Planet Cheese is a weekly blog devoted to everything cheese: products, people, places, news, and views. James Beard Award–winning journalist Janet Fletcher writes Planet Cheese from her home in Napa Valley. Janet is the author of Cheese & Wine, Cheese & Beer, and The Cheese Course and an occasional contributor to culture. Visit janetfletcher.com to sign up for Planet Cheese and view Janet’s current schedule of cheese appreciation classes.
If vanilla ice cream is your go-to for fruit pies, cobblers and crisps, let me introduce you to a fabulous alternative. Ricotta ice cream, a popular choice in the gelato shops of Calabria and Sicily, is going to be your new favorite. The recipe below, which I learned from a native Calabrian, makes the the most luscious—and easiest—ice cream ever.
The best ricotta I’ve ever had outside of Italy was in the home of Rosetta Costantino, a Calabrian native who asked me to help her write a book on the food of her homeland. She and her mother, Maria Dito, maintain all their Old World culinary traditions in their Northern California homes, and their ricotta is unsurpassed. You can watch Maria make it.
Rosetta goes back to Calabria frequently (she takes small groups on culinary tours), and on one of her visits she tasted a sublime ricotta gelato on the boardwalk in Diamante, a charming beach town on Calabria’s coast. The shop had flavored it with candied orange peel and Strega, an aromatic Italian liqueur made from more than 70 herbs, including saffron.
For the book, we recreated the ice cream in Rosetta’s kitchen. We used Strega, which gives the ice cream a captivating herbal undertone, but Sambuca, the anise liqueur, is easier to find and just as successful. Here, I’ve replaced the candied orange with chopped pistachios; chopped bittersweet chocolate is another add-in that Rosetta would approve.
Ricotta Ice Cream
For the silkiest results, make this ice cream with a top-quality whole-milk ricotta. The delicate cow’s milk ricotta from California’s Bellwether Farms and the hand-packed Calabro ricotta from Connecticut produce good results. Inferior ricotta will make a grainy ice cream.
Because there is no egg in this ice cream, the texture does not remain velvety for long. If possible, serve the ice cream the same day you make it, with berries or grilled peaches or as an accompaniment to a warm slice of pie or fruit crisp. Reduce the sugar in the recipe by a couple of tablespoons if you like your ice cream not too sweet.
½ cup roasted unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
2-1/2 cups top-quality whole-milk ricotta
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons Strega or Sambuca liqueur, optional
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 cup heavy cream
If the pistachios aren’t crisp, toast them in a preheated 350°F oven until they start to turn golden, 7 to 8 minutes. Cool completely. They will crisp as they cool.
In a food processor, blend the ricotta, sugar, liqueur, vanilla extract and lemon zest until completely smooth. Scrape down the sides of the work bowl and add the cream. Pulse to combine, then scrape down the sides of the bowl and pulse again until completely blended.
Transfer the mixture to an ice cream freezer and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. Just before transferring the ice cream to a freezer container, fold in the pistachios. Pack the ice cream in a freezer container and freeze until ready to serve.
Makes 1-1/2 quarts