Baked Ricotta for Shavuot


Photo by jamesonf.

— by Ronit Treatman

Shavuot, the celebration of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, is a cheese lover’s dream.

Why cheese? The laws of kashrut did not exist before the Torah, so all of the cooking utensils were impure. Jews had to learn how to perform a kosher ritual slaughter before they could consume kosher meat. Therefore, it was easier to make dairy meals.  

The Ancient Greeks are credited with inventing the first cheesecake. It was as basic as possible: just baked white cheese.

A perfect cheese for baking is ricotta: an Italian cheese made from the liquid that remains after milk has been curdled, called whey. Ricotta means “recooked” in Italian.

Recipe after the jump.
The whey for ricotta traditionally comes from the milk of a sheep, goat, cow or Italian water buffalo. An easy and versatile way to entertain your guests during Shavuot is to start with ricotta al forno, “baked ricotta,” as a neutral canvas.

Baked Ricotta

This is the most elementary cheesecake. You may serve it as a sweet or savory dish by spooning the appropriate topping over it. The savory toppings should be presented with warm, fresh, crusty bread on the side.  

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Pour the ricotta into an ovenproof casserole dish coated with vegetable oil. Spread the cheese evenly in the dish.
  3. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

Savory Topping Ideas:

  • Roasted red and green peppers, minced cilantro, and minced garlic tossed with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and black pepper.
  • Caramelized onions and sage.
  • Zest from one lemon, fresh thyme, salt, black pepper.
  • Roasted tomatoes tossed with fresh basil leaves, minced garlic, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and black pepper.
  • Roasted asparagus tossed with extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic, salt, and black pepper.
  • Artichoke hearts sautéed in olive oil, minced garlic, salt, and black pepper.
  • Green olives, tomatoes, and minced garlic sautéed in olive oil with white wine, salt, and black pepper.

Sweet Topping Ideas:

  • Wildflower honey.
  • Fresh strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries.
  • One pound of peaches poached in 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, and 1/4 cup of bourbon.
  • Melted semi-sweet chocolate chips.
  • Two sliced bananas sautéed in one teaspoon of butter, 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, a sprinkling of ground cinnamon, and 1/4 cup of rum.
  • Two tablespoons of orange blossom water, 1 teaspoon of sugar, a few strands of saffron, 1 cardamom pod, and a handful of pistachio nuts heated together.  
  • Fresh cherries (1 cup) simmered in 2 tablespoons water, 1/3 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, a few drops of almond extract, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.