I am back from a dreamy holiday chomping my way around Italy. In Tuscany I ate tiramisu with strawberries, lasagna made by a real Italian Mama and I sprinkled my meals with fresh chives and their beautiful, edible purple flowers which the supermarkets here lop off before they sell them to us - why?? Then at the beach in Ardea, near Rome, I consumed my body weight in pistachio and coffee ice-cream (topped with whipped cream because, you know, calories), pizza rossa and spaghetti vongole. It was glorious. I have gathered a squillion new recipes and ideas which, over the next couple of weeks, I will try to whittle down to my favourites and share with you.
One very important discovery I must sound a klaxon about is the wonder ingredient that is ricotta; a soft, slightly grainy cheese with a rich but delicate flavour. I have eaten and cooked with it before but I hadn't realised how versatile it is. It can be used in sweet and savoury recipes; stirred through warm pasta, crumbled over salad, spread on toast, used as a pizza topping, combined with cooked spinach and used as a pie filling or stuffed into pancakes, used to make cheesecake, served with chocolate shavings or cinnamon as a simple dessert ... or eaten on its own straight from the tub with a large spoon while hiding behind the fridge door so that the bambinos don't notice and expect me to share.
We were given this lovely recipe for ricotta cakes by our neighbour on our holiday in Tuscany, who often makes them for her young children. It is a recipe that follows the classic Italian formula; use few and fresh ingredients and a simple process to produce something delicious. Essentially they are pancakes made with ricotta instead of milk, which makes them thicker and denser... and cheesier. My bambinos, who have renamed them 'Cheesey Cloud Cakes', like them drizzled with honey, but they also work well as a savoury dish served with salad and cold meats. For breakfast they would go perfectly with my favourite pancake topping of toasted coconut, sesame seeds, sugar and lime juice. Orrrrrr you could make mini canapé-sized ones with exciting toppings - creme-fraiche, slice of fig, drizzle of honey and toasted pine nuts? Or cream cheese, smoked salmon and dill? Or avocado, chopped tomatoes and a squeeze of lime? Or whipped cream and chocolate sauce, like a profiterole... or a 'ricottarole??. MAN ALIVE I'M HUNGRY.
I should leave before I drool anymore over the keyboard. Buon appetito!
250g tub of ricotta
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons of flour
Generous handful of grated parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated lemon zest and/or lemon/lime juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, paprika, fresh or dried herbs - so many possibilities!
- Mix the ricotta and egg, then add the parmesan and finally the flour and seasoning and combine the ingredients well. You want a thick batter that will hold its shape when cooked. Add more flour to thicken (but not too much, to avoid them being stodgy) or add milk to thin. I like to cook a test cake first, then decide if the batter needs adjusting.
- Heat a frying pan with oil, butter or a combination of both - whatever you like to fry with. Use a spoon to dollop the batter into the pan, into whatever sized cakes you like - spread the batter so that the cakes are about a centimetre thick.
- Fry on each side for a few minutes until nice and brown and cooked in the middle.
- Eat warm with whatever adornments you fancy.