Friday, April 22, 2011

Baked Ricotta for the Resurrection

Until I moved to Philadelphia, I rarely encountered anyone who worshipped ricotta. But here, the Italian influence runs deep, and even my students – most of whom don’t venture beyond the deli case for cheese – grow dewy eyed when they mention reh-gott-uh. 

And that’s how they say it. Reh-gott-uh – you’ve got to roll the “R” and put breath into the last syllable. It should sound like a hairy Italian grandmother has taken over your body.

Ricotta isn’t hard to find, but I’ve learned that there’s a big difference between fresh ricotta and commercial brands. Your storebought versions tend to be watery and chalky – the texture reminds me of taste buds. 

At Claudio’s, in South Philadelphia, the hand-made ricotta is cloud-like, not unlike mascarpone. Last night, I tried some local goat ricotta from Shellbark Farm -- it was grainy, like fine cottage cheese -- which only made me pine for the pillowy ricotta from Keswick Creamery.

Today, I went to the Italian Market on a singular mission. To find the right cheese for a resurrection dinner party. I wanted a cheese that had died and come back to life. A cheese that had undergone death and rebirth.

Baked ricotta. Naturally.

This is a new discovery for me. I am a washed-rind lover and an Alpine fiend – the mild cheeses have yet to woo me. But baked ricotta is another story. It’s toasty, like a slightly charred marshmallow. And the texture is damp and dense, with a fine skin of sweetly burnt crust.

I don’t know what makes baked ricotta rise. But it does. Then it slumps. I bought this wedge from the amazingly mustachioed Adam Balkovic at Di Bruno Bros. (he is famous for his Man Loaf), but I have read about baked ricotta. There are many recipes for those of you who like damp heat and burnt sugar.

As for me, I plan to serve my baked ricotta slightly warmed, with honey, berries, and few blanched almonds. If you don’t hear from me again, you’ll know that I’m hanging out with bosomy Italian ladies, whispering reh-gotta-uh in order to enter the gates of heaven.

To read more about baked ricotta:


  1. We asked what would make for a good Easter cheese at the Ardmore branch of Di Bruno Brothers. They praised us Pecorino Di Fossa, just on the grounds that its only available this time of year, but it was the description that sold me. "The weeks-old cheeses, still in their infancy and wrapped in protective cloth sacks" are buried in naturally occurring holes in the ground for a year to age. Burning straw is also involved.

  2. Yes! Pecorino Di Fossa is incredible. I used it on a monastic cheese plate over winter because, legend has it, the cheese is unearthed on the Feast Day of Saint Catherine. This cheese is so good I like to cut it into cubes and suck on it while I am cooking. Thanks for the comment, Ted.

  3. Mmm, my dad's wife makes this great ricotta pie thing for easter. It's going some chocolate chips in it and it's light, but rich. Italian family of course. Oh man. It's happiness.

  4. have you had the ricotta from Mancuso's on the Ave? i haven't, but it's on 'the list'