Still feeling too seedy to really be creative, so here’s a really short, easy recipe, inspired by The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook. This recipe makes me feel a little sad, because right now is absolutely not the season for it – indeed, dinner tonight was semolina gratin with a wintry stew featuring mushrooms, cardoons, carrots, broccoli and cannelini beans, so heavily improvised that I haven’t the faintest clue what the recipe would be. But for you sun-drenched Northern Hemisphere types, here’s something lovely to have on good Italian bread while you are waiting for the weather to cool down enough for cooking to be tolerable. Or else, just make a dinner of bread, tomato salad, cannelini beans puréed with lemon and roasted garlic, some minted cucumbers or grilled eggplant or roasted capsicum, or cold chicken or whatever other nice, cool foods your fridge and pantry have to offer, and this lovely refreshing spread to just make your bread wonderful.
Jack Bishop says you should toast the bread to go with this, but I think if bread is good enough to be worth eating, it deserves to be eaten as it is – soft and fresh to go with the softness and freshness of the ricotta. And please – make sure it’s good bread, not that cotton wool stuff. Putting this spread on a white sandwich loaf insults both you and it – and you both deserve better.
Your Shopping List250g good ricotta – the best you can afford, so go to the deli counter or your Italian food shop, and do not even think about making this with something that comes in a tub. You’re looking for something solid, not runny – in a pinch, you can drain slightly watery ricotta through cheesecloth or paper towels for an hour or two, but it’s better to start with the good stuff. 1 small bunch of basil 1 small bunch of mint salt, pepper 1 loaf of good Italian bread – pasta dura is ideal for this. French bread will do in a pinch, but no cotton wool. I mean it!
Now what do I do with it?
Carefully wash and dry your herbs, remove the leaves, and chop them reasonably finely. Mix into the ricotta with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the bread. That’s it!
This is too reliant on good quality ricotta to work well in a vegan variation. I don’t think any of the tofu things out there are really going to cut it. However, if you’re going gluten free, or just want to have more vegetables, you could do a lot worse than layering this spread between layers of lightly seasoned, sautéed zucchini slices, and dressing the whole lot with a little lemon juice and olive oil. Frankly, I could eat that by the bowlful, and while I confess I would probably eat it with bread, you could get away with your favourite gluten free bread here – it doesn’t have to be quite so sublime as the bread you’d use if you were leaving the zucchinis out of it.