- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What’s more popular as an appetizer than a dip? Whether a salsa with crispy chips, a silky blue cheese melange with spicy chicken wings, or a simple herbed mayo and sour cream mix surrounded by crudites, dips are enduring crowd pleasers.

The dip featured today is uncomplicated and quick to assemble. In fact it calls for only four ingredients: good quality ricotta, grated Parmigiano reggiano, fresh-chopped thyme, and a touch of salt. The toasted baguette slices that accompany it are just as effortless. They are brushed with olive oil, toasted in the oven and then rubbed with a cut garlic clove.

To make the dip, ricotta cheese is whipped with an electric mixer for a few seconds until it is smooth and creamy, then the Parmesan is added. Finally, fresh-snipped thyme and salt are stirred in.

Whipping the ricotta produces a lovely texture, while the salty Parmigiano and the assertive thyme provide perfect flavor boosts for this fairly neutral cheese. Spoon the ricotta into a bowl, garnish with the golden baguette croutons, and add some red or yellow cherry tomatoes for a jolt of color. It’s a chic new dip to enjoy with your friends.

Whipped ricotta dip with garlic-rubbed toasts

1 1/2 cups good quality ricotta (see note)

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano reggiano

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh chopped thyme plus a few sprigs for garnish

3/8 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more if needed

Garlic-Rubbed Toasts:

24 baguette slices, cut about 3/8 inches thick

Olive oil for brushing the bread slices

2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and halved lengthwise

2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes (red or yellow or a combination of both) for garnish

Place the ricotta in a mixing bowl and, with an electric mixer, beat on medium speed until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add the Parmesan cheese and beat until well blended and smooth, just a few more seconds. Stir in the thyme and salt. Taste and add more salt if needed.

For toasts, arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place bread slices on a large baking sheet and brush lightly with oil.

Bake 4 minutes, then turn slices and bake until just crisp and light golden, 3 to 4 minutes more. Remove from oven and, when cool enough to handle, rub the oiled sides of each bread slice with garlic.

Place the ricotta mixture in a serving bowl and garnish with several thyme sprigs. Arrange bowl on a platter and surround with garlic toasts and mounds of tomatoes.

Note: Look for good quality ricotta in the cheese department of your grocery store. I use Maplebrook Farms from Vermont, available at Whole Foods.

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