Ricotta cheese crossed my mind last week while working on a recipe development project with a focus is on dairy-free cooking. I wondered—could it be possible to create a dairy-free version that delivers the same delight as my tried and true, cow's milk recipe? The answer surprised even me, a tough critic when it comes to fresh ricotta cheese (see my recipe on this site!). I went into the test kitchen very skeptical, a non-believer, and came out a devotee.
Many recipes call for garlic and nutritional yeast to enhance the flavor (i.e. add a cheesy quality to it). I wanted to start with a more pure base, and after tasting this, I can't imagine needing either ingredient. In case you’re curious why I call for filtered water here, it’s because I notice the tap water at my apartment in Bethesda, MD has a very chlorinated scent to it. I find that very off-putting, and use a kishu charcoal filter for our drinking water. If I were still in NYC, I’d use regular tap water with no worries about the taste.
Before you ask, I have no idea how this will hold up to cooking into a recipe (i.e. baked ziti, pizza, lasagna). I have a good feeling about it though, and will let you all know if, or when, I give it a try. Please let me know in the comments if you do, too. —Jennifer Perillo
Add the cashews to a bowl, and cover with enough water to rise 1-inch above the cashews. Let them soak for at least 4 hours, or overnight (I found 6 hours to be just right, which also tells you something about how much sleep I actually get daily).
Drain the cashews, discarding the water. Add the nuts, filtered water, lemon juice, oil, and salt to a food processor. Pulse until smooth and creamy, but not fully pureed (you want some texture to mimick the tiny curds in fresh ricotta). Taste, and season with more salt and the agave, if you like.
The cheese is ready to eat immediately. Otherwise store it in a covered, glass container in the fridge for up to three days.
(I prefer glass over plastic, as it doesn't impart any flavor.)
Jennifer Perillo is the Consulting Food Editor at Working Mother magazine, and a regular a contributor to Relish Magazine and FoodNetwork.com. She shares stories about food, family and life at her blog In Jennie's Kitchen and in her debut cookbook, Homemade with Love: Simple Scratch Cooking from In Jennie's Kitchen (Running Press 2013).