For Maria Helm Sinskey, home-made ricotta isn’t just an essential ingredient, it’s family entertainment: She lowers the pot from the stove so her young daughters, Lexi and Ella, can watch the curds form. “It’s so cool to make, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do it,” says Helm Sinskey (an F&W Best New Chef 1996) about the simple process of simmering milk, vinegar and salt to create the fluffy, fresh cheese. It’s superrich thanks to her secret ingredient: the heavy cream that replaces some of the milk.
Helm Sinskey is passionate about teaching home cooks to prepare basics—it’s the focus of her new cookbook, Family Meals. She devotes an entire section to ricotta because it subtly enhances such a wide array of dishes, from a savory sun-dried-tomato relish spread for garlic toasts to a baked penne with tomato sauce and sausage. Although she acknowledges that it’s no longer difficult to find good-quality ricotta at the market, Sinskey still wants everyone to make it at home and has one exhortation: “Have no fear.”