Sweet and savory, light and hefty, moist and dry — there’s a ricotta salad for every palate. Ricotta salad begins with ricotta, and right out of the gate, there are differences. Basic ricotta is a tender, fresh cheese, a little like a slighter dry cottage cheese. Ricotta salata is ricotta that has had the moisture squeezed out, resulting in a salty, dry cheese good for grating. Both types of ricotta can be the foundation for ricotta salad.
Incorporating fresh ricotta into salad is a matter of taste and creativity. Ricotta lends a layer of flavor that is the perfect foil for the simplest of salads. Sliced or grape tomatoes marinated first in cold-pressed olive oil cuddle up perfectly with ricotta, and some roughly chopped basil makes perfection. Adding salad veggies like bib lettuce, shredded red cabbage, and baby carrots adds color and snap.
A clever roasted salad with a hot ricotta jacket oozes flavor that defies just how easy the salad is. A handful or two of cherry tomatoes drenched in oil and splashed with fig or red wine vinegar and a scattering of garlic takes a couple of hours to roast at a low heat, while the cook does other things. When they’re done, a plate of fork-smashed ricotta can be run under the broiler just long enough to brown the ridges. The roasted tomatoes and garlic are nestled into a peppery bed of arugula, and the lightly browned ricotta is slipped on top. Adding a handful of toasted pine seeds brings this salad from fabulous to the best salad ever.
A sweet summery ricotta salad is just a matter of joining some sliced strawberries, raspberries, or other berries with lettuce and cucumbers. Mandarin oranges add texture and sparkle, while chopped walnuts or almonds provide some crunch. A dressing that blends buttermilk, ricotta, and another handful of berries makes this salad treat sing.
Ricotta salata’s nutty and salty flavors meld perfectly with pasta, rice, or quinoa salads. It can stand up to strongly flavored greens like kale as well as cauliflower, broccoli, and other veggies with powerhouse nutrition and flavor. Chopped egg and bits of bacon add a grand finish.
Ricotta, either salata or fresh, works well with bean salads too. Any combination of lima, white, or black beans can yield terrific results, as can a simpler salad made with a single type of bean. This salad begs for roasted and marinated red pepper and fresh herbs, such as cilantro.