Let’s face it: appetizers are a pain in the a$$. That’s why these customizable, crowd-pleasing, creamy whipped ricotta crostini are a lifesaver. They take almost no thought and can even be made with the leftovers from your dinner last night (don’t worry, I won’t tell your guests!!).
When I’m entertaining, I love to give my guests a nibble when they arrive. But between putting the finishing touches on dinner, assembling dessert and straightening up the house (not to mention trying to sneak in a shower), appetizers inevitably take last priority. This doesn’t mean they can’t be delicious. A good cheese with warm spiced nuts and crackers, or a make-ahead dip with sliced vegetables and crusty bread can go a long way. However, the holidays call for something with more flair—an appetizer that feels special and festive, and that can pair well with cocktails and Champagne.
For special occasions I turn to ricotta toast—err, I mean, whipped ricotta crostini (see what I did there?). Here’s the lowdown. You mix fresh, whole milk ricotta with a touch of milk, olive oil, salt and pepper until light and creamy. This can be done a day or two ahead of time. On the night of your party, the ricotta will be opulently spread over garlic toasts (a.k.a. toasted baguette slices, which can also be made in advance) then topped with any number of items. You can either assemble the crostini yourself and arrange them on a platter, or you can arrange the toasts, ricotta and toppings on a tray and let your guests build their own.
The only trick is that you’ve got to buy the best ricotta you can get your hands on—the only ingredients listed should be milk (and/or whey), salt and vinegar. You can find the ultra good stuff (which you will want to eat with a spoon) at Italian markets and specialty cheese stores, but some solid supermarket brands include Organic Valley, Calabro and Biazzo. Be sure to avoid anything with stabilizers or gums in the ingredient list.
As far as the toppings go, the sky is the limit. You can go as simple as a drizzle of honey (or truffle honey), or even use leftover roasted vegetables from the night before. This is a great chance to use up what you have, and, if there’s any cooking involved, definitely do it in advance. Below are a few of my favorite wintertime combinations.
- roasted delicata squash with a drizzle of maple syrup and a sprinkle of sea salt
- pomegranate molasses with pomegranate seeds and toasted walnuts
- roasted mushrooms with baby arugula, shaved Parmesan and a drizzle of truffle oil
- honey (regular or truffle) with a sprinkle of sea salt
Once you have these whipped ricotta crostini in your playbook, you can whip them up any time of year using whatever is in season. I’ve made them with asparagus and mint; peas and pesto; ripe tomatoes and balsamic; roasted beets with their greens; grilled eggplant and Parmesan; sliced figs and truffle honey; pickled peaches… the list goes on.
Whipped Ricotta Crostini (a.k.a the easiest appetizer ever)
- 1 French baguette (regular or gluten-free), cut on the diagonal into ½-inch slices
- 1 large garlic clove , halved
- Olive oil , for brushing
- 1 ½ cups fresh whole milk ricotta cheese , at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 teaspoons whole milk , cream or half and half
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Toppings (see ideas above!)
For the toasts:
- Preheat the oven to 375˚F.
- Arrange the baguette slices on two large baking sheets in a single layer. Brush each slice with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Flip the slices and do the same on the other side. Bake 5-8 minutes, or until light golden and crisp on the bottom. Turn each slice over and bake an additional 5-6 minutes, or until golden and crisp on both sides. Immediately rub each slice of warm bread with the flat half of a garlic clove. Set aside. Do Ahead: The toasts can be made up to 8 hours in advance. Let cool and store in an airtight container at room temperature.
For the ricotta:
- Place the ricotta in a bowl and drizzle with the olive oil and 2 teaspoons of the milk (or cream or half and half). Season with salt and pepper. Using a rubber spatula, beat the ricotta until creamy and smooth. The ricotta should be thick but easily spreadable. If you think it’s too thick, stir in another teaspoon of milk. Do Ahead: The ricotta can sit at room temperature for up to an hour, or it can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
- There are two ways to serve the crostini. You can place the ricotta in a serving bowl, drizzle it with olive oil, and serve it with the toasts and toppings alongside for guests to build their own crostini. Or, you can spread the ricotta generously over the toasts, top them as desired, and then arrange the crostini on a platter and serve.