Carnevale Cometh: Ricotta and Fritters, Oh My!

Ricotta Fritters
Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

Fritters and Carnevale, lumped together like ham and eggs, mashed potatoes and gravy, risi e bisi, rice and beans.

Ricotta fritters, to be exact.

True, most people associate ricotta fritters more with St. Joseph’s Day, March 19 in Italy. But those fritters lean toward the filled variety, sweetened, creamy ricotta delivering a tantalizing surprise with every bite.

No, these particular fritters include ricotta in the batter and puff up like popcorn, spitting and swirling in the oil like little balloons slowly losing air.

First, the homemade ricotta, utterly necessary for the recipe.

Ricotta’s not really a cheese, but rather a whey product with ancient origins made from byproducts of cheesemaking, especially sheep’s milk pecorino. Etymologically, the name comes from Latin recoctus, signifying re-cooked whey. Several types of ricotta exist: Ricotta salata (like feta), ricotta infornata (baked), Ricotta affumicata (smoked), and Ricotta romana, a creamy type.

A food with a past, in other words:

The first depiction of the making of ricotta is an illustration in the medical treatise known as the Tacuinum sanitatis (medieval health handbook), the Latin translation of the Arab physician Ibn Butlan’s eleventh century Taqwim al-sihha. (Wright, A Mediterranean Feast, p. 467)

From the Tacuinum of Paris
From the Tacuinum of Paris

Making one’s own ricotta takes some verve, nerve, reserve, yes.

AND the right equipment.

Rennet
Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

A little rennet, ricotta moulds, an instant read thermometer, plenty of uninterrupted time, and a decent recipe, just for a guideline. After all, nonna might not be around to tell you what to do or not do, how to keep the cooking time under control by saying X numbers of Hail Marys or Our Fathers.

Ricotta Drainer
Ricotta Mould (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

Once you make this, even if you have to use supermarket milk, you won’t believe the difference in the taste from supermarket ricotta.

The recipe from Saveur Magazine works well.  A few caveats: 1. Be sure to watch the temperature carefully when cooling down the milk. 2. Do not stir the curds after making the X — and let the milk sit about 10 more minutes for the curd to form well. 3. Try to avoid using ultra-pasteurized milk — probably impossible, but worth a try. 4. Be prepared for draining to last longer than the recipe says, even after you refrigerate the ricotta. 5. The rennet called for is animal-based.

Homemade Ricotta
Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

Rennet added to heated milk, curds forming.

Homemade Ricotta
Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

Draining the Ricotta.

Homemade Ricotta
Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

The Finished Product.

Here’s a version of Ricotta Fritters, adapted from Cliff Wright’s recipe in Little Foods of the Mediterranean, followed by eye candy:

1 cup fresh, homemade ricotta cheese

¾ cup all-purpose unbleached flour

½ t. salt

1 large egg

1 T. dry Marsala wine or rum

6 cups olive oil, olive pomace oil, or canola oil for deep-frying

In a medium size bowl, mix all the ingredients (EXCEPT THE OIL) well with a whisk. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or foil and chill in the refrigerator for a half-hour.

Preheat the oil in a Fry Daddy or other deep-fryer. You may use an 8-inch saucepan fitted with a basket insert to 375 degrees F, too. Deep-fry 4 -5 small spoonfuls of the dough, about the size of unshelled walnuts. Do not crowd the fryer. Cook until fritters turn dark golden brown and bob around spitting out air, about 5-8 minutes, turning if necessary. The fritters will split slitting, like a grape being peeled. They must cook a few minutes longer so that they do not taste damp and wet on the inside. Drain on a baking sheet covered with several layers of paper towels. Cool the oil cool, strain it, and save for another use.

Although Wright says these can be served with drinks, I rolled some of them in a sugar/cinnamon mixture and they tasted like doughnuts.

Ricotta Fritters
Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

Fritter batter/dough.

Ricotta Fritters
Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

Spoonful of Batter.

Ricotta Fritters
Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

Frying the fritters.

Ricotta Fritters
Photo credt: C. Bertelsen

The Final Product.

Ricotta likely originated in Sicily. But, you know, the making of ricotta sounds a bit like the making of yogurt and other similar milk products. In Morocco, women inflated goatskins and made butter or leben (a type of thick yogurt) by batting the bloated skins back and forth. I see the beginnings of ricotta this way: milk poured into the stomach(s) of a calf, tied off, and left to ferment. An accident? Who knows?

For more information on soured and coagulated milk products:

The Technology of Traditional Milk Products in Developing Countries (FAO)

© 2009 C. Bertelsen

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