Sweet Whipped Ricotta

Whipped ricotta is the finishing touch for this Roasted Beet and Spring Green Salad. 

I am a little late to the ricotta party. For a long while, this Italian whey cheese has been relegated solely to lasagnas and other filled pasta dishes. Aside from that, ricotta has not played a role in much of my cooking. This is likely due to unfortunate first impressions, the ho-hum results of part-skim varieties that tend to be watery, grainy and lacking in character.

More recently, however, I began dabbling in using fresh ricotta, and it's been revelatory. The difference between a skimmed and watered-down version versus a high-quality whole-milk ricotta or a hand-dipped artisan ricotta (besides a few extra dollars) is a worlds-apart creamy, sweet and milky cheese, urging consumption. To which I obliged, and started experimenting with different recipes. And then I whipped it.

Apparently, whipped ricotta has been a thing, but, as I mentioned, I am late to the party. Thank goodness I arrived. Whipping ricotta transforms this creamy, slightly grainy cheese into an ethereal spreadable cheese, which is sweet and mild and very receptive to additional ingredients, such as olive oil, honey, fresh herbs, salt and pepper. It's a protein-rich alternative to whipped cream, creme fraiche, yogurt, sour cream, and even a dollop of ice cream on top of dessert.

To whip ricotta, use a dense, creamy whole-milk ricotta that smells dairy-fresh and tastes milky and mildly sweet. Avoid watery, grainy, part-skim ricotta and any that has a funky aroma.

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Sweet Whipped Ricotta

Yield: Makes 1 cup

Combine 1 cup whole-milk ricotta, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice and an optional pinch of lemon zest in a food processor and process until light and smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more honey if desired. Serve as a substitute for whipped cream, creme fraiche or ice cream with fresh fruit and baked desserts.

Savory Whipped Ricotta

Yield: Makes 1 cup

Combine 1 cup whole-milk ricotta, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a grind or two of black pepper in a food processor. Process until light and smooth and taste for seasoning. If you like, add a generous pinch of finely grated fresh lemon zest. Spread the ricotta in a bowl and use as a dip for crudites and bread. Stir it into cooked pasta dishes as a creamy sauce. Smear it on bruschetta or garlic toasts and top with sliced figs or stone fruit, a drizzle of honey and lemon zest, or your other favorite toppings. Spoon a dollop on cooked pizzas, roasted vegetables and salads, such as the following beet salad.

Roasted Beet and Spring Green Salad With Whipped Ricotta

The beets will release their juices while roasting, which will mix with the olive oil that creates the base for vinaigrette.

Active Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes, plus cooling time

Yield: Serves 4

3 bunches small or baby beets, 10 to 12, ends and stems trimmed, scrubbed clean

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

4 ounces mixed spring greens, such as arugula, mache, baby spinach, miners lettuce, frisee

1 cup Savory Whipped Ricotta

Lemon zest, for garnish

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the beets in a large Dutch oven. Pour in the oil, stir to coat, and lightly season with salt. Cover the pot, transfer to the oven, and roast the beets until tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour. Remove and cool, uncovered, in the pot.

When cool enough to handle, peel the beets and cut into large bite-size chunks. Do not discard the oil from the pot. Place the beets in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of the cooking oil, and lightly season with salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature or refrigerate until chilled (the beets may be prepared up to one day in advance).

Pour the remaining cooking oil into a bowl (through a strainer if desired). Whisk in the vinegar, lemon juice and a pinch of salt to taste.

To assemble the salad, arrange a layer of mixed spring greens on serving plates. Lightly drizzle with some of the vinaigrette. Mound the beets on the greens and top with a dollop of the whipped ricotta. Garnish with lemon zest and black pepper. Serve with the remaining vinaigrette for drizzling.

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