Cheap, Sustainable, Delicious: Fresh Pea Salad With Homemade Ricotta

Nervous about making ricotta at home? It’s easy, says Ian Knauer.

pea salad
Rich, creamy ricotta offsets the crispness of garden fresh peas in this summery salad. (Photo: Ian Knauer)
Ian Knauer is a regular contributor to TakePart. He worked for ‘Gourmet’ and is the author of the IACP Award–nominated cookbook ‘The Farm.’

I’ve been growing a vegetable garden for several years now and the thing that strikes me about doing so is that the gardener (this one, at least) has very little control over nature. Nature rains when it wants, not when I need it to. Some years (like this one) it’s 90 degrees in May; other years it’s 60 degrees in May. The plants, sometimes, act accordingly.

There have been years in which my lettuce is so bountiful that I blend it into soups and eat salad for every meal of the day. Other years it bolts right out of the gate and becomes too bitter to bear. One year, my tomatoes were ripe in June; in another year they were ripe in September. It is entirely possible that I’m just a bad gardener, but it’s taught me a lesson: Go with the flow. I pick whatever happens to be ripe in the moment. I live in the garden’s world, not the other way around.

This year, contrary to expectation, my peas came in late, but when they came in—this week—they were in full force. I’ve been eating peas for every meal. I put them in omelets with goat cheese, I blend pea soup, I sauté them as a bed for salmon. But my favorite dish is a simple salad of peas, mint, lemon, olive oil, chile, and homemade ricotta.

Ricotta is easy to make, and it is one of those things that is exponentially better than the store-bought versions. Homemade ricotta is creamy and milky and soft. It goes with just about everything, especially freshly picked peas.

Fresh Pea Salad with Homemade Ricotta

Serves 4 to 6 with leftover ricotta

For the ricotta:

2 quarts whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons lemon juice

For the salad:

1 pound fresh snap peas

1/2 pound shelled English peas

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 hot chile, thinly sliced

Fresh mint leaves

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Make the ricotta: Line a large sieve with cheese cloth. Bring milk, cream, and salt to a boil, then stir in lemon juice and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer mixture, stirring constantly, until milk curdles, about 2 minutes.

Pour the ricotta into the sieve and let drain in the sink for 1 hour. Chill ricotta.

Make the salad: Remove strings from both sides of snap peas and split pods open. Cook snap peas and peas in boiling salted water until crisp tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a sieve and cool under cold running water, then pat dry.

Scatter snap peas and peas on a serving plate, then drizzle with oil and juice. Sprinkle with chile, mint, salt and pepper. Place dollops of ricotta over salad. Serve.

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