Few ingredients elevate an average weeknight meal faster than ricotta cheese. Where sour cream might suffice, ricotta goes above and beyond—cakes are lighter and moister; pasta is rich and gooier. Almost everything can benefit from a scoop of the spreadable stuff, which you can whip up from scratch with just milk, salt, and lemon juice.
These seven recipes prove just how versatile it can be, whether balancing acidity in an apple tart or adding depth to brown butter gnocchi. Consider it your unexpected cooking MVP.
Ricotta adds even more creaminess when swirled into a cheesy bowl of polenta. The trick is to pair it with a veggie (or two or three) that’s bitter and earthy enough to offset the richness, like broccoli rabe and radishes. Opt for seasonal produce with a similar flavor profile, such as kale in the winter and squash in the fall.
This gnocchi from Half Baked Harvest is relatively easy to make compared with traditional hand-rolled pasta. Instead of homemade pumpkin puree, it relies on the canned variety to save time, and you only need butter, hazelnuts, and sage to whip up the simple yet decadent sauce.
This vibrant salad from Athena Calderone is a great example of how to best highlight the cheese in its purest form—alongside crunchy vegetables like asparagus and radicchio and topped with fresh mint and pistachio.
Ricotta has a way of making cakes so much lighter and fluffier than you even knew they could be, and this apple number from Feed the Swimmers is no exception. Pro tip: Double the amount of miso caramel you make and reserve whatever is left over to use on top of quickie ricotta-and-apple parfaits—you know, when the cake is gone.
This whipped ricotta from Spoon Fork Bacon takes only a few minutes to throw together and can be served with fresh rather than roasted strawberries if you’re short on time. Sub the fruit for seasonal produce like roasted apples in the fall or plump peaches in the summer.
Prep and freeze the dough ahead of time so you can whip it up on a whim, and feel free to sub fresh or frozen blackberries for the canned version the recipe asks for.
While this recipe from I Am a Food Blog blends roasted kabocha squash with ricotta to create a silky dip, canned pumpkin puree will save you time and yield similar results. Serve it with raw veggies and chips or use it as a topping on grain bowls.
This story was originally published in October 2016. It has since been updated.