VSool, milky and calm, fresh ricotta is the perfect cheese for a summer afternoon. Chalk white and soft as snow, it is the softest of fresh cheeses. Made from whey, it’s not quite milk, not quite cheese. The kind you can buy in supermarket bins will be quite firm, but the best is the softer, fresher one you can find in Italian grocery stores and specialty cheese shops. It will usually come with tiny indentations of the mold it was originally shaped in.
You can use ricotta to fill a sponge cake – a much lighter and less sweet addition than buttercream. I thicken the filling with mascarpone, to keep it in shape, but I also stir in a little whipped cream to introduce a silky texture. Orange and lemon zest is good as a flavoring in the summer, especially if you serve it with seasonal berries, as is a few drops of vanilla extract or the tiniest drop of orange blossom water.
I made a multi-tiered cake this week, alternating layers of lemon sponge and ricotta cream, then finished it with a layer of moist cake crumbs. It was luckily not sweet and we ate it on a Sunday afternoon with a strawberry sauce made from mashed berries, a splash of lemon and a little icing sugar.
The fresh ricotta came out, a day later, seasoned with a little black pepper, to be eaten with burnt tomatoes, thyme and thick toast soaked in olive oil.
For 8 to 10 people
For the sponge:
golden caster sugar 250g
eggs 4, large
lemon 1, grated zest and juice
ground almonds 50 grams
plain flour 175g
baking powder 1 teaspoon
For the filling:
icing sugar 3 lightly heaped tablespoons
lemon zest 2 tbsp. finely grated
Orange zest 2 tbsp. finely grated
vanilla extract few drops
double cream 250ml
icing sugar a bit to finish
strawberries to serve
You will need 2 20cm cake tins, preferably springform. Set the oven to 180°C/thermostat 4. Line the bottom of the cake tins with parchment paper. Drain the ricotta for the filling in a sieve over a bowl.
To make the cake, cream the butter and sugar in a blender until really light and fluffy. It should be very pale and creamy.
Lightly beat the eggs and add them, a quarter at a time, to the butter and sugar. If they curdle, continue beating, adding a little flour to bind the mixture.
Add the lemon zest to the butter, reserving the juice. Mix the ground almonds, flour and baking powder. Stir the flour and almonds into the mixture, then add the lemon juice. Pour the mixture into lined cake moulds, smooth the top and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove, let stand 5 minutes and return to a wire rack.
Make the filling by putting the ricotta in the bowl of a mixer with the mascarpone and icing sugar. Beat briefly to mix. Introduce the grated zest and the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, gently whip the cream. Stop while it is still in soft folds, then gently fold into the ricotta.
When the cakes are well cooled – don’t try to do this while they are still warm – cut them in half, horizontally. A long, serrated bread knife is probably best for this. You will have 4 cake discs. Return the bottom half of one of the cakes to its pan, then pour one-third of the ricotta filling over the top, smoothing it gently. Cover with a second layer of biscuit and a second layer of filling. Finish with a third sponge and a final layer of trim.
Grind the remaining piece of cake into coarse crumbs by hand or in a food processor. Sprinkle two-thirds over the surface of the cake, reserve the rest, then cover and refrigerate for a few hours.
Take the cake out of its pan, dust it lightly with icing sugar, press the reserved breadcrumbs on the sides and serve with whole or sliced strawberries.
Roasted tomatoes, thyme and garlic toast
If desired, eat with a spoonful of ricotta.
Enough for 2 or 3
tomatoes 750g, assorted colors and sizes
olive oil 6 tablespoons
cold redI 1, medium size
bread 3 thick slices of soft and airy bread, sourdough or ciabatta
thyme leaves 2 tbsp, chopped
Garlic 2 cloves
Turn on the oven. You need it very hot for this (tomatoes are best when lightly charred), so set the oven to 220C/thermostat 8. Cut the tomatoes in half – red, orange, cherry, whatever you have – and put them in a single layer in a roasting pan.
Drizzle 3 tablespoons of olive oil over the tomatoes and grind a fairly generous amount of black pepper and a seasoning of salt over them. Cut the chilli in half, then chop finely. Add it to the tomatoes and mix everything a bit. Roast the tomatoes for 30 minutes, until there is plenty of juice. Tear the bread into 3-4 cm wide pieces. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and pour or pour most of the juice into a wide, shallow bowl.
In the juice, stir in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the thyme. Peel and crush the garlic into a paste and stir. Dip the bread in the juice and let it soak in. Turn the oven on to broil. Place the bread on a broiler pan and toast under the broiler until lightly golden and slightly crispy on one side. The bottom should still be juicy. Finally, re-juice the tomatoes and place them under the broiler to allow them to brown and brown here and there – this will give you deep smoky notes – then place the toasted bread slices on top and bring them to the table.
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