If you’ve ever been to Sicily, you’ve probably been mesmerized by it’s natural beauty, hospitality of people and incredible food (and if you haven’t, then you’ve probably been in the wrong place).
From fresh fish to hearty meat dishes, to soul sweetening desserts, Sicily is a food lovers dream. Of all the places I’ve visited, I have most vivid memories of Sicilian dishes, many of which I’m continuously trying to recreate.
A key to so many Sicilian dishes is ricotta, very light and creamy whey cheese. In case you’re not familiar, whey is the liquid that separates from milk after curdling, when acid is added. Translating from Italian ricotta literally means re-cooked as it has to reach near boiling temperature for the acid to be added for curdling.
In Sicily (and the rest of Italy) ricotta can be found in every single course: light crostini’s, pasta and vegetable dishes and pastries like cannoli, cassatelle fritte (fried sweet ravioli) and of course traditional Sicilian cake – cassata.
Though these treats are not that complicated to make at home, if you’ve ever tried making them with store bought ricotta you know that they are nothing like the ones that can be savored in Sicily. They lack the essential creaminess and lightness, because Sicilian ricotta is mostly made using sheep milk, which is creamier than cow’s milk, hence the resulting ricotta is rather different too. Then there is a difference between store bought and home made ricotta. Sicilian markets are cramped with stands of fresh ricotta, ready for use in various dishes, and though the idea of home cheese making may sound intimidating it’s one of the easiest things you can actually do.
A lot of ricotta recipes using cow’s milk suggest adding cream, to compensate for lack of creaminess in the milk itself, but in the end it’s just not the same. Sheep’s milk isn’t so difficult to find nowadays, most bio shops will have some or will be able to order on demand, but if you can’t find any you can also make it with cow’s milk.
The actual ricotta making process is ridiculously easy.
It takes barely a few minutes of active work, simply adding lemon juice or vinegar to milk coming close to boil and your work is done. After 30 minutes of waiting for curdles to form and set, and draining you’ll have fresh homemade Sicilian ricotta that can be used in so many dishes.
Fresh and warm it’s so good on it’s own, that only a humble piece of bread is needed, but as it is the season of radishes, it would be a pity not to use them in some way.
Did you know that roasting radishes changes their texture and taste?
The bitterness mellows, bringing out a more delicate flavor, but retaining their crunch, a perfect pairing with creamy homemade ricotta.
- 1 litre/4 cups sheep’s milk
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Place a pot with sheep’s milk onto low-medium heat, add salt and give a quick stir to dissolve.
- Bring the milk to nearly simmering point, if you have a thermometer it will measure around 180F/80C.
- Take of the heat, pour in lemon juice and stir for 10 – 15 seconds. You’ll see curds appearing immediately.
- Cover the pot with a clean towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
- Place a muslin/cheese cloth over colander pour cheese into it. Let it drain for a few minutes and your ricotta is ready. This will make around 300 grams of ricotta.
- 1 bunch medium radishes
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- ½ - 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- freshly ground pepper
- fresh oregano
- 300 grams fresh ricotta
- Bread to serve
- Heat the oven to 230C/450F.
- Wash, trim and cut the radishes in halt.
- Place them on a baking tray, pour over the oil and rub with your fingers to be sure they are fully coated. Sprinkle with sea salt and roast for about 15 minutes.
- Once out of the over, pour over lemon juice.
- Divide ricotta between 2 bowls, top with roasted radishes, fresh oregano. Finish off with a little extra virgin olive oil and black pepper. Serve with bread and enjoy!