I’m all about taking water out of ingredients. Zucchini, eggplant, cabbage, tomatoes, tofu, even bread for French toast. Water doesn’t contribute flavor, so if it isn’t improving texture, I have no use for it.
In this recipe, ricotta is drained in cheesecloth for several hours, then baked. What I thought would happen is the cheese would lose a small but significant portion of water during the draining stage, and then it would brown a little in the oven.
I was wrong. My ricotta actually gave off no liquid during straining, and I’m thinking now that the baking isn’t so much to brown the ricotta as to concentrate flavor by evaporating even more liquid.
The sauce to accompany the baked ricotta is a simple tomato sauce that is sweetened with balsamic vinegar. I used fresh pasta, which when topped with the sauce, ricotta, a handful a parmesan and a sprinkling of basil, made for a great adaptation of a classic pasta and tomato sauce dish.
I used one pound of (store-bought) fresh pasta instead of dried pasta, and it was so good that I think I’ll stick with fresh pasta for this recipe in the future as well.
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano, divided
2 large shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice
3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 pound wide pasta, such as pappardelle or fettucine
a handful of fresh basil, torn
½ cup (1 ounce) freshly grated parmesan
1. Line a fine-mesh strainer with several layers of cheesecloth. Spoon the ricotta into the strainer and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
2. Adjust a rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Spread the ricotta onto the baking sheet in a 1-inch layer. Season the ricotta with ¼ teaspoon dried oregano and a generous pinch of both salt and pepper. Rub 1 teaspoon of the olive oil over the seasoned ricotta. Bake for 15 minutes, until dry and slightly browned at the edges.
3. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in an 8 to 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the edges just start to brown, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ¼ teaspoon oregano, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt; bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Use a spoon to crush the tomatoes, of, if you’d like a smooth sauce, transfer the mixture to a blender or use an immersion blender to puree the sauce. Stir the balsamic vinegar into the sauce.
4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the cooking water.
5. Combine the pasta and sauce, thinning the mixture with pasta cooking water if necessary. Fold in the basil and ricotta and top with the parmesan.