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Taking ricotta to another level

Al Capone in his Somerville store’s kitchen teaching a class how to make his family’s ricotta. Al Capone in his Somerville store’s kitchen teaching a class how to make his family’s ricotta. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Ann Trieger Kurland
Globe Correspondent / December 1, 2010

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SOMERVILLE — In the kitchen of Capone Foods, owner Al Capone, thermometer in hand, tends to shallow vats simmering with milk and cream. He stirs occasionally, waiting until the liquids reach 185 degrees. A dozen people, here for Capone’s monthly cooking class, are learning the secret to his lush, pillowy ricotta. In this shop, where fresh pastas, cheeses, and prepared meals are sold, the ricotta has a following. “We sell about 250 pounds of ricotta a week,’’ says Capone.

“His ricotta brings lasagna, manicotti, and ravioli to another level,’’ says Jane Tenaglia, who came from Hull to the class.

The soft-spoken, 57-year-old Capone explains that homemade ricotta was also sold at his family’s store in Haymarket Square, which closed in 1984. “It was wonderful stuff, like cheesecake,’’ he says. About a year ago Capone began thinking about that ricotta. He decided to start making it again.

When the liquids are bubbling softly, Capone takes the temperature and it’s time to add vinegar. The acid will make the milk coagulate and separate from the whey. The remaining liquid will form soft white curds. As promised, fluffy islands are soon floating. Participants, with flat slotted spoons, carefully transfer the delicate curds to pyramid-shaped draining molds, which are whisked away to drain, chill, and solidify; it takes a few hours. Capone serves several dishes using ricotta he’s already made.

For Cambridge resident Genevieve Martel, the class is also a lesson in physics. “It’s a little bit of art and a little bit of science,’’ she says.

Ricotta-making classes taught m onthly at Capone Foods, 14 Bow St., Union Square, Somerville, 617-629-2296, www.caponefoods.com