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Tuesday, October 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 43.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Madame Fromage: Fresh ricotta with herbs recipe

The tomatoes in the garden are ripe, and all I want for supper is some good bread, some creamy ricotta and a handful of fresh herbs. This month, I'm keeping my cheese choices simple as the humidity sets in, and whipping up a quick ricotta spread has become my new way of tying together a quick patio snack. Slice the tomatoes, grill some bread, and set a dish of herbed ricotta in the center of the table. Everyone's happy.

Ricotta has always been white noise in the cheese aisle as far as I've been concerned, until I started buying fresh ricotta and adding things to it. With some chopped herbs, freshly ground black pepper, a little nutmeg, a drizzle of olive oil and some lemon zest, it makes a dreamy dip for cherry tomatoes. Stuff it into grilled zucchini boats or roasted poblano halves, and you've got something extra-special. You can even spice it up with some red pepper flakes.

Because it's low in fat, ricotta is a perfect summer cheese. It's not hard to make either, and you can do it right in your kitchen. Ricotta is essentially cooked whey that cheesemakers reserve after the curd is separated out. Then the whey is fermented, and then heated. If you feel brave, try making it from scratch. There are a number of recipes on the Internet; I'd recommend David Lebovitz's at Simply Recipes. Otherwise, just pick up a tub at the farmers' market and start adding some fresh herbs from your garden.

If you want to blow your mind, try it on grilled peaches with a drizzle of dark honey. Shazam.

Dreamy Ricotta Spread

  • 1/2 pound fresh ricotta
  • 1 tablespoon fresh herbs, chopped (thyme, basil, chives, etc.)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

Leisurely chop some herbs and mix with olive oil and ricotta. Wander out to the patio, preferably with a baguette under your arm and some freshly picked cherry tomatoes in your shirt pocket. Cut the baguette lengthwise and grill it facedown. Drizzle olive oil on the bread, if you're a glutton. If you want panache, rub a clove of garlic across it. Then spread the ricotta, nice and thick. Watch the birds.

Tenaya Darlington blogs about cheese at Madame Fromage.

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