Weeknight Cooking

1 Batch of Ricotta, 6 Dinners

July  8, 2013

Put time into dinner now, and you can make it last forever -- or at least the whole week. Welcome to Halfway to Dinner, where we show you how to stretch your staples every which way. 

Today: Food52er and author of a new book (!) Jennifer Perillo is taking her love of ricotta into uncharted territory: weeknight dinner.

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My obsession with making fresh ricotta has been well-documented. It’s incredibly easy to make -- all it takes is milk, cream, buttermilk, and salt -- and you’ll be rewarded with a pot of creamy curds. In its simplest form, I love eating ricotta by the spoonful or slathering it on a crusty piece of bread. If I have the willpower to save some, or the presence of mind to make a double batch, ricotta also serves as a key ingredient come dinnertime. 

The first step is making a pot of your own. After that, the possibilities are endless.

Summer Squash, Ricotta & Lemon Thyme Tart
I seem to be a tart-making machine in the summer time. Who can resist all the fresh berries and fruit in season? Well, that same frenzy applies to all the veggies busting loose in the farmers markets, too. Paired with a big salad, this savory tart is the perfect answer when you’re craving a light, refreshing dinner. Lemon thyme is my favorite fresh herb, but feel free to swap in basil, oregano, or even freshly chopped mint.

Roasted Vegetable & Ricotta Cheese Hand Pies
It’s hard to give just one reason for loving these savory hand pies. For starters, they’re big on flavor and filled with ricotta and roasted veggies (I use whatever I have on hand). The pastry dough is tender and flaky, yet sturdy enough to be packed in camp lunches and picnic baskets. If that isn't enough, another bonus is that they can be made in advance and stored in the freezer for an easy, homemade meal on busy weeknights.

Caramelized Onion, Ricotta & Steel Cut Oats
Pancakes, waffles, and frittatas are regulars on our “breakfast for dinner” menu. I recently added my favorite breakfast -- a steaming bowl of steel cut oats -- into the mix, too. This version has a savory twist with caramelized onions and a dollop of fresh ricotta. 

More: If sweet oatmeal is more your style, try Jennie's recipe for steel cut oats with pistachios, raisins, and -- of course -- ricotta.

Broccoli Rabe, Ricotta & Mozzarella Pizza
Pizza Friday has been a tradition in our family for years. The kids love a standard Neapolitan pie: just mozzarella and tomato sauce. I’ve found they’re more apt to try something new when it’s just a tweak of an old favorite, so here, I added dollops of ricotta and chopped broccoli rabe to satisfy my own cravings for something beyond the basic pie.

Jennie’s Homemade Manicotti

Jennie's Homemade Manicotti
Manicotti are pasta-like crepes filled with ricotta cheese and topped with a simple marinara sauce. Food52 devotees may even recognize this winning recipe (it was included in the first Food52 cookbook). A friend made a variation on these manicotti recently, folding in sautéed shiitake mushrooms, shallots, fresh chopped basil, and sun-dried tomatoes into the filling, and they were a total game changer. Now I can’t wait to play around with more filling combinations.

Lentil-Ricotta “Meatballs” 
Over the last few years I’ve gradually shifted to a mostly vegetarian diet, and my quest to find the best vegetarian meatball led me straight to my own kitchen. I stuck with my classic meatball recipe, which already included ricotta cheese, and simply swapped in puréed lentils for the ground beef. Sure, I may be tooting my own horn a little bit, but these are seriously the best vegetarian meatballs you’ll ever eat. I guarantee no one will be asking “Where’s the beef?” after the first bite.

Summer Squash, Ricotta & Lemon Thyme Tart

Serves 6 to 8

Whole Wheat Pastry Crust

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, plus more for sprinkling
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon granulated natural cane sugar
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
3 tablespoons ice cold water

Tart Filling

5 ounces fresh ricotta cheese
Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
1 large summer squash, sliced into 1/8-inch coins
4 sprigs fresh lemon thyme
Drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, 1 to 2 teaspoons 
Pinch of smoked paprika
3 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Penny De Los Santos 

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  • Merrill Stubbs
    Merrill Stubbs
  • em-i-lis
Jennifer Perillo is the Consulting Food Editor at Working Mother magazine, and a regular a contributor to Relish Magazine and FoodNetwork.com. She shares stories about food, family and life at her blog In Jennie's Kitchen and in her debut cookbook, Homemade with Love: Simple Scratch Cooking from In Jennie's Kitchen (Running Press 2013).


Merrill S. July 8, 2013
This is my kind of week!
em-i-lis July 8, 2013
Your ricotta is truly the best, Jenny, and I make a batch every week. My favorite breakfast is a bowl of it topped with honey and walnuts- wow, breakfast of champions! And last night I spread some on toasted baguette slices and then spooned Sungolds roasted with capers, anchovies and garlic on top. Scrumptious! What brand of cheesecloth (preferably an unbleached one) have you found to last longest?
If anyone wants the Sungold recipe, here is it: http://em-i-lis.com/wordpress/recipes-new-format/dipscrostiniother-appetizer-type-yummies/lusty-sungold-love/
em-i-lis July 8, 2013
oops, Jennie, not Jenny. So sorry!