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Sweet or savory? We made the 5-ingredient holiday recipe that Ina Garten loves

This baked ricotta recipe is so versatile, it can be served as an appetizer or dessert.
Yes, Ina makes other people's recipes sometimes, just like the rest of us.
Yes, Ina makes other people's recipes sometimes, just like the rest of us.Courtesy Kavita Varma-White
/ Source: TODAY

Even though our pandemic-year celebrations will be smaller than usual this year, the hunt for holiday-themed appetizers and desserts is still underway. Enter: one recipe that, with a few tweaks, fits both bills.

Leave it to domestic goddess-slash-Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten, who has already helped us through quarantine happy hours, to guide us to the light.

Earlier this month, Garten shared on Instagram a tantalizing photo of baked ricotta, with the caption: “It can be served with sweet or savory things — which would you prefer?”

Garten credited the recipe to Missy Robbins, chef at Lilia in Brooklyn, New York, and the sweet version of it, with stone fruit and honey, can be found on the James Beard website. We decided to try it both ways. Spoiler alert: Both are amazing.

The best part about this dish, whether appetizer or dessert, is that it only requires a handful of ingredients.

For starters, get your ricotta — and not just any old ricotta. In her recipe, Robbins says, “The most important thing about this recipe is buying the right ricotta. Do not buy the regular grocery store variety. It is generally watery and doesn’t have enough fat content to get the creaminess you’re after. Take the time to seek out a more authentic artisanal variety, or go to your closest old-school Italian market to get the good stuff.”

There are five basic ingredients in this baked ricotta dish: ricotta cheese, olive oil, lemon peel, thyme and red pepper flakes. Courtesy Kavita Varma-White

I hit my local Metropolitan Market and was pleased to find a good selection of ricotta. I bought the fresh ricotta, that’s made in-house, but also Bellwether Farms’ Basket Ricotta, which is described as “hand-dipped whole milk ricotta.” After testing both, the Bellwether Farms version was decidedly less watery.

Once you have the right ricotta, the other ingredients for the basic recipe include: olive oil, red pepper flakes, lemon peel and fresh thyme sprigs. That's it.

Use olive oil to grease a muffin tin and fill with ricotta. Bake in a 375 F oven for 15 to 17 minutes. Let it cool briefly, then flip it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. (This is the point where you see if the ricotta is too watery. I used a paper towel to sop up the extra liquid.) Once on the sheet, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sprinkle on red pepper flakes.

For the savory version, serve with garlic crostini. Courtesy Kavita Varma-White

For my sweet version, I topped the cheese with lemon peel and thyme sprigs. For the savory version, I used orange peel and rosemary sprigs.

Put it back in the oven for another 10 to 12 minutes, or until it gets golden brown around the edges.

Once it’s done, the magic comes in how you plate it. For the savory version, I simply served it with garlic crostini. The cheese was creamy, tangy and subtly peppery and herby.

The sweet version, serve with the fruit of your choice and a drizzle of honey. Courtesy Kavita Varma-White

In Robbins’ sweet version, she suggests serving it with stone fruit. Since it’s November — and stone fruit are scarce — I made do with strawberries (but you could also use fresh figs or mango). I tossed them in olive oil and sea salt and served them with the baked ricotta, drizzled with honey. The combination of flavors was simply divine.

I can’t wait to experiment with different versions — maybe add some pesto to the savory or some baked pear to the sweet. Regardless, it’s one recipe, two ways — you really can’t lose.