Friday, April 5, 2013

Homemade ricotta and the resulting cannoli will win you lots of friends

As I mentioned in another post, I finally made cheese a couple of weeks ago. And as much as I would like to tell you that it was an earth-shattering, wildly exciting experience, I can’t lie. It wasn’t exciting in any way.
Making ricotta cheese with the kit I got for Christmas consisted mostly of staring at a pot for 45 minutes. Here’s how it went down: Dump milk, salt, and citric acid into pot. Stand next to pot. Stare at pot. Experience 2 seconds of excitement when milk finally reaches 185 degrees. Experience 3 seconds of excitement when curds separate from whey. Dump everything into cheesecloth to drain curds from whey. Burn self repeatedly while shaking cheesecloth, trying to speed up draining. Curse out Williams-Sonoma for suggesting that I speed up draining. Drain more overnight in the refrigerator. Taste in the morning and do a happy dance. It was yummy!
So. Ricotta cheese making? Not so exciting. But cannoli making? Very exciting! (Feel free to challenge my definition of exciting).

The next day, I made cannoli filling from my newly made cheese. And I have to say, it was delectable. My only suggestion is to add a pinch of salt to the mixture if you find that it tastes a bit too flat. Also, the mini cannoli shells I bought in a box from the grocery store were a little too mini for my taste. So next time, I’ll hit up a local bakery or the bakery counter at the grocery store and ask them to sell me a few empty shells.

Chocolate-ricotta cannoli
Recipe adapted from Tuscan Kitchen, Salem, NH
You'll need:
8-10 empty cannoli shells
1 ½ cups ricotta cheese
½ cup granulated sugar (or, to taste)
½ cup shaved bittersweet chocolate
½  teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon 
Pinch of salt, if needed

Rock a chef’s knife up and down at the very edge of a bar of chocolate to get shavings.
Combine ricotta cheese, granulated sugar, shaved chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon in a mixing bowl.
Place mixture in a pastry bag (or gallon-sized zip-top bag with the tip of one corner snipped off) and fill cannoli shells.

If you want to, dust with powdered sugar. Put a few tablespoons of powdered sugar into a metal sieve, hold the sieve over your cannoli, and very gently tap the side of the sieve to allow a dusting of sugar to escape from the bottom.
How to fill cannoli shells:
Thanks to the nine thankless months I spent working in a bakery in high school, I know how to fill a cannoli shell, even without a pastry bag. And now, I pass this knowledge onto you: 
  • Fill a gallon-sized zip-top bag (or pastry bag) with the cheese mixture.
  • Snip off the tip of a bottom corner of the bag.
  • Insert the tip of the pastry bag into the center of the cannoli shell.
  • Gently squeeze out the ricotta mixture while slowly pulling the bag away from the shell. This will fill half the shell.
  • Turn the shell around and repeat on the other side.
And since you’re still here, a confession: Up until a couple of months ago, I had an extremely low opinion of ricotta cheese. Bland, gritty, charmless, no-personality, grocery-store ricotta. The vestigial tail of the food world. Just pointless. But when I finally tried real, fresh ricotta, it was a revelation. And even though the ricotta that I made wasn’t as good as the revelatory one, it still beat the shit out of that semi-liquid Styrofoam I had been eating from the grocery store.