I love baked ricotta, but not the bastardised versions blended with eggs and herbs I have seen for sale. I do not know where these originated – not in Italy and definitely not Sicily!
I like to make the authentic, baked ricotta – unadulterated, white and fresh tasting in the centre, with a golden-brown crust. I particularly like it as a first course accompanied by a tomato salad and presented as a light meal.
Purchase the solid ricotta, in Australia usually sold by weight from four kilo shapes . The creamy variety sold in plastic tubs is not suitable.
In Sicily the ricotta is drained (on a rack overnight in the fridge) and just rubbed with salt and baked slowly uncovered until it becomes a dark golden colour. Sometimes, olive oil is rubbed over the ricotta before the salt is added, but not always. I also like to add a few herbs for flavour and sometimes pepper (or red chili flakes) but this is not strictly traditional.
The photos show the different stages of ricotta: the fresh, the drained which has been rubbed with salt and is ready to be baked, and the cooked (photos sent to me by one of my readers).
ricotta, fresh and a solid piece
extra virgin olive oil, to coat the ricotta
herbs:¼-½ cup dried oregano, enough to sprinkle as a covering and on the bottom
fresh rosemary and/or bay leaves (optional) placed under the ricotta
black pepper, ¼-½ cup or dried red chili flakes, 1 teaspoon
salt (flakes or coarse), to sprinkle on top.
The following cooking time is for a piece of ricotta weighing about 1 kilo.
Pre heat your oven to 180 C.
Oil the bottom of a baking tray, place a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper, and oregano (also the bay leaves and/or rosemary if you wish to include these).
Place the lump of ricotta (or wheel) on top of the flavourings.
Oil, the ricotta lightly – use your hands to coat it.
Sprinkle with the salt (I use flakes) and oregano – use your hands to ensure that it is well seasoned.
Cover with foil and bake in a 180 C for 15 minutes .
Remove the foil and bake uncovered until the it has just begun to turn golden brown – it may take about 30 minutes or more, depending on the size.
Allow to cool before eating.
Cover with foil – this dish will keep well in the fridge for 3 days. A perfect dish to prepare well ahead of time.
In a restaurant in Syracuse I was presented with warm baked ricotta sprinkled with a coating of toasted pistachio nuts.
To make this version, rub the ricotta with olive oil and a little salt. Add the nuts in the last 20 minutes of cooking. It can also double up as a dessert if dribbled with honey.