Baked Ricotta with Crunchy Panko Crust

This is just too easy. It's the sort of dish that can be whipped up in a flash without the need for measurements - just a method.

Here's how:

Use the best ricotta you can find. I used Canada's Grand Prix of Cheese top prize winner from Quality Cheese. It's rich and thick. If you use a lesser sort - and I don't advise it - you may need to strain and squeeze it to get it as dry and thick as you can.

Pour a drop of olive oil into an oven-safe dish or butter the dish; it's up to you. I like cast iron.

I sprinkled a little coarse sea salt and black pepper on the bottom of the dish, but again, up to you. Then, press in the ricotta, leaving about 1/2-inch gap between the cheese and rim of the dish. Give the top a wee drizzle of olive oil.

Pop it into a pre-heated oven or toaster oven - 350F - 375F. Let it bake for about 20 minutes.

While it's baking, in a bowl, either melt some butter or use olive oil - you'll need enough to coat the panko breadcrumbs nicely. And you'll need enough panko to cover the cheese in a nice, even layer. You don't want to see any ricotta peeking out from under the panko.

Add sea salt and pepper to the crumbs and here's where I added another award winning cheese to the mix; Grizzly Gouda. I used my micro-planer to finely grate a good whack (I do apologize for using such technical terminology!) of Gouda. This stuff will peel the roof of your mouth right off! Man, it's sharp! If you don't happen to have any, parm or another sharp, hard, well-aged cheese will do the trick.

So, after about 20 minutes, take the dish of ricotta out of the oven and add the crumbs. Spread them out evenly and pat down. Pop back into the oven for about a further 10 minutes or until the crumbs are your favourite shade of golden brown. Eat!

Now, this is just a starting point. Ricotta is a blank slate; feel free to add other ingredients - herbs, nuts, cooked meats, fruits or veggies...really...let your imagination go to town! You could mix your additions into the ricotta or add a layer. Think: roasted red pepper strips, or crispy bacon. What about figs and prosciutto? Or how about going to Sweetville instead...sugar, honey, maple or fruit compote...just leave out the S & P and add some brown sugar to the panko. Oh....so many things you can do!!!

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