When you bake ricotta, the structure changes completely. Unbaked ricotta has a quite grainy texture, the baked ricotta becomes silky smooth, while still having that fresh, milky flavour. And where unbaked ricotta is scoopable/spreadable, baked ricotta is delicately firm. You can cut it, instead of scoop it, but only very carefully, or it will crumble. Because it is so delicate, it will taste very, very creamy.
I served my baked ricotta as part of a main dish, with pasta, tomato sauce and fried aubergine, as a variation on pasta alla norma. But you could also sprinkle it with fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon juice and more olive oil after baking, and serve it with bruscetta as a party snack or appetizer. Maybe add some chilli flakes, semi-dried tomatoes, olives, or roasted paprika. If you omit the salt and pepper, you could even make a dessert version, with honey, walnuts and figs.
I’ve tried this both with ricotta that I left to drain overnight, and ricotta that I didn’t drain. Although both end up nice, I prefer the drained version, because it browns better/faster, is less wet, and becomes even smoother than the undrained version. So if you have the time, drain your ricotta. Some recipes ask you to mix the ricotta with a few eggs and the seasoning, and to cook it in a ramekin, but I like my version better because of the shape. Also, the texture will be completely different, a lot more airy from the eggs. I prefer this silky smoothness.
1 tub of ricotta
salt and pepper
Start the day before you want to serve the ricotta. Line a sieve with a cheesecloth (or clean tea-towel), rinsed well under cold water and squeezed to get rid of most of the water. It is also possible to use a carefully rinsed coffee filter. Place the sieve over a bowl. Open the tub of ricotta, inverse it on top of the cheesecloth and gently squeeze the tub to release the ricotta in one go. It is important to keep it whole. Gently place the container back over the ricotta (I found this the easiest way to cover up the cheese), and place the whole thing in the fridge. Leave overnight to drain.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Transfer the ricotta to a lightly oiled baking tray, the ricotta is vulnerable, so be careful! Use a pastry brush to very carefully dab oil all over the ricotta, again being very careful not to damage the shape. Place in the oven and bake 45-60 minutes, or until nicely golden. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.