Ricotta and mozzarella are staples not in the Italian pantry but in the Italian refrigerator! But they are essential items, so I had to acknowledge them. These days, it is very hard to find quality ricotta and mozzarella. What you find in the average grocery store just doesn’t cut it. Ricotta should be thicker and creamy. It should be made from whole milk and not have gums. Mozzarella should be made from whole milk too. Ricotta that is done the old-fashioned way comes in these tins, like the one pictured below. If you can’t get it from an Italian grocer, then I would opt for one that doesn’t have gums.
What is it used for? What isn’t it used for? The obvious answer is lasagna, maybe. Ricotta is also served with pasta like fusilli or rigatoni. We also use ricotta in the stuffing for ravioli, manicotti and stuffed shells. We use it as part of the filling for calzones or in the Neapolitan savory pie, pizza chiena. It is also used in desserts like in the cannoli filling, in the filling for St. Joseph’s Day sfinci/sfinge, in the Neapolitan pastiera, or in ricotta cheesecake. Mozzarella is also used to make baked macaroni like ziti or lasagna. It’s an ingredient in the pizza chiena. Sometimes we eat mozzarella fresh with some tomato and basil. Or have it in the summer tomato salad. Or just eat it on its own, or as part of an antipasto platter.
–Dina Di Maio