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.

Savory Treats in the Samaritan Sukkah


A Samaritan sukkah. Photo: Ben Sedaka

— by Ronit Treatman

In Exodus (23:16), we are commanded to keep the harvest festival.  The harvest festival referred to is sukkot.  To this day, many of us build temporary booths outside, decorate them, and eat or even sleep in them. There also exists an ancient Samaritan tradition of building indoor sukkot. The Samaritans serve their guests unique treats, that hearken back to ancient Israel, during the time before the Babylonian captivity.

Samaritans believe that they are the descendants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.  They believe that are the offspring of the Jews who remained in Israel during the Babylonian Exile (597 BCE).  When the Judean exiles returned to Jerusalem from Babylonia (538 BCE), they rejected the Samaritans, out of concern that their practices and beliefs had diverged during the decades of separation.  The Samaritans built their temple on Mount Gerizim.  They have a Samaritan Torah, and do not accept the Talmud, Mishnah, and Gemara.  The Samaritans call themselves “Bnei Israel,” “the children of Israel.” According to the Talmud (tractate Kutim) Samaritans are to be treated as Jews when they practice the same customs as Jews, and as non-Jews when their practice differs.  Since the 19th century, the Samaritans have been considered a Jewish sect, and referred to as Samaritan Jews.   Today there remain two small communities of Samaritans, one in Holon and one on Mount Gerizim near Nablus.

Sesame Cookies recipe after the jump.
The custom of building sukkot indoors is a vestige of the persecution that the Samaritans endured under the Byzantines. In order to be able to preserve their traditions, they moved their sukkot indoors. They decorate their sukkot in a very exquisite way, with a ceiling that is a mosaic of fresh fruit. Guests who are lucky enough to experience this beauty are also treated to Samaritan hospitality: The Samaritans serve fragrant, savory cookies called Mekamar. They are a wonderful treat with hot mint tea.

Mekamar: Savory Sesame Cookies (Adapted from “The Wonders of the Israelite Samaritan Kitchen” by Benjamin Sedaka)

  • 7 cups of unbleached flour
  • 3 1/2 cups of semolina flour
  • 6 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 1/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons ground fennel
  • 2 tablespoons ground turmeric
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Knead all the ingredients together in a bowl.  
  3. Pinch off walnut size pieces of dough.
  4. Roll each piece of dough into a ball, and then flatten onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
  5. Bake for approximately 20 minutes. Then, check to see if they are baked through, and bake for a few more minutes if necessary.

Shavuot Centerpiece: The Savory Cheesecake

One Local Summer wk 11: zucchini ricotta cheesecake (whole)— by Ronit Treatman

Traditionally, Shavuot is celebrated with sweet cheesecakes and blintzes, redolent of cinnamon, raisins, and sugar.  It is what we eat as we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Sinai.  The basic unsweetened cheesecake is a neutral palette.  It invites creativity!  Many cultures have a tradition of preparing savory cheesecakes.  For this year’s celebration, surprise your guests with something a little out of the ordinary.  Prepare a piquant cheesecake for a special holiday treat.

More after the jump.
The Ancient Greeks are credited with inventing the cheesecake.  Archaeologists discovered cheese molds from 2000 BCE on the island of Samos.  In Ancient Greece, cheesecake was prepared for Olympic athletes.  The most ancient recipe for cheesecake was written down by the Greek physician Aegimus.  The ingredients for his cake were cheese, honey, and flour.  He instructed cooks to pound the cheese and honey together with a mortar and pestle.  Flour was to be added to form a type of batter.  The resulting dough was baked in a wood-burning oven.  This cheesecake was believed to give the athletes energy.

In 146 BCE Rome conquered Greece.  The Romans adopted the cheesecake, and added a few special touches to it.  They mixed the cheese with eggs, and lined the baking vessel with fresh bay leaves.  Marcus Cato, a Roman politician, was the first to record a recipe for this cake called libum.  Below is an excerpt from his agricultural writings in which he explains how to prepare libum.

Libum to be made as follows: 2 pounds cheese well crushed in a mortar; when it is well crushed, add in 1 pound bread-wheat flour or, if you want it to be lighter, just 1/2 a pound, to be mixed with the cheese. Add one egg and mix all together well. Make a loaf of this, with the leaves under it, and cook slowly in a hot fire under a brick.”

The Romans spread the cheesecake throughout their empire.  Each new place added its own special touch to the recipe, transforming it.  Today there are many cheesecake recipes from all over the world.  Here are some savory cheesecake recipes you may prepare for your degustation this Shavuot.

Savory Cheesecake With Caramelized Shallots And Olives
Adapted from The Chubby Vegetarian

For the crust:

  • 1 ½ cups breadcrumbs (or ground almonds for a gluten-free crust)
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves

For the filling:

  • 3 eggs
  • 6 oz. soft goat cheese
  • 15 oz. ricotta cheese
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-teaspoon fresh, minced rosemary
  • Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  
  2. Oil a 9′ spring form pan.
  3. Grind all the crust ingredients together in a food processor.  
  4. Press this paste to the bottom of the baking pan.
  5. Bake the crust for about 7 minutes.
  6. Remove the crust from the oven.
  7. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan.
  8. Sautée the shallots until they are golden-brown.
  9. Add the wine, and reduce the heat.  
  10. Simmer until all the wine is absorbed.
  11. Place this shallot mixture and all the other filling ingredients in a food processor.
  12. Mix into a paste.
  13. Pour the cheese mixture over the crust.
  14. Bake for 50 minutes.
  15. Allow to cool.

Serve garnished with assorted cured olives, aged balsamic vinegar, and fresh parsley.

maple cheesecakeStilton Cheesecake
Adapted from My Recipes

  • 4 oz. Stilton cheese
  • 16 oz. cream cheese
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1-tablespoon flour (or ground almonds for a gluten-free recipe)
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. dry marjoram
  • ½ tsp. dry parsley
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Oil a muffin pan.
  3. Mix all the ingredients in a mixer.
  4. Pour the batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup completely.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes.
  6. After the Stilton cheesecakes cool, refrigerate for 4 hours.

Serve cold, garnished with toasted walnuts.

Florentine Cheesecake
Adapted from Yummly

For the crust:

  • 8 tbsp. butter
  • 2 cups breadcrumbs (or ground almonds for a gluten-free recipe).

For the filling:

  • 1-¼ cups grated Gruyere cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 20 oz. cream cheese
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 4 eggs
  • ¼ cup chopped scallion
  • 10 oz., baby spinach leaves
  • ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • ¼ tsp. paprika

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix the breadcrumbs and butter.
  3. Press this dough into an oiled 9′ spring form pan.
  4. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, until it just starts to brown.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  6. Microwave the baby spinach leaves for 3 minutes in a covered glass container.
  7. Mix the cooked spinach with the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl.
  8. Pour the cheese mixture over the crust.
  9. Bake for 65 minutes.

Serve warm with fresh sliced fruit.

For an easy-to-prepare yet exotic feast, try a savory cheesecake this Shavuot.  With the addition of some fresh baguettes and a crisp green salad, a savory cheesecake becomes the centerpiece of an unforgettable Shavuot feast.