For someone who used to hate ricotta cheese, I sure am making up for lost time. A few months ago I fell in love with Cook’s Illustrated’s Ricotta Gnocchi. Then last Sunday I discovered that my new favorite way to make pancakes now includes this creamy, once-loathed dairy product.
Food & Wine’s recipe for Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberries reminded me how ricotta cheese imparts an airy sweetness to a variety of dishes. These pancakes were fluffy and moist, a welcome combination of breakfast and dessert. Thinner and more delicate than regular pancakes, they weren’t the most handsome ones I’ve ever made, but they certainly made up for their sorry looks in the flavor department.
“Ricotta” means recooked in Italian. According to Steven Jenkins’s Cheese Primer, ricotta isn’t even a cheese. It’s actually a by-product of cheesemaking, as it is made from leftover whey. Interestingly, whey is not disposable. If dumped into bodies of water or sewers, it can wreak havoc by increasing the growth of algae and killing the existing fish. Who knew that cheese could be so evil?
I’m glad someone thought of an appropriate use for this wily whey. Italian ricotta uses the whey from sheep or water buffalo milk, while American ricotta uses cow’s milk, creating a very different effect from the sweeter and drier Italian ricotta. I’ve definitely noticed a difference between the packaged supermarket stuff and the fresh batches I buy around the corner at my Italian specialty store. When possible, always go with the fresh, Italian ricotta.
In fact, I think I’ll buy another container this weekend. Like I said, I have a lot of ricotta to catch up on. And more pancakes to make.