- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2006

From-scratch cooking is as much yearned for as it is practiced. If you’re like most people, you’re so stretched that meal preparation is stripped to the bare essentials: rip open a few packages, add seasonings and serve.

In a typical household, the designated cook prepares a little more than half the entrees her family eats, according to recent statistics from the NPD Group, a market research company in Port Washington, N.Y.

The rest of the meals are a toss-up. Depending on the family’s schedule, packaged foods, carryout or other sources provide the sustenance.

My cooking habits aren’t much different.

So, when I have the luxury of an hour or so on Sunday morning, I want to indulge my culinary urges. Recently, a recipe for homemade ricotta cheese caught my attention.

Yes, homemade ricotta cheese.

For someone who complains about having no time, making cheese from scratch seems like quite a leap. But as I learned from Roy Finamore’s new cookbook “Tasty: Get Great Food on the Table Every Day” (Houghton Mifflin), ricotta making goes quickly.

Following this adaptation of Mr. Finamore’s recipe will reward you with an incredibly rich, creamy product that’s only available from your kitchen.

Combine the ricotta with a bowl of blueberries or raspberries for an almost instant breakfast, if you must. For a leisurely brunch, fold the ricotta into a blueberry pancake batter.

Blueberry pancakes with homemade ricotta cheese

Ricotta cheese (follows)

&frac1;/2; cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

&frac1;/2; cup milk

1 egg, beaten

1 cup blueberries, divided

Vegetable oil

Maple syrup (optional)

Start ricotta cheese recipe at least 30 minutes before making pancakes.

When ready to make pancakes, combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Stir well. In a small bowl, whisk together milk, egg and 1/4 cup ricotta cheese. Pour over flour mixture and stir briefly to mix. Do not beat. Stir in ½ cup blueberries.

Lightly grease a griddle (or very large skillet) with oil and heat over medium heat. Drop in pancake batter to form 6 pancakes. Cook pancakes until bubbles form on top and edges turn golden, about 2 minutes. Flip over and cook second sides about 2 minutes or until golden.

Remove pancakes and divide between 2 serving plates. Top each stack with 1/4 cup blueberries and 2 tablespoons ricotta cheese. Serve with maple syrup, if desired. Makes 2 servings.

RICOTTA CHEESE

1 quart whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Combine milk and cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.

Bring to a simmer so bubbles form around the edge of the pan and steam starts to rise. Stir in salt. Stir in vinegar and immediately remove from heat. Set aside for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The mixture will separate.

Fold a large sheet of cheesecloth. Cut a 12-inch piece of double-thickness cheesecloth. Dampen slightly. Place the cheesecloth in a wire mesh sieve. Place sieve over a bowl, being sure the bottom of the sieve is at least two inches from the bottom of the bowl.

Slowly pour the milk mixture into the sieve. Set aside for 15 minutes. Check to make sure the sieve isn’t sitting in the liquid that drains out.

When draining is complete, spoon soft ricotta cheese out of cheesecloth into a clean bowl.

You can serve this immediately. However, I prefer to cover and chill the cheese for at least an hour so the consistency becomes firmer. Pour off any accumulated liquid.

You will have more ricotta than you need for the pancakes. Keep the leftover cheese covered and refrigerated. Serve within 5 days. Cheese firms up as it sits. Makes about 11/4 to 1½ cups.

Bev Bennett is the author of “30-Minute Meals for Dummies” (John Wiley & Sons).

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