Your holiday leftovers can include Tupperware filled with mashed potatoes or yams, deconstructed turkey and a baffling amount of stuffing — all of which can go into soups or sandwiches or even cassoulets. But what about the more basic components, the pounds of butter, the fresh herbs and milk and cream? You can freeze the butter for Christmas cookies (coming sooner than you think), and throw the herbs into that soup, but what about the fresh dairy? Two words: Make ricotta.
Making ricotta takes about the same amount of time that making a good pot of coffee does, and all you need is whole milk and cream or buttermilk (i.e. holiday leftovers), a little vinegar and some salt. Simply boil the dairy, add the salt and vinegar, and strain through a cheesecloth. Ta-da.
Fresh ricotta is amazing stuff, milder and with a creamier texture than what you usually get in stores, and it's a simple way to add flavor to many dishes, both sweet and savory. Eat it warm with nuts and honey, spoon it over spaghetti and tomato sauce, or, if you're a little more ambitious, add it to whole wheat crepe batter and fill those crepes with sauteed greens.
Food editor Russ Parsons likes to make his ricotta with milk and buttermilk (here's his recipe). Nancy Silverton makes hers much the same way, although she uses cream instead of buttermilk and lemon juice instead of white vinegar (here's her recipe). I've always made mine with whole milk and cream, kosher salt and cider vinegar. As you can probably tell, the recipe is kind of a moving target. But that's one of the reasons it's such a great thing to make, as you can adjust it to what you have around, and use up whatever leftover dairy's in your refrigerator.
Once you strain the cheese (if you have a cat, give her the residual milky liquid), you can use the ricotta immediately. Make a simple breakfast — or not quite so simple, if you have time to make a batch of crepes, as there's very little in the world as good as a hot crepe with homemade ricotta and buckwheat honey. Or you can spoon the stuff into a Mason jar and let it chill (it will set up some, so don't worry if the ricotta is pretty loose at first) until dinner.