Four basic ingredients—ricotta cheese, vanilla, milk and sugar—create a simple, silky, rich base for inventing your own desserts. Recipe and suggestions for experimenting below.
I almost overlooked the recipe that inspired this post. It was tucked quietly into the table of contents pages of the July Gourmet, before you get past all the opening ads and into the big, splashy four-color editorial meat of the magazine. Somehow, that seems appropriate. The ricotta-vanilla cream itself is delicious, but in a very quiet way. It’s made to team up with a host of other flavors, elevating them and offering a creamy counterpoint. Gourmet teamed them with nectarines and pine nut brittle, for example.
We experimented with a couple of different toppings: Fresh peaches and blueberries with lime juice and flavors inspired by one of Marion’s favorite desserts at mado, buffalo ricotta with honey. The fruit worked a little better for us—its slight tartness played against the richness of the cream. But other ideas sprang to mind, even as we sampled these. A slice of pound cake topped with the cream and fresh raspberries. Orange segments [with membranes removed] and shavings of dark chocolate. Even the balsamic peaches from last week, minus the shallots and the pork chops, of course.
Besides being versatile, ricotta-vanilla cream is wonderfully sturdy. Its consistency is not as set as pudding or custard, but it’s not runny either. The recipe calls for freezing it briefly, which I did. But the bowl of extra cream left sitting on the counter was still thick and usable hours later, with no separation or runniness. Honestly, I think the freezing step could be considered optional.
Serves 4 [when toppings are added]
1/2 pound ricotta [1 cup]
1/4 cup whole milk
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 teaspoons sugar
Purée ricotta, milk, vanilla and sugar in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and chill in freezer, stirring halfway through, until slightly thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve—see Kitchen Notes.
Peaches and Blueberries. I sliced up one large peach [about 1/2 pound] and mixed it with about 1 cup of blueberries, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of fresh lime juice. Then I let the fruit macerate for about 15 minutes. About halfway through, taste a peach slice—you may find you want a little more lime juice, to balance the richness of the ricotta-vanilla cream.
Pistachios and Honey. Toast some raw pistachios on a baking sheet for 5 or 6 minutes at 325ºF, stirring once halfway through to avoid burning. You’ll smell them when they’re ready to come out of the oven. Transfer pistachios to plate and cool completely before using. To serve, drizzle cream with honey and sprinkle with pistachios. I would also suggest a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over everything to brighten the taste.
Serve as I say, not as I do. The recipe says it makes four servings. It does, but they will seem alarmingly small. Don’t worry—it’s very rich and should really be considered a base for whatever toppings you devise. In the photo, I served the ricotta-vanilla cream in small bowls. That only allowed for a small serving of fruit topping. Use larger shallow bowls and create a pool or mound of cream in the middle. Then top it with a generous helping of whatever topping you create. When we ate the dessert you see here, we ended up passing the extra peach/blueberry topping around and adding more to our bowls.
Hungry for more cheesy desserts? Mascarpone is an Italian creamy dessert cheese that lends itself beautifully to easy, elegant desserts.