I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Baked Ricotta and Goat Cheese with Candied Tomatoes

If you are like me, you open magazines and cookbooks and admire the beautiful photography. The casually laid tables bursting with delicious dishes, the beautiful vessels holding each delicacy, simplicity and refinement, but with the decadence of good food. And you think – I can do that. I can casually invite a few friends round, act like it’s no big deal, then present an amazing tableau of culinary largesse, and the perfect champagne in fabulous Danish glasses, or an impressive cocktail with rare herbal infusions. I can just throw together a selection of charcuterie and artisanal cheeses, add a few exotic fruits or homemade pickles, artfully fold it all on an old piece of reclaimed plywood and boy, won’t my friends be impressed.

But the reality is driving to delis all over town to find interesting cured meats and cheeses, realizing the most exotic fruit you can find is purple grapes, and running out of time to pickle your own vegetables. And the wood board you ask for at Chrsitmas – just for this purpose – is really only big enough for a sliver of salami and a finger of cheese. The champagne was too expensive, and the herbal infusions just another time suck. Thankfully, for good measure, you made “simple” bruschetta from a two page instructional guide in a fancy magazine. But the toppings just got all over the floor and your $40 a bottle extra virgin, cold-pressed, first-of-the-season, mail order olive oil has just dribbled on and ruined your best friends new silk top.

That is why I love this dish. It’s another recipe that has my favorite characteristic: easy to make while appearing complex. No, it is not slapping some cold cuts on a lumber off cut, it does take a little work, but the results are impressive. Simple, but elegant. This is the kind of dish that makes it look like you really know what you are doing in the kitchen. Like you actually are the kind of person who could just throw together a magazine-spread worthy gathering at a moment’s notice. And really, as long as people believe it, then it must be true…

Baked Ricotta and Goat Cheese with Candied Tomatoes

Don’t skip draining the ricotta or your baked dish will be watery.

For the baked cheese:

15 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese

4 ounce log goat cheese

1 egg

2 Tablespoons fresh marjoram leaves, or a leafy herb of your choice

Generous grindings of black pepper

Generous sprinkling of kosher salt

For the candied tomatoes:

1 Tablespoon olive oil

12 ounces cherry tomatoes

¼ cup vermouth

¼ cup light brown sugar

3 sprigs marjoram or leafy herb of your choice

Sea salt

For the baked cheese:

Place the ricotta in a colander lined with cheese cloth and leave to drain for about 30 minutes, pressing down to help extract liquid.

Preheat the oven 375 degrees. Brush the inside of a 2 cup baking dish with olive oil.

In the small bowl of a stand mixer, beat the ricotta, goat cheese and egg until smooth. Beat in the herbs (chopped if the leaves are large), a generous amount of pepper and salt. Taste your goat cheese first, saltier cheeses require less additional salt.

Spoon the cheese mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake for 40 minutes, or until puffed in the center and browning.

Let the cheese cool slightly, then invert it out onto a plate.

For the tomatoes:

While the cheese is baking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then drop in the tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the skins on the tomatoes start to split. Pull the pan off the flame, add the vermouth and return to the heat. Add the brown sugar and herbs and stir until the sugar is melted. Add a generous pinch of salt. Lower the heat and cook gently until the liquid is reduced to a syrupy coating for the tomatoes. The tomatoes will collapse and some may disintegrate. That’s fine.

When ready to serve, spoon the candied tomatoes over the warm baked cheese and serve with sliced baguette or crostini.

The baked cheese can be prepared a few hours in advance and then baked before serving. It is best served warm, but not necessarily right out of the oven. The tomatoes can be prepared ahead too and gently reheated before serving.

Serves 8 – 10

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