Lidia Bastianich Shares Surprising Ways To Use Ricotta Cheese - Exclusive

Ricotta — that creamy, rich, soft, and sweet Italian gift to the world —  isn't just for tiramisu, cheesecake, and cannoli fillings. Meet a cheese that refuses to be typecast into a particular recipe or even section of the cookbook. Just ask Lidia Bastianich, who has been cooking with ricotta since she was a child, growing up in Pola, a small Italian city that would become Pula, Croatia, in the wake of World War II (via Britannica). According to Bastianich, her grandmother used to make ricotta cheese "almost every day." 

"We had goats, you [Americans] have cows," Bastianich explained to Mashed in an exclusive interview. "Every, if you will, pastoral or farm culture has a milk-yielding animal to feed the family. And there's always milk leftover. And yes, you can make cheese, but that takes months. The easiest, the fastest [thing], is to make ricotta." It's true. At least according to Food Network, you can make ricotta in exactly two hours and 10 minutes, and with the help of whole milk, heavy cream, lemon juice, and distilled vinegar. No need to DIY. But you will want to stock up on the soft, supermarket-available cheese after hearing how Bastianich uses it. 

How to use ricotta, according to Lidia Bastianich

Think of ricotta as the method actor of cheeses. There is almost no recipe that it won't enliven and otherwise enrich. "Ricotta was one of those proteins that a lot of people had, and they found ways to use it," Bastianich explained. "Ricotta fits everywhere ... it has different capabilities." Bastianich, for example, uses the cheese in her meatloaf recipe (via her website), an addition that she said ensures that the dish won't end up "heavy and dense." As the enchantress of Italian cooking told Mashed, "This cheese can be [used] anywhere, from eating [it] raw with some honey and fruit, to whipping it up into a cream to make it the stuffing for a dessert, to making cookies with it." When you bake it, it makes a great cheesecake or a great stuffing. The way that ricotta "solidifies" when it bakes, but retains moisture, makes it perfect for using it when cooking meats, according to Bastianich. In fact, the only dish that Bastianich professes not to use ricotta cheese with is fish. 

But perhaps the most surprising thing that Bastianich uses ricotta cheese for is soup. "During the springtime when the baby goats were born or whatever, we get a lot of milk," Bastianich remembered. "And grandma made a soup of wild herbs — nettles, and leaks and all that — and then she used the whey of the ricotta, where she drained the ricotta as a base for the soup ... those little pieces of ricotta that would float in the soup, it was delicious. And I still make it." 

If you prefer sweeter uses for ricotta, Bastianich also uses the cheese for baking cookies, which you'll find in her new cookbook, "Lidia's a Pot a Pan and a Bowl." For more, and non-ricotta-related recipe inspiration, follow Bastianich on Instagram