Recipe: Baked Ricotta with Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes, Saba, and Pignoli Granola
Chef: Matt Accarino
Restaurant: SPQR, San francisco
Ricotta and tomatoes together offers simple, satisfying summertime eating. In Tuscany and other parts of central Italy, it’s common to bake ricotta in a casserole and serve it at the table family-style. Essentially, this is a more stylized take on tradition, in which I portion the baked ricotta into rectangles and serve it with cherry tomatoes and a crunchy pine nut granola. Saba, a dark syrup made by cooking down must (the extracted juice from wine grapes), offers a sweet complement to the tomatoes.
To remove the skins, I blanch the cherry tomatoes in oil instead of water. Instead of adding water to the tomatoes, thus diluting their juices, I am concentrating their flavors.. As the tomatoes fry, the peels become loose. For presentation, we might peel some of the skins upwards so the tomatoes resemble ground cherries with papery skins pulled up to expose the fruit. Or we peel the skins and remove them completely.
3 cups ricotta, drained
¼ cup pecorino, grated
2 each eggs, whisked
1/8 Cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2/3 teaspoon kosher salt
1 each nutmeg, grated to taste
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 ½ tablespoons simple syrup
½ teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon oats
1 pinch kosher salt
½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 pinch coarse sea salt
5 – 10 each basil leaves, torn
½ cup purslane or sunflower shoots
Extra virgin olive oil
Saba, for finishing
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Coat a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with a light mist of non-stick spray. Cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom of the rectangle and use it to line the bottom of the baking dish.
In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, pecorino, eggs, cream, olive oil, salt, and 10 rasps of nutmeg until smooth. Spoon the batter into the prepared baking dish, smoothing the surface with an offset spatula. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes or until the ricotta has set firmly in the center. Uncover and cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. The top may poof in the center as it cooks, but it will fall back down as it cools.
With the tip of an offset spatula, loosen the edges of the ricotta. Turn a baking tray or platter upside down and press on top of the baked ricotta dish. In one smooth motion, pick up the dish and the tray, flip over, and place, tray-side down, on the counter. Remove the baking dish to unmold the ricotta. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely firm and cold, about 6 hours or overnight.
Before serving, line a baking sheet with foil and coat in a light mist of nonstick cooking spray. Cut the ricotta into 1 1/2 inch-wide strips. Cut the strips into 5- to 6-inch rectangles. Using a spatula, transfer the rectangles to the foil-lined baking sheet. You will have 8-10 rectangles.
Preheat the oven to 325ºF. In a small sauté pan over medium heat, toast the pine nuts until fragrant. Pour the pine nuts on a cutting board. Using the tip of a paring knife, cut the pine nuts in half. In a small bowl, mix together the simple syrup and honey. Add the pine nuts and oats and season with a pinch of salt.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick silicon sheet. Scatter the granola onto the sheet and bake until golden and dry, about 15 minutes. Cool completely.
Score the bottom of each cherry tomato gently (just through the skin) with an X, taking the cuts up more than halfway up the side of each tomato.
Heat about 1 inch of olive oil in a straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat. Line a platter with paper towels. When the oil reaches between 365-375ºF, gently drop a few cherry tomatoes at a time and fry until the skins loosen, 10-15 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, lift the tomatoes out of the oil and drain on the paper towels. Season with coarse sea salt. Repeat until all the tomatoes have been fried. Scatter the basil leaves over the tomatoes and drizzle fresh olive oil lightly on top.
Preheat the oven to broil. Put the foil-lined baking sheet with the ricotta in the oven and broil until the tops begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove and cool slightly.
In a small bowl, season the purslane or sunflower shoots with a few drops of olive oil and saba. Season with a pinch of salt and toss.
To plate, using a spatula put a rectangle of ricotta onto 6 plates. Spoon the cherry tomatoes on the top and on the sides and scatter the greens over the top. Crumble the granola across each plate and finish with a drizzle of saba.