Do any of you watch Chef's Table on Netflix? I sincerely hope that most of you reading this answered "Yes, of course I do, it's amazing!", but to those of you who haven't had the chance to yet, let me fill you in. Chef's Table is a documentary series with each episode dedicated to a single world-renowned chef. In each hour-long episode, the viewer learns the trials and tribulations that each chef went through in order to reach success. In addition to learning each chef's fascinating journey, we are treated to some of the most beautiful cinematography: almost every frame is a work of art.
Earlier this month, Netflix released the fourth season of Chef's Table but this time having a focus on pastry chefs. Naturally, I was ecstatic and watched all four episodes as quickly as I could. Of the four chefs featured, I found great inspiration from Corrado Assenza, a fourth-generation owner of a cafe in Sicily, Italy (Caffè Sicilia) that is known to have the best Sicilian desserts in all of Sicily and perhaps all of Italy.
Throughout the episode, we see Corrado make a variety of desserts and pastries including granita, cannoli, and gelato. Not only does Corrado execute these sweets perfectly, but he also stresses the importance of quality ingredients. For example: to make excellent ricotta gelato, Corrado closely works with a local dairy farmer who he has a strong relationship with and, in his opinion, has the best ricotta in the land. It if weren't for this relationship with this particular dairy farmer, Corrado's gelato wouldn't be perfect. The importance of not only using quality ingredients, but working with quality people/vendors is Corrado's modus operandi.
This level of dedication that Corrado has for his ingredients, and therefore everything he makes, was undoubtedly inspiring to me. It excited me to the point where I wanted to take my skills to the next level and make my own ricotta cheese from scratch and in turn, make my own gelato (or ice cream). I had made ricotta ice cream before but I had used store-bought ricotta and even though the gelato turned out to be good, I had a feeling I could make it great.
So, I googled how to make ricotta and to my surprise it is about the easiest thing one can do. With a large pot, some cheesecloth, and only 4 ingredients (whole milk, heavy cream, salt, and lemon juice) you can make a beautiful batch of fresh and creamy ricotta in no time. The recipe I'm giving you yields about two cups which is exactly enough to make for the ice cream recipe that I also give below. If you do not wish to make ice cream with your ricotta, go ahead and use it in any way your little heart desires (use it in lasagna, on toast with fresh jam, in a raspberry cake, etc.).
If you are planning on using the ricotta for the ice cream recipe, allow the ricotta to drain in the cheesecloth for the full hour; we want a rather dry ricotta (it'll spread almost like a cream cheese would) for the ice cream. But if are using the ricotta for any other purposes. drain to the consistency that you personally prefer (anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes).
Notes for the ricotta ice cream recipe below:
I can sincerely say that this ricotta ice cream is one of the most delicious and creamiest desserts I have ever made in my kitchen, and I genuinely believe it is all due to the homemade ricotta. If you are up for the challenge, please try to make the ricotta and use it for this ice cream recipe; you won't regret it.
Like I stated above, Corrado is a proponent of using good, quality ingredients. So if you have the means to, try opting for organic or raw ingredients. Using organic eggs in a recipe where they are such an integral part of the recipe (the ice cream is custard-based) will really make a difference in taste. I also bought organic raw honey from Trader Joe's and now I don't think I can ever go back to the normal stuff. BUT, we aren't all Rockefellers here; if you don't want to spend the extra cash for these ingredients, you don't have to! It'll still taste amazing.
Lastly, I am calling this recipe "ice cream" and not gelato for a couple of reasons: 1) traditional Sicilian gelato does not use eggs in their recipes and 2) gelato is made with more milk than cream - in the recipe I provide, we only use cream and get the "milk" aspect from the whole milk ricotta used.
Yields about 2 cups
Recipe adapted from Epicurious
2 quarts (half gallon) whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
Line a colander with at least three layers of cheesecloth and place the colander over a very large bowl to catch liquid.
Over medium-low heat, bring the milk, heavy cream, and salt to a rolling boil. Depending on how cold your ingredients are, this could take up to 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.
Once boiling, add the lemon juice and reduce the heat to low. Stir constantly until the milk mixture begins to curdle. This may take a couple of minutes.
Pour the mixture over the cheesecloth and allow to drain for an hour (read above about draining times for ricotta).
Discard the liquid (whey), and transfer the ricotta to a covered container. Store in the fridge for up to one week.
Ricotta Ice Cream
Yields about 1 quart
Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup honey
2 cups whole-milk ricotta
2 tsp. dark rum (optional)
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4-1/2 cup roughly chopped pistachios
1/4-1/2 cup finely diced candied citrus (orange, lemon, lime - I used mandarin)
In a small saucepan, bring heavy cream, sugar, and salt to an almost simmer - you just want to warm up the mixture. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath by placing a metal or glass bowl in a larger bowl that is filled with ice and water. Place a strainer over the smaller bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks together and set aside.
When the cream mixture has heated up, begin to gradually add some of it to the bowl of egg yolks, whisking constantly as to not scramble the eggs (this is called tempering). Once the egg yolk mixture temperature has raised, pour the mixture into the sauce pan. Stir constantly over medium heat until the mixture thickens and coats the back of your spatula or spoon.
Pour the custard over the strainer in the prepared ice bath and stir until it has cooled down.
After cooled, pour the custard into a blender along with the ricotta, honey, and dark rum (if using) and puree until smooth, about 45 seconds. Transfer mixture to a covered container and refrigerate until chilled.
Stir in the lemon juice, and churn the ice cream in your maker (time will vary depending on what kind of ice cream maker you have - I have this one, and it took less than 20 minutes). The consistency will be on the "soft-serve" side, rather than a regular ice cream. It will firm up in the freezer. Be careful not to over-churn.
When done churning, transfer to a container and mix in the pistachios and candied citrus. Freeze until ready to serve.