Last week, while packing away a few cookbooks, an old newspaper clipping tucked between two books slipped off the shelf and swooped into my lap, opening as it landed to reveal a photograph of a mouth-watering spread: a bowl filled with herb-and-olive oil topped ricotta, a few slices of grilled bread, and a handful of halved black mission figs. A quick glance through the article led me to discover that this appetizer, described as “stupid simple” by the chef of A Voce at the time (2008) was the most popular appetizer on the menu.
With the task at hand long forgotten — I’ve always been a hopeless packer — I made my way to the kitchen, hoping to find cheesecloth and heavy cream, making ricotta the order of the hour. And thirty minutes later, the stupid simple appetizer had materialized: creamy curds seasoned with sea salt, fresh thyme, dried oregano, and a drizzling of olive oil.
Now, I know the last thing many of you need is yet another reminder of the delicacy that is fresh ricotta, but, as recipes don’t just fall into my lap every day, I’m going to take the risk of boring some of you hoping that many of you might appreciate a little refresher. I certainly did.
You see, I had forgotten how well fresh ricotta pairs with grilled bread — there’s something about the combination of cool and creamy with smoky and charred. And I had forgotten how much flavor a halved clove of garlic imparts when gently rubbed across the surface of slices of toasty bread. And I had never thought to season ricotta with fresh thyme, always favoring basil or chives or other more obvious summer herbs. And I never thought that fresh ricotta could benefit from the addition of more fat: a drizzling of olive oil.
But, all of these little embellishments go a long way, and if you’ve never tried any of them or haven’t yet tried making homemade ricotta, ’tis the season. Fire up your grill; pull out the cheesecloth; pick some herbs — stupid simple will never taste so good.
Ricotta Crostini With Fresh Thyme and Dried Oregano
Adapted from A Voce via The New York Times
Notes: Use this recipe as a guide. I had made fresh ricotta and so did not use any milk, so based on the texture of the ricotta you make or buy, use your judgement re using milk — you might not need any either. Also, I loved the flavor of the fresh thyme, but use whatever herbs you like best or have on hand.
About 8 slices (about 3/4-inch thick) crusty bread such as ciabatta or levain, chewy and substantial but not very sour
Extra-virgin olive oil to taste
Kosher or table salt, to taste
2 cups fresh ricotta, at cool room temperature
1 cup whole milk (optional, see note above)
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, such as Maldon
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper (I didn’t use pepper)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or other herbs
1 teaspoon dried oregano (or less — a sprinkling goes a long way)
2 large garlic cloves, halved (do not peel).
1. Heat a grill or broiler to very hot. If bread slices are very large, cut in half or thirds. Brush bread slices on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with table or kosher salt.
2. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or in a bowl, whisk ricotta and milk (if using) together until light and fluffy. Season with salt to taste and mix well. Transfer to a shallow serving bowl and sprinkle with sea salt, pepper, thyme and oregano. Drizzle more olive oil on top, about a tablespoon or so.
3. Grill or broil the bread until toasted all over and lightly charred in places. Lightly rub each slice on one side with the cut side of a garlic clove. Serve hot, with ricotta mixture on the side.