Ricotta desserts are an acquired taste. I got used to it from my days on the South Beach Diet. My boys weren't really into this, probably because of the texture. Although I blended the ricotta in a food processor for 5 minutes, there was still a slight grainy feel. I thought this dessert was divine, not cloyingly sweet and just perfect for a warm evening.
Ricotta is not technically a "cheese" because it is made from the sloppy seconds of another firm cheese such as mozzarella or provolone. The whey from that cheese is drained off and is used to make ricotta. In Italy, they still use ricotta made from sheep's milk which produces and nuttier and dryer product. In America, it is mostly made from cow's milk whey and is moister and more neutral in taste.
Caramel Ricotta Pudding (Budino di Ricotta)
Adapted from "A Fresh Taste of Italy," by Michele Scicolone (Broadway Books, 1997).
1 cup + 3 tablespoons sugar
15 or 16-ounce container whole-milk ricotta
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
zest of one lemon
Instructions: Preheat the oven to 325°.
In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of the sugar and 1/4 cup water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. When the mixture begins to boil, stop stirring and cook until the syrup starts to brown around the edges. Then gently swirl the pan over the heat until the syrup is an even golden brown. Protecting your hand with an oven mitt, immediately pour the caramel into six 6- to 8-ounce custard cups, swirling the cups to coat the bottom evenly. Let cool briefly.
In a food processor or blender, or using an electric mixer, beat the ricotta until very smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, milk, vanilla, zest and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and blend again. Divide the mixture evenly among the caramel-lined cups. Place the cups in a roasting pan or baking dish and add enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the cups.
Bake until the tops are set but the centers are still soft and jiggly when you tap the cups, 50 to 55 minutes. Transfer the cups to a rack to cool. Cover the cups with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
To serve, run a small knife around each pudding and invert onto a serving plate.
I used a raspberry sauce for a little extra oomph. Bring raspberries and a little sugar to a boil, then smash up with a fork. Put the sauce through a fine mesh strainer to get rid of the seeds.