This time of the year, my aunt Lucia would get fresh ricotta from local shepherds, who used the milk from their ewes to make pecorino and then the leftover whey (siero di latte) to make ricotta. It came in the familiar shape of a truncated cone (see an example on this page), snow white and irresistible. The ricotta never had a chance of getting more than a couple of days old. First, we would use it in a beloved pasta dish: spaghetti con la ricotta. Then we would eat it as dessert, with just a bit of sugar on top or a thin layer of homemade cherry jam (marmellata di ciliegie). It was never used for cooking. Bellweather Farms in California makes sheep ricotta. I have not yet tried it, so I don't know how it compares.
Ricotta is made with the whey left over from making certain cow or goat milk cheeses as well. The various types of ricotta are easily obtainable in Italy, so pasta con la ricotta is a dish that can be made quickly. The ricotta sold in bulk (at the cheese counter) in the stores is usually of good quality. Ricotta is popular in Italy, and the rapid turnover ensures that the product you buy is fresh.
As I have said before (most recently in this post), I make ricotta at home using the whey left over from making various types of cheese (most often made with cow milk, sometimes with a mix of cow and goat milk; unfortunately, I cannot find sheep milk where I live). Having whey to make ricotta was actually an important reason behind my decision to learn to make cheese (formaggio) at home. Recently, I have paired ricotta with homemade tagliatelle instead of spaghetti.
If you want to try your hand at making pasta all'uovo, my suggestion is: start small, i.e., make only one egg's worth of it. That way you can get a feel for the process without being worried about the quantity. For one extra-large egg, I weigh 80 g of flour. I then add a bit more flour, if needed, to get a dough of the right consistency. It is better to have to add flour than to find yourself with a hard dough (my mother's wisdom). The tagliatelle in the photo were made using King Arthur's pasta blend (which includes semolina, durum and all-purpose flours) and they were rolled and cut using my pasta machine. If I have time, I like to roll and cut by hand: for that, you need spianatoia e matterello.
The following ingredients yield two small portions. Double them or more, depending on how many people there are around the table and the rest of the menu.
- 1 extra-large egg
- 80 g (a teaspoon less than 3 oz.) flour [see paragraph above] plus more as needed to obtain the dough
by my measuring, 80 g of King Arthur's pasta blend correspond to 1/2 cup, but this is not what the packaging states and in any case, I recommend you weigh the flour
- 3.5 oz (100 g) [homemade] ricotta
On your working surface, create a well with the flour and crack the egg directly into it. Scramble the egg with a fork. Draw flour from the sides of the well into the center, mixing well with the egg. Trade the fork for your fingertips. Draw flour until a soft dough forms. Add more flour if needed. Continue to knead the dough, 8-10 minutes. Cover and let rest for an hour.
Roll pasta by hand or with a machine. Let rest for a little while and then cut it by hand or with a machine. If rolling and cutting by hand, fold a 3-inch strip of pasta up away from you. Continue to fold the strip until the entire pasta sheet is folded into a flattened roll. With a sharp knife, cut across the flattened roll. Tagliatelle are 1/4" wide. Unroll folded pasta. Regardless of the method, let the pasta dry until ready to cook it.
You can certainly buy ricotta to make this dish. To make sure that what you are buying is ricotta, ask your cheesemonger what the main ingredient is: it should be whey (in this example, you can see that the two ingredients are whey and salt; the label then lists the two acidifiers that are used for coagulation). Milk (or cream) is sometimes added to the whey, but only in small quantity.1
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add some coarse salt, stir and then add the pasta. Bring water back to boiling. Cooking time depends on flour used and thickness of pasta, but it is in the order of a few minutes, so don't wander away, but pay undivided attention.
Since the pasta takes only a short time to cook, prepare the ricotta as the water comes to a boil. Put the ricotta in a bowl and mash it with a fork to make a cream. If it is on the dry side, add to it a teaspoon or so of the pasta cooking water.
When the pasta is ready, turn off the heat, pour a glass of cold water in the pot, stir and then drain the pasta, leaving a bit of water clinging to it. Toss pasta and ricotta and serve immediately. Depending on the ricotta and on personal preference, a bit of salt may be added during the tossing.
That's it: two ingredients and you get a fabulous pasta dish that takes minutes to prepare. As mentioned above, you can use dry pasta like spaghetti instead of homemade tagliatelle. I wish I could have you taste the ricotta I ate as a kid: you'd understand why I loved this simple dish so much. Actually, the whole family did.
The flowers in the photo come from one of my borage plants. I put them there to create a bit of color contrast.
1 Addendum. I agree with the comment by Caffettiera about the addition of cream.
This post contains the roundup of the event.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the tagliatelle con la ricotta (entrambe fatte in casa) audio file [mp3].
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