Years ago, the best cheese shops used to sell a baked ricotta imported from Italy. It had a pale, firm, sliceable interior and a dark, crusty skin. I haven’t seen baked ricotta in years, and even back then, it appeared so sporadically and unpredictably that I eventually decided to recreate it myself. Apart from draining the ricotta, which takes a few hours, it’s a five-minute recipe.
Baked ricotta can be sliced like a pie and served warm for lunch with a little salad of baby lettuces or arugula. It has just enough egg to bind it so don’t expect it to puff like a soufflé. I add grated Parmigiano Reggiano for flavor, and you could fold in some sliced chives, garlic chives or a scraping of nutmeg. With a few olives and some thinly sliced salumi, it makes an unusual antipasto. It tastes much better warm than cold, and reheating would ruin it, so time your baking accordingly.
I have two favorite ricottas, and if I’m lucky enough to find both, I buy whichever is fresher. One is the hand-packed Calabro from Connecticut— the version that’s gently scooped into tall tins with drainage holes and mounded on top like an ice cream cone. The texture is fluffier and more delicate than the machine-packed Calabro in lidded plastic tubs. I’ll buy the machine-packed type for baking—I’m going to press it further anyway—and save the hand-packed cheese for other uses. In southern Italy, a few rural cheesemakers still drain their ricotta in reed baskets (pictured below); alas, the practice is illegal as authorities consider the method unsanitary.
I also admire the Bellwether whole-milk ricotta from Sonoma County. Bellwether uses a culture to coagulate the milk, so the ricotta has a subtle sour-cream taste; most others use vinegar or citric acid because it’s faster. For this recipe, avoid the national supermarket brands. Many are dense, pasty and grainy and won’t produce a result you’ll enjoy.
Adapted from The Cheese Course by Janet Fletcher (Chronicle Books).
- 2 pounds or two 15-ounce containers whole-milk ricotta
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs, beaten
Line a large sieve or colander with a double thickness of cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Put the ricotta in the lined sieve, cover with cheesecloth, and set a plate with a weight (such a heavy can of tomatoes) on top of the ricotta to speed draining. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375°F and position a rack in the upper third of the oven. Butter a 10-inch pie pan. In a large bowl, stir together the ricotta and Parmigiano Reggiano. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the eggs, mixing well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan, spreading it evenly. Bake until puffed and lightly brown, 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool until warm, about 30 minutes, then cut into wedges to serve.