Last week, we talked frozen yogurt, and today it’s all about the ice cream. Fresh ricotta ice cream, to be exact. Yes, you read that right: this dessert is composed primarily of a soft cheese that I curdled right in my own kitchen, and it’s easier than you might think.
Before we get into the details of how to make this magic happen in your own home, let’s consider the experience for a moment. The ice cream itself is, of course, cold, though I like to serve it straight from the ice cream maker to ensure a soft-serve consistency. Bright and bursting with freshness, it has more texture to it than traditional custard ice cream, but it is every bit as luxurious (dare I say, more?). Warm roasted grapes melt in the mouth, providing contrast in temperature and taste, and toasted walnuts finish the dish with that ever-so-sought-after element of crunch.
Admittedly, there are a number of steps to complete, between making the cheese, transforming it into ice cream, and then preparing the toppings, but what I love about it is that they are all quite simple and the majority of the time is inactive. One of the best things about being a home cook is that you get to make your own rules. If you want to make this dessert as written, you will not be disappointed. For a shortcut, try topping store-bought vanilla ice cream with the roasted grapes and toasted walnuts – that would be delicious! Not in the mood for ice cream? No problem. You can opt to make only the ricotta if you wish (2 quarts of whole milk yields just under 2 cups of cheese). You might try incorporating it into a light pasta dish, adding it to pancakes, or serving it on crostini.
- 2 quarts (8 cups) whole milk
- 2 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Fresh ricotta cheese as prepared in the below instructions
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup honey, to taste
- 1 1/2 tablespoons whiskey (optional, to keep the ice cream soft after freezing)
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups red grapes
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup chopped raw walnuts
- Start by making the fresh ricotta cheese. Simply combine the milk, lemon juice, and salt in a large pot over medium heat. Stir frequently until the mixture just simmers, then immediately remove the pot from the heat (curds will begin to form almost immediately and will increase in quantity as the milk warms). After the pot is off the heat, allow it to rest without stirring for 10 minutes.
- Line a colander with a double thickness of cheesecloth (you may alternatively use a paper towel), then set it in a large mixing bowl (the size of the colander and bowl should be such that the colander can rest on the rim of the bowl with sufficient space underneath to allow for drainage). Slowly and carefully pour the curdled milk through the colander, and let drain for 10 minutes. Once drained, remove the cheese from the cheesecloth, place it in a covered container, and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.
- Once the ricotta is cold, whisk it together with the heavy cream and beat by hand until the mixture is mostly smooth and slightly thickened (keep in mind that it will be a bit lumpy due to the natural texture of the cheese). Stir in 1/3 cup honey, whiskey, and vanilla extract. Taste, and add up to 3 more tablespoons of honey to suit your preference (note that the sweetness will be somewhat muted after freezing). Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Meanwhile, toss the red grapes with the honey and olive oil, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Place on a parchment-lined, rimmed metal baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes at 450 degrees until the grapes become wrinkled and soft. In my experience, some of the grapes may cook more quickly than others, so I recommend keeping a pretty close eye on them after the 20 minute mark to prevent burning.
- Place the walnuts in a dry sauté pan over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until toasted and fragrant. Shaking the pan occasionally will help prevent burning.
- Top the fresh ricotta soft serve ice cream with the warm roasted grapes and nuts and serve immediately.
Method for fresh ricotta adapted from The International Culinary Center.
Tips and Tidbits
- Considering substituting store-bought ricotta instead of making it at home? This is one of the rare times I’d advise against that type of shortcut. The difference in taste and texture is huge, and I’d hate for you to have a less than stellar result. Besides, in most cases, you’ll be saving at least 50% by making it yourself.
- When draining the ricotta, note that 10 minutes is an approximate time. The idea is not to remove all the moisture from the curds, but to arrive at a pleasant, smooth texture that is not overly wet. As a rule, draining times can vary based on the application in which the cheese will be used.
- As noted above, this recipe yields about 3 cups of ice cream, but if you have a lot of mouths to feed, go ahead and double up. Two batches should fit just fine in a standard size ice cream maker.
- Fresh out of lemons? Try subbing in vinegar for the acid component; your results should be quite similar (apple cider, white, white wine, and red wine varieties all do the trick!).
- Lastly, if this is your first time making cheese (as it was mine), you might be surprised with how much whey you are left with in the end, but don’t let this nutrient-rich byproduct go to waste. Check out these handy ideas for how to put it to good use.