I’ve noticed in conversation that when I say “I made ricotta”, people think it’s a lot more complicated than making paneer. Here’s the deal. Paneer is made by boiling milk and breaking it with some kind of acid (yogurt/lemon juice/vinegar). The resulting curds are then drained and what you’re left with is paneer.

Ricotta is a by-product of cheese-making. So actually not even considered a cheese. Technically of course. The whey that’s left behind from making other cheeses is reheated again to form what is essentially ricotta.

When it comes to store-bought, paneer is paneer and ricotta is ricotta. But in a home setting and in common parlance, people use the terms paneer and ricotta interchangeably. You make cheese this way and by way of convenience and familiarity, you’d either call it ricotta or paneer. I do too – I’ll call it paneer when I make some to use in an Indian gravy. And in a pancake batter? Ricotta. Because calling it ‘palak ricotta’ would be a bit weird. (Since I’ve already stretched this explanation like a hot ball of mozzarella, I’ll save the explanation for homemade cream cheese for another time. That’s a slippery slope.)

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, you can totally use store-bought paneer or ricotta in this recipe. There’s no Parmesan here and paneer is the only cheese component in this dish. I am constantly on the lookout to sub out the more expensive variants for local options and this is such a great recipe in this regard.

Same goes for the tomato sauce – use whatever tomato/marinara sauce you have on hand (made or bought). I always make a quadruple batch of sauce and stash some away in the fridge and freezer exactly for meals like these.

SUN-DRIED TOMATO & FRESH PANEER PASTA

Servings: 2 people

Ingredients

  • 250 grams pasta of choice
  • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 3 teaspoons chilli flakes, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • ¼ cup Italian basil, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt, to taste

Paneer:

  • 1 litre full fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon/lime juice
  • Salt, to taste

Tomato sauce:

  • 6 large tomatoes
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt, to taste

Instructions

  • Cook the pasta as per packet instructions. Save ½ cup of this starchy water* and drain. Set aside.
  • Tomato sauce: Blend the tomatoes, skins and all, to a smooth purée. Heat olive oil in a pot and brown the onions and garlic.
  • Tip in the tomato purée. Add salt. Cover and cook until the sauce thickens and reduces, about 10-15 mins. Stir occasionally.
  • Paneer: Boil the milk, then take off the heat. Add lemon juice and stir gently for 15 seconds. Let sit for 5 mins.
  • Drain the paneer in a sieve. Wash the paneer under running water.
  • Add the paneer and salt to taste to a blender jar. Blend to a smooth paste. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Heat olive oil in a pot. Add the garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. Once the garlic starts to colour slightly, add the tomato sauce.
  • Season with oregano, chilli flakes and salt. Stir in the basil leaves.
  • Stir in the cooked pasta. Add the starchy pasta water* we set aside to loosen the sauce if it appears too dry.
  • Add the blended paneer and stir. I like to marble the paneer into the pasta and not stir it through completely. Serve with more basil on top.

Notes

- For store-bought paneer, use 150 grams. Add a little water whilst blending to loosen.
- Use any tomato/marinara sauce you have on hand.
- The sun-dried tomatoes I use are the ones that come packed in oil.

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