13 July 2011

Ricotta...and Spinach, Greens & Ricotta Lasagne

I have had a hankering to make some homemade ricotta for quite some time and I finally got around to it a couple of weekends ago.  I only wish I had done it sooner. It is so easy! I am not the only one to have such a hankering, there have been ricotta recipes and posts popping up all over the place and it was part of a cooking class at Cook @ Cook The Books the other week.

However, I couldn't go past Jennifer Perillo. Anyone who reads In Jennie's Kitchen knows her love of ricotta, and she makes it every week.  Plus the latest post was her ricotta recipe revisited so I went with that knowing that it would most definitely deliver, and deliver it did.  Lighter, creamier and, with a little buttermilk, more flavourful than any store bought ricotta.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta, from the ricotta guru Jennifer Perillo
Makes 2 cups
4 cups whole milk
1 cup cream
3/4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt, I used our NZ buttermilk and it works fine
1/2 tsp fine sea salt


Place all the ingredients in to a large saucepan and over a medium heat bring to a very gentle boil.  Meanwhile line a sieve or colander with a few layers of muslin and place it over a deep bowl or pot.*
Once the curds begin to separate from the whey (you'll see little specks of white bob to the surface)stir gently and set heat to the lowest setting. You'll see little specks of white bob to the surface when the curds begin to separate from the whey. Cook for 2 more minutes and then remove saucepan from heat. Set the saucepan on an unlit back burner for at least 30 minutes, and up to one hour. The longer you leave it the more the curds will develop.

After an hour, gently ladle the curds into the muslin lined sieve or colander. Ladling gently allows for a lighter ricotta. Pull the muslin up the sides to loosely cover the ricotta and let it sit for 10-20 minutes to drain. 10 minutes will yield a moist ricotta that would be great for baking and 20 minutes not so moist, which was perfect for making in to a garlicky herb dip and for a spinach and ricotta lasagne.

*If you are in NZ you can get muslin at Spotlight or a fabric shop, if in Onehunga pop down to the bottom of the mall to Antique Fabric and Lace where you can pick it up for a couple of dollars.
It really was quite beautiful.  Very light, very creamy with just the subtlest tang from the buttermilk.

Ricotta mixed with herbs and garlic, drizzled with olive oil

It has been somewhat wet and wild here in Auckland over the last few days.  Not to mention thunder and some quite incredible lightning.  The poor wee master snuggler is not a fan and has spent quite a bit of time cowering under the house rather than snuggled under the heat pump.

So while Calean was cowering under the house the weather left me craving comfort food, but I was also determined to go a little lighter and get back to some healthier living and some exercise.  It is hard getting up before 6am, when it is not only dark but wild and wet to boot!  But one must in order to allow for life's little indulgences. I also had massive pasta cravings after reading Pastamania over at Heartbreak Pie.

In my vege box a big bag of spinach and a big bag of beautiful mixed greens; swiss chard, silver beet, kale, cavalo nero.  Definitely fitting in with my healthier living plans and I found a great way to use both of these bags of green goodness. Spinach, greens and ricotta lasagne.  The pasta providing the requisite comfort and the greens and the tomato sauce the goodness.  And of course not to mention just a little indulgence from a silky bechamel. What I would call balanced.

There are a few components if you are making it all from scratch but it is all fairly easy and well worth the effort.

Spinach, Greens & Ricotta Lasagne, inspired by The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters (Another new favourite cook book!)

For the spinach pasta I used only whole eggs and added salt, plus a little nutmeg was added to the spinach.  It is just a combination that I love and I carried it through to the bechamel and the spinach and ricotta mixture.  For the tomato sauce I used my own as I always have a batch stashed in the freezer.  I also did the layering slightly diffeerenty, one because I didn't have enough pasta for 7 layers, and two because I like to top to be golden, bubbly, Parmesan sprinkled bechamel.

Serves 8

Spinach pasta, recipe below
500ml tomato sauce, recipe below
450ml bechamel sauce, recipe below
150g mixed spinach and greens, roughly chopped
1 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
225g ricotta cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan, grated

Spinach Pasta


200g flour
1 tbsp butter
100g spinach, roughly chopped
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt

Place the flour in a bowl or in the bowl of a mixer.  Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the spinach and nutmeg.  Saute until tender and then cool and squeeze dry. Place the spinach in a food processor and and the eggs and the salt.  Blend until you have a smooth paste.

Add the spinach to the flour and mix by hand in the bowl or in the mixer with the paddle attachment until the dough just comes together.  Turn the dough on to a floured surface and knead.  Shape the dough in to a ball and cover in cling film before placing in the fridge to rest for at least 1 hour.

Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out by hand or put it through a pasta machine.  If using the machine cut the dough in half and roll one half out so that it is able to go through the machine.  Pass the pasta through the machine on the widest setting and then fold the pasta in to thirds before repeating again.  I actually did this twice as initially the pasta seemed a little rough with the flecks of spinach, but a couple of times folding it started to become lovely and smooth as it should, just a little patience required. 

Move down to the next setting on the machine and run the pasta through again, and then down to the next setting until you have the pasta as thick as you want it.  As this was for lasagne I went for a medium kind of thickness...but each to their own.  Cut the pasta in to sheets and place in an oiled dish with a little oil between each sheet to stop them sticking together.

Tomato Sauce

Feel free to use your own homemade tomato sauce of course.

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, diced
Salt and pepper
2 cans crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves


Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the onions and garlic.  Saute until they are translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the celery and carrots and season well with salt and pepper. Saute for another 10 minutes or so until the vegetables are cooked through and soft.  Add the tomatoes and bay leaves and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour until the sauce thickens.  Taste and season if need be.  The sauce will keep for a day or 2 in the fridge but freezes well and is great to have on hand for a quick supper, stirred through some pasta and topped with a little fresh basil and Parmesan.

Bechamel Sauce

Makes 450ml

40g butter
40g flour
45oml milk
Salt and pepper
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg


In a medium saucepan melt the butter and then stir in the flour.  Cook over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes.  Add the milk a little at a time, whisking constantly.  Keep whisking as you add the milk to avoid lumps. Once the milk is all whisked in, season with salt and pepper and add the nutmeg. Slowly bring the sauce to a gentle boil, stirring all the time.  Simmer over a very low heat for 20-30 minutes and stir every now and then to stop the sauce sticking to the bottom of the saucepan and making for hard work washing up.  Make just before you are about to use as the sauce will thicken when it cools.  However, if it does thicken to much just warm through gently and add a little more milk to thin it a little.

For the ricotta, see recipe above.  Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the greens. Season with salt and pepper and add the nutmeg.  Once tender remove from the frying pan, cool and squeeze out any moisture. Finely chop and mix with the ricotta and half of the Parmesan.

Once you have all the components good to go it is straightforward from here on in.

Pre-heat the oven to 190C/375F

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and add the pasta.  Cook for just a few minutes until al dente.  Drain and rinse under cold water.

In a large baking dish place a layer or the bechamel and top with a layer of pasta, trim to fit if need be.  Next a layer of ricotta and then another layer of pasta follow by a layer or tomato sauce and another layer of pasta. Repeat and then for the top I like a layer of tomato sauce topped with the bechamel as when it all cooks they meld together in a wonderful way.  To finish top with the grated Parmesan.

Place the lasagne in the oven until it is golden and bubbling.  Remove the lasagne from the oven and allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes.  

So pretty to look at, the bright green pasta flecked with spinach, rich tomato sauce, the white of the ricotta and bechamel.  The pasta was smooth and green, enveloping everything in a smooth pasta blanket.  The tomato sauce rich, the ricotta fresh and light and all oozing with the bechamel. 



  1. ops... you should let Jennifer Perillo or Jannie know that legally ricotta is only made with whey, too many books and farmers market around selling the wrong stuff (more like mascarpone) and calling it ricotta :-)

  2. Thank you for sharing the homemade ricotta recipe. You have inspired me to make my own. I recall seeing a picture of this on isntagram. It looks so delicious.

  3. Thanks Amy...it is quite addictive!

    Yes to be honest Alessandra it is 'cheats' ricotta...but the same texture as bought ricotta & so lovely & creamy :)

  4. Utterly delicious Mairi - just perfect for these wet and wild days we are having right now.

    I love making my own ricotta too - so much better than store bought. Also when I make mine, I reserve the whey that is strained off and use that to make a second batch. You don't end up with as much as the first batch, but still usually enough to make a second harvest worthwhile.

    Sue xo


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