppers and salt. Let sit for 45 minutes to draw out some of the liquid from the peppers. Drain the peppers in a fine sieve, pressing on them with a spatula to extract as much liquid as possible.

2. Put the peppers in a medium saucepan and add the vinegar and sugar; stir to combine. Simmer over low heat, uncovered, for about 1 hour or until liquid begins to thicken and becomes syrupy. Cool and serve over cream cheese, mascarpone or ricotta with crackers.

So, after testing the ricotta spread on crackers (both plain and topped with relish) the results were clear: ┬áhomemade ricotta is far better in both flavor and texture. The homemade ricotta was perfectly smooth and creamy with a fresh, slightly sour flavor. The store bought ricotta had a much blander, almost plastic flavor and was slightly grainy. I’m not sure that these differences would be apparent if the ricotta was used in a highly flavored pasta dish, but when eaten plain, the difference in flavor was very obvious.

The homemade ricotta was extremely easy to make, I’d even venture to say foolproof, but it does require some time commitment since it has to drain for a few hours. I have to admit, it is hard to beat store bought ricotta on time and ease of preparation. However, homemade ricotta actually turned out to be slightly cheaper, about 25 cents less a cup.

Bottom Line: While homemade ricotta is easy to prepare and tastier and cheaper than store bought, it also requires a significant time commitment. It is definitely worth the effort if you are planning on serving it on crackers or in a simple dessert, but I would stick with store bought ricotta for more complicated dishes where the flavor is less important.