A few months ago, if you asked me how I felt about ricotta–and yes, I find that a perfectly legitimate topic of conversation, don’t you?– I probably would have answered with a shrug. Ricotta, eh. A bland grainy substance masquerading as cheese, essential for stuffed pasta but not much else. In short, I was not enthralled.
But then–oh then!–I went to the Italian Market, found myself in Claudio’s Mozzarella (a little jewel of a shop that only sells pesto, mozzarella and ricotta), decided on a whim to buy some fresh-made ricotta and dear god, it was love at first bite. Creamy, soft, and cool, it was exquisitely and surprisingly flavorful with an almost shy and tender sweetness. When I wasn’t eating it plain, I had it with berries and a bit of honey, marveling at the profound distance between mediocrity, on the one hand, and the truly, heartachingly good on the other.
Since then, I’ve been trying to expand my ricotta repertoire, and have found some real stunners that I’d like to share with you. Two, in fact: one savory, one sweet, and both are simple and seasonal. The first is for Strawberry Graham Tarts, originally from Food & Wine and found again on Smitten Kitchen (pictured below); the second is a delightful dish with sugar snap peas adapted from the Amateur Gourmet (which I ate so quickly there was no time for photography!) Enjoy.
Strawberry Graham Tarts (from Food & Wine, April 2010)
Excellent picnic food, perfect to make ahead, and the easiest tart you’ll ever make as they are essentially cookies. What I especially love about this recipe is that each element is its own rock-star and could stand very well on its own (no Ringo here, folks!), especially the cheesecake-like ricotta mixture, which I’ve been eating with blueberries and apricots.
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour (or graham flour, if you can find it)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cloves
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons molasses (or honey, if you don’t have molasses)
3/4 pound strawberries, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 cups fresh ricotta (10 ounces)
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (note: I used more, at least two teaspoons)
- In a bowl, whisk both flours with the cinnamon, salt and cloves. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter, light brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar at medium speed until fluffy, about 1 minute. Beat in the honey and molasses, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the side of the bowl and beat in the flour mixture at low speed, just until incorporated. Pat the dough into a disk, cover with plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick. Using a 3 1/2-inch oval cookie cutter, stamp out 16 ovals; reroll the dough scraps if necessary. Transfer the ovals to the baking sheets and bake for about 12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until lightly golden around the edges. Let cool on the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer the ovals to racks to cool completely. (Note: while I liked a bigger base–I used a 3.5 in round biscuit cutter–I think smaller tartlets would also be very charming. Just not a lot of room for strawberries on top…)
- In a bowl, toss the strawberries with the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar and the lemon juice. Let stand until syrupy, 20 minutes.
- In a medium bowl, mix the ricotta, confectioners’ sugar and lemon zest. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the ricotta mixture on each oval. Arrange the strawberries over the ricotta, drizzle with the syrup and serve.
Our second recipe is Sugar Snap Peas and (Whipped) Ricotta, a fresh, clean, and uniquely savory pairing for the sweetness of ricotta. A surprisingly harmonious dish.
sugar-snap peas, ends snapped off and de-stringed
torn mint (optional)
shallots or green onions, thinly sliced (optional)
- Put a pot of water on to boil, and when boiling, briefly submerge your beautiful sugar-snap peas (for about half a minute to a minute, enough to get them bright and green but still crisp-tender.) Drain, and submerge in cold water (a technique called “shocking,” which helps them keep their color and texture.)
- Strain shocked peas, and toss with a healthy glug of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and sprinkle of lemon zest, mint (if you’re using it) and the shallots or green onions (again, if you’re using them). Toss gently, and salt and pepper to taste. Taste one; it should be amazing.
- Here’s the exciting part: you can either just do what I did and serve the peas over a dollop of ricotta (drizzled with a bit of olive oil), or do as the Amateur Gourmet did and beat the ricotta, slowly drizzling in a bit of milk until it gets smooth and airy. He recommends doing it in a stand mixer, but I’m sure you could do it by hand. Either way (regular or airy), I’m sure this dish would be equally amazing.