When you tell people you make your own cheese, their eyes invariably widen with awe. “What?? You make your own cheese?!” And for a brief moment you feel like the culinary badass they think you are — and it feels good.
But then you tell them all it takes is five minutes and a microwave and they’re like, “Oh.”
(Cue the wah-wah trumpet.)
Yeah, I’m not much of a badass. When I say I make cheese, I’m talking about fresh cheese, like ricotta and paneer (and on a few occasions mozzarella and chevre) — the easy stuff that doesn’t require special cultures and aging caves. I did attempt to make cheddar once and let’s just say it didn’t go well.
But that’s ok, I don’t need to be a cheese-making badass because I get a far bigger thrill spreading the gospel of the Serious Eats 5-Minute Ricotta.
I’ve made ricotta on the stove a bunch of times: heat the milk in a saucepan to almost boiling, add vinegar or lemon juice, let it curdle then strain. Easy enough.
But then a true culinary badass named J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the culinary director at Serious Eats, turned his curious, science-minded eye to the process and found it could be even easier and faster. It turns out you don’t have to be too precise with the temperature, which means you can throw it all in the micro and heat for three to five minutes on high until the curds have separated from the whey (watery liquid). It’s turbo-fast, and there’s no gunked up pot to scrub afterward. Strain it for anywhere from five to 20 minutes, depending on how moist or dry you want it, and you’ve got a rich, creamy fresh cheese that’s incredibly versatile.
Keep in mind your ricotta is only as good as your milk, so now’s the time to splurge on the farm-fresh good stuff — especially this time of year when cows get to graze on lush spring grasses. I love to use Garry’s Meadow Fresh, made from a herd of jersey cows on a farm just a few miles south of Portland. Just be careful when buying organic milk because it’s often ultra-high-temperature pasteurized (look for the words UHT), and that process alters the proteins in the milk and makes it harder for the curds to coagulate.
I’ll admit that technically this isn’t how you make true Italian ricotta, which is really a byproduct of cheesemaking made from boiled whey. But no matter what you call it, this cheese is downright delicious. One of my favorite ways to eat fresh ricotta is spooned atop crispy toasts and drizzled with olive oil, salt, pepper and some fresh herbs. It’s decadent and luxurious, dead easy, and also really comforting.
But I also love tucking ricotta into crepes, because then I can use up the whey left over from making the cheese. I just use it instead of milk in the batter. Whey is full of protein and tangy flavor and is just as useful as the ricotta itself. You can put it in smoothies, or use it to cook things like oatmeal or polenta. Bread bakers love to add it to their dough as an enhancer.
But crepes are far easier than bread, and far more more special than a smoothie, especially when filled with strawberry-rhubarb compote. It’s the ultimate celebration of spring — fresh cheese made from spring milk, paired with one of the most springtime-y combinations of all time.
Even better, it’s the perfect way to celebrate mom this Mother’s Day.
Whey Crepes with Fresh Ricotta and Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote
Makes 4 servings
This is one of those rare breakfast dishes that can double as dessert, but that doesn’t mean it’s overly sweet. It’s just really special. But even though it looks fancy it’s not at all hard to make. You can even make all the components ahead of time and simply warm the crepes and compote before assembling and serving.
4 cups whole milk (not UHT pasteurized)
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar or honey, or to taste
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup whey (or milk)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 stalk fresh rhubarb, diced
2 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
1/2 vanilla bean (optional)
To make the ricotta: In a large glass measuring cup, combine the milk, vinegar and salt. Microwave on high for about 5 minutes, until milk begins to bubble around the edges. Gently stir; the firm curds should be separated from the watery whey. If not, cook a bit longer.
Working over a bowl, scoop the curds into a large square of cheesecloth and tie onto a spoon handle. Hang over the bowl to catch all the whey. Allow to drain for about 5 minutes or up to 20.
In a small bowl, stir the sugar or honey into the cheese to taste. Reserve the whey for the crepes. If not using either one right away, refrigerate.
To make the crepes: In a blender, combine the eggs, flour, whey (or milk), salt and sugar. Blend until well combined. Rest the batter in the refrigerator for 1 hour or up to a day.
Heat an 8-inch saute pan over medium heat. Brush lightly with melted butter. Pour about 1/3 cup of batter into the hot pan and swirl to evenly coat the bottom and a little way up the sides. Allow to cook until the edges are dry and the crepe is browned and lifts up easily, about 2 minutes. Flip over and cook the other side until lightly browned, about 1 minute more. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining batter. (Can be made ahead and refrigerated.)
To make the compote: In a saucepan, combine the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, water and lemon zest and vanilla bean, if using. Bring to a simmer and cook until rhubarb is tender and mixture is syrupy, about 10 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean pod and scrape out the seeds into the compote. (Rinse and dry the pod to tuck into vanilla sugar).
To serve: Fill each crepe with a few spoonfuls of ricotta and compote, fold up, and drizzle with more compote or fresh berries. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.