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The Cheese Course: Ricotta Mousse

Janet Fletcher - August 4th, 2014

Janet Fletcher, author of Cheese & Beer, Cheese & Wine, and The Cheese Course, and cheese columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle for more than a decade, brings her cheese expertise to FoodArts.com.

Although I don’t have a major sweet tooth, Italy’s ricotta desserts always seduce me. (Cannoli for my last meal, please.) This summer, on a trip to Sardinia, I encountered yet another sublime ricotta creation. At L’Agnata di De André, a boutique hotel in the island’s interior, the cook produced a fluffy ricotta mousse crowned with saba (aka sapa or vino cotto). This inky syrup is made with cooked-down grape must in northern Italy, but Sardinian cooks prepare it with the juice of the prickly pear, reducing it until it is dark and thick.

I was surprised when Daniela Tugula, who runs L’Agnata’s kitchen, told me she makes the mousse with cow’s milk ricotta. Sheep far outnumber cows in Sardinia, and the buttery sheep’s milk ricotta is more desirable. Even so, Danielle’s dessert was dreamy—sweetened ricotta lightened with whipped cream and lemon zest. Her recipe needed some adjustment in my kitchen because American ricotta is so different—moister and less firm. But I think my result is as compelling as hers.

Choose a top-quality fresh ricotta with no stabilizers (no gum or pectin). If you can’t find saba, consider Italian nocino (walnut liqueur) and grated bittersweet chocolate. Other possible toppings include chopped almonds, pine nuts, or pistachios; candied orange peel; or chestnut honey. For maximum lift, fold the whipped cream in just before serving. Accompany with fresh fruit—berries, figs or peaches now; pears (fresh or poached) in autumn—or a crisp cookie.

To serve four:

  • 2 cups whole cow’s milk ricotta
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • grated lemon zest (Meyer lemon is nice)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped
  • sapa (grape-must syrup, also known as sapa or vino cotto)
  • toasted almonds or toasted pine nuts

In a food processor, puree the ricotta, sugar, and lemon zest until smooth. Transfer to a bowl. In a separate bowl, whip the cream to firm peaks. Just before serving, fold the whipped cream into the ricotta base. Divide the mousse among 4 plates, compote dishes or stemmed glasses. Drizzle with saba and shower with toasted nuts.