An elegant appetizer without the fuss

Baked ricotta and goat cheese with candied tomatoes has enticing flavors and is simple to make.

The Runaway Spoon
Baked ricotta and goat cheese with candied tomatoes is the kind of appetizer that will impress your friends without stressing you out.

If you are like me, you open magazines and cookbooks and admire the beautiful photography. The casually laid tables bursting with delicious dishes, the beautiful vessels holding each delicacy, simplicity and refinement, but with the decadence of good food. And you think: I can do that. I can casually invite a few friends round, act like it’s no big deal, then present an amazing tableau of culinary largesse, and the perfect beverage in fabulous Danish glasses. I can just throw together a selection of charcuterie and artisanal cheeses, add a few exotic fruits or homemade pickles, artfully fold it all on an old piece of reclaimed plywood and, boy, won’t my friends be impressed.

But the reality is driving to delis all over town to find interesting cured meats and cheeses, realizing the most exotic fruit you can find is purple grapes, and running out of time to pickle your own vegetables. And the wood board you ask for at Christmas – just for this purpose – is really only big enough for a sliver of salami and a finger of cheese. Thankfully, for good measure, you made “simple” bruschetta from a two page instructional guide in a fancy magazine. But the toppings just got all over the floor and your $40 a bottle extra virgin, cold-pressed, first-of-the-season, mail order olive oil has just dribbled on and ruined your best friends new silk top.

That is why I love this dish. It’s another recipe that has my favorite characteristic: easy to make while appearing complex. No, it is not slapping some cold cuts on a lumber off-cut – it does take a little work – but the results are impressive. Simple, but elegant. This is the kind of dish that makes it look like you really know what you are doing in the kitchen. Like you actually are the kind of person who could just throw together a magazine-spread worthy gathering at a moment’s notice. And really, as long as people believe it, then it must be true….

Baked Ricotta and Goat Cheese with Candied Tomatoes
Serves 8 – 10
Don’t skip draining the ricotta or your baked dish will be watery.

For the baked cheese:
15 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
4 ounce log goat cheese
1 egg
2 tablespoons fresh marjoram leaves, or a leafy herb of your choice
Generous grindings of black pepper
Generous sprinkling of kosher salt

For the candied tomatoes:
1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup vermouth [editor's note: a common substitution for vermouth is white cooking wine; or chicken, fish, or vegetable stock]
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3 sprigs marjoram or leafy herb of your choice
Sea salt

For the baked cheese:

Place the ricotta in a colander lined with cheese cloth and leave to drain for about 30 minutes, pressing down to help extract liquid.

Preheat the oven 375 degrees F. Brush the inside of a 2 cup baking dish with olive oil.

In the small bowl of a stand mixer, beat the ricotta, goat cheese and egg until smooth. Beat in the herbs (chopped if the leaves are large), a generous amount of pepper and salt. Taste your goat cheese first, saltier cheeses require less additional salt.

Spoon the cheese mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake for 40 minutes, or until puffed in the center and browning.

Let the cheese cool slightly, then invert it out onto a plate.

For the tomatoes:

While the cheese is baking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then drop in the tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the skins on the tomatoes start to split. Pull the pan off the flame, add the vermouth and return to the heat. Add the brown sugar and herbs and stir until the sugar is melted. Add a generous pinch of salt. Lower the heat and cook gently until the liquid is reduced to a syrupy coating for the tomatoes. The tomatoes will collapse and some may disintegrate. That’s fine.

When ready to serve, spoon the candied tomatoes over the warm baked cheese and serve with sliced baguette or crostini.

The baked cheese can be prepared a few hours in advance and then baked before serving. It is best served warm, but not necessarily right out of the oven. The tomatoes can be prepared ahead too and gently reheated before serving.

Perre Coleman Magness blogs at The Runaway Spoon.

Related post: Caprese Tart

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of food bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by The Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own and they are responsible for the content of their blogs and their recipes. All readers are free to make ingredient substitutions to satisfy their dietary preferences, including not using wine (or substituting cooking wine) when a recipe calls for it. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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