When entertaining,  I pay equal attention to the appetizers and the main course because appetizers are the first  “welcome” to the guests. That first impression that leaves its mark.  It’s nice to have a few options that are simple to prepare, and this one fits the bill quite well.  Ever since I saw Celia’s post about it, I wanted to try it.  Baked ricotta!  You can adapt it to your own taste, adding different herbs and spices.  The most important step is draining the ricotta before baking, so that it doesn’t go all watery in the oven.

(from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial)

1 container of full-fat ricotta cheese (8 – 10 oz)
salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
dried herbs of  your choice

Drain the ricotta for a few hours in the fridge in a colander lined with  cheesecloth. Meanwhile, infuse the olive oil with lemon zest, by heating it gently in a small pan over very low heat. When the oil starts to form small bubbles on the edges, turn the heat off and close the pan.  After 30 minutes pass the oil through a sieve to remove the zest.

Transfer the drained ricotta to a small bowl, season it lightly with salt and pepper.  Spread it on an oven-proof dish, drizzle a little of the infused oil on top (you won’t need the full amount!), sprinkle with dried herbs and bake in a 350 F for 30 minutes, until set. Serve warm or cold with your favorite cracker or toast.


to print the recipe, click here

If I had to pick one item that we always serve when entertaining it would be hummus.  We love it and never get tired of it.  I suspect that baked ricotta will be present next to it from now on.  A very nice combination, they look good together and their flavors don’t clash, quite the contrary.

Celia, thanks for constantly inspiring me!

ONE YEAR AGO: Sour Cream Sandwich Bread

TWO YEARS AGO: Pasta with Zucchini Strands and Shrimp

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I first made this torte in 2001, for a large cocktail party to celebrate  my beloved’s Birthday.  We’d  never hosted quite so many people  (perhaps 60),   and this layered appetizer was one of the highlights of that memorable night.   The recipe came  from  Chiqui, a caterer from New Orleans, whom I “net-met” many years ago.    I hope you’ll consider it for your next dinner party, or for a potluck.  I recently made it again for another birthday party, so I might have to start calling it “Birthday Torte”.   😉

(adapted from Chiqui)

1/2 cup slivered pine nuts, toasted (I substituted slivered almonds)
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil
1/2  garlic head, roasted
8 ounces feta cheese
1/2 stick unsalted butter
8 ounces cream cheese
1 tsp white pepper, ground
2 Tbs vermouth
1/2 cup arugula pesto (or regular basil pesto, preferably homemade)

Prepare the ingredients for all layers:  toast the nuts in a dry skillet or in the oven, being careful not to burn them.  Coarsely chop the sun-dried tomatoes, drain of most of their oil, and mix them with 1/2  of the roasted garlic.  Mix the feta cheese at room temperature with the butter, cream cheese, pepper, vermouth, and the remaining roasted garlic.  Add to the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth and fluffy.  Adjust seasoning if necessary. If using commercial pesto, drain it to reduce the amount of oil.  If using homemade, make it with less oil than the recipe calls for.

Line the mold of your choice with plastic wrap, leaving 6 inches overhang on all sides.
First layer:   toasted nuts.
Second layer: Sun-dried tomato mixture.
Third layer: Half the cheese mixture. Spread it gently over the tomatoes.
Fourth layer:  Pesto sauce.
Fifth and final layer: Remaining cheese mixture.   Spoon gently, and smooth the surface well.

Cover it with the plastic wrap, and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours, overnight is best.  Unwrap it, invert the torte on a serving dish.  Serve with crackers of your choice.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: You can make this layered torte in any kind of container.  Sometimes I prepare it in mini-loaf pans:  the full recipe is enough for two completely full mini-loaves, or three smaller (shorter) ones.   For a Valentine’s dinner, a heart-shaped container sounds interesting, but keep in mind that the dish is rich, so the full recipe is way too much for two people.

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