OPINION | FRONT BURNER: Baked Ricotta cheesy appetizer or first course

Baked Ricotta with blistered red peppers (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Baked Ricotta with blistered red peppers (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

This easy recipe makes a nice appetizer or first course. Fresh ricotta cheese is flavored with fresh herbs and garlic and then baked until firm. I liked it best warm from the oven, but it works at room temperature as well.

Be sure to use the best quality ricotta you can as it is the star of this dish. I've used savory ingredients here — thyme, oregano, garlic, red pepper, olive oil — but it could swing sweet, if you want. Just omit the garlic and oregano, add some lemon zest along with the thyme or rosemary and top the cheese with a drizzle of honey rather than olive oil.

Baked Ricotta

  • Olive oil
  • 1 (15-ounce) container ricotta (whole or skim milk)
  • Several sprigs fresh herbs such as thyme, oregano and/or rosemary
  • 1 to 2 small cloves garlic, minced OR 2 teaspoons garlic paste
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  • Blistered peppers, for serving (see note)
  • Crackers, bread sticks or crostini, for serving

Heat oven or toaster oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a small shallow baking dish or a small oven-safe skillet.

Pour off any liquid that may have risen to the surface of the ricotta. Transfer it to a small bowl.

Strip 1 to 2 teaspoons of leaves from the herb stems and combine them with the cheese; add the garlic and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread mixture evenly in the prepared dish. Drizzle the surface with more olive oil, arrange the remaining herb sprigs over the surface and sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Bake, uncovered, until the top is golden and the sides start to pull away from the dish, 30 to 45 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes and then cut the ricotta into small wedges and serve with peppers and bread.

Makes 4 to 6 appetizer servings.

Note: I used mini seedless red peppers, but use any kind you like. Shishitos would be good, if you like surprise heat. To blister them, I put the peppers on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzled them with a little olive olive and then cooked them alongside the cheese, turning them once or twice.

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