Sunday, February 08, 2009
Using Up Leftovers
Sometimes I open the fridge and find myself confronted by something I bought that I need to use up. This time it was ricotta cheese. I had bought it on sale and made lasagna with some of it, but there was still a fair amount left. What to do with it?
I thought of manicotti, but I had had my fill of Italian food for the moment just finishing the lasagna before it went bad. So I got on the Internet and started searching. (Some view the Internet as a bottomless well of news and politics; some see it as a warehouse for dirty pictures. For me it's the world's biggest cookbook.) Most of the recipes I found were for muffins. I picked the simplest recipe I could find, one that would not involve me having to purchase more ingredients just to use up the ricotta. It turned out to be Lemon Ricotta Muffins, and I liked them so much that I made them a second time and decided to post the recipe (with a minor alteration).
The single most important thing about baking with ricotta, I have found, is to make sure your baking powder is fresh. The first time I made these they came out a little... dense. Actually they were plutonium-level dense, but they still tasted good. I knew I had had my baking powder for a while, so I checked the can and found that the expiration date on it was 1997. I now have a nice new can of baking powder, and the second batch of muffins came out as advertised. I also added a tablespoon of lemon juice to the batter, which was not in the original recipe. This both boosts the lemon flavor and adds some oomph to the leavening.
So here is the recipe as I make it. Yields one dozen muffins.
2 cups flour, sifted
1/2 cup + 2 T. sugar
2 1/2 t. baking powder (FRESH!)
1/2 t. salt
1 cup ricotta cheese (You can use skim or whole-fat ricotta here, it doesn't matter)
1/3 cup milk
6 T. melted and cooled butter
3 t. lemon peel, zested
1 T. lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease a muffin pan (or use liners).
In a large bowl stir together the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder and salt. You are going to mix the batter in here, so make sure it is a large bowl. In a smaller bowl stir together the ricotta, milk, butter, eggs, lemon peel and lemon juice; when well combined pour this into the flour mixture and beat only until just combined. Do not overbeat; batter should be a little lumpy. Spoon into the prepared pan and sprinkle each muffin with 1/2 teaspoon of sugar (that's the additional two tablespoons mentioned above). Bake 20 to 22 minutes.
These are really good and don't take that long to make. You can save time by mixing the dry ingredients together the night before. Zesting the lemon peel is made much faster if you have a Microplane grater; if you don't have one, get one. It is a marvelous invention.