How to make any weeknight pasta seem fancy? Just ask our lifestyle writer Ella Quittner's mom. Her trick is to swirl ricotta on a plate, then pile tomato-saucy pasta on top. Not only does this look straight out of a restaurant, but it adds creamy contrast and rich flavor as well — and takes less than a minute.
The same idea can upgrade any salad, too.
And it doesn't have to be ricotta. So long as it's something spreadable and delicious, your salad will be thankful, grateful, forever in your debt.
Like with pasta, this quick trick adds an ooh-la-la dimension. Unlike with pasta, which is already plenty filling, this makes any salad more filling (and I don't know about you, but most salads don't keep me full for long).
Here are eight ingredients that would love to live under your next salad — plus, some recipes they'd be great with. I've included DIY versions of the spreads, if you're feeling ambitious, but store-bought works wonders, too.
Traditional Italian ricotta — it translates as recooked — starts with the leftover whey from cheesemaking. These days, many commercial varieties start with whole milk (and sometimes even cream), making it extra rich. Keep it plain and swirl under a bracing salad that could use some softening. Or take a cue from Dorie Greenspan and stir in lemon juice and herbs.
Gets along with: Tangy or acidic vinaigrettes, spicy or hearty greens (mustard greens and radicchio, looking at you), roasted winter vegetables (squash, carrots, parsnips), and juicy summer produce (tomatoes, corn, peas, berries, stone fruit).
Basic hummus needs little more than chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic, though most supermarkets sell many more flavors than that — like spinach, jalapeño, sun-dried tomato, and olive. Like the original, most hummus varieties are vegan.
Gets along with: Anything with feta, croutons of all kinds, roasted vegetables (especially eggplant, tomatoes, and summer squash), lemony vinaigrettes, fresh herbs.
Creamy, tangy, and thick, thick, thick, labneh is a strained yogurt that's practically cheese. It hails from the Middle East, sometimes includes savory mix-ins like garlic, and loves to be served with a pour of olive oil. According to our contributor Edouard Massih, "It's sort of a cross between whipped cream cheese and sour cream — but better."
Gets along with: Bitter greens, juicy citrus, salty olives, roasted winter vegetables (squash, carrots, parsnips), and juicy summer produce (tomatoes, cucumber, corn).
Head to the South and you'll find pimento cheese — grated cheese, mayonnaise, and hot peppers (yes, it's as great as it sounds) — smeared on warm biscuits or buttery Ritz crackers. Crudités platters love it, too.
Gets along with: Simple green salads that could use an accessory (romaine or baby arugula with a light vinaigrette), any salad with a starchy element (boiled potatoes or grains). Avoid anything too crowded, like a Cobb.
Sour cream dip
Not just for potato chips. Old-school American sour cream dip relies on onions — Lipton soup mix, if you're booking it, or caramelized onions if you have time and a half to spare. My new favorite is Senior Editor Eric Kim's nori sour cream dip, seasoned with salty roasted seaweed, sesame oil, and rice vinegar.
Gets along with: Vegetable-dense salads, either roasted or raw or both. Cooked onions (grilled, roasted, or caramelized in a pan) are an especially good call; same goes for scallions. Opt for a sturdy lettuce that you can drag through the sour cream and avoid heavy, creamy dressings.
Red pepper–cauliflower dip
Our lifestyle writer Ella Quittner dreamed up this recipe while braving Whole30: "It's equal parts creamy and perky, with a welcome tang from lemon and a little kick in the pants from cayenne. I love it just as much as the centerpiece of a crudités platter as I do spread beneath a crispy roasted chicken thigh, or dolloped over a salad." Or under a salad!
Gets along with: Crunchy vegetables (cucumber, fennel, radishes), oversized croutons, crispy proteins (breaded chicken, grilled fish). If you want to get meta, pair with more red peppers and cauliflower.
This utterly addictive dip from Iran features thick yogurt with spinach, walnuts, mint, and olive oil. Recipe developer Shayma likes to serve it with warm lavash or whole-wheat pita, though we've been known to go at it with a spoon.
Gets along with: Non-green vegetables, since the spinach has that covered (thanks, spinach). Think: carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, corn, radishes.
Mashed avocado with lime juice and plenty of salt, plus pick-your-own mix-ins from cilantro and onion to tomato and hot sauce. Guacamoles range from silky-smooth to chunky as can be. In this case, you'll want to lean toward the former, which will swoosh easier. I prefer minimalist varieties, which let the salad shine.
Gets along with: Tangy vinaigrettes (versus creamy dressings, since the avocado is plenty rich), so many croutons, grilled fruit, spicy meat (chicken, pork, beef), chickpeas, and — why not — more avocado chunks.