Roasted Green Beans and Broccolini On a Bed of Ricotta

Roasted Green Beans and Broccolini On a Bed of Ricotta

It’s terribly difficult being a food writer who specializes in cheese. I mean, what are you supposed to do when you have copious amounts of ricotta leftover from a photo shoot? Well, in my case, I happily ate fresh strawberries, honey, and ricotta for breakfast and spread it on thick slices of olive bread with slices of tomato and a generous application of Maldon salt and freshly cracked pepper. Despite all my best efforts I still had an impressive amount of ricotta to use before it went bad (once opened, ricotta only keeps for 3-4 days before it starts to smell sour.) I was on the lookout for ricotta recipes that a) weren’t stuffed pasta and b) weren’t dessert (because I’m not a very dessert-y person.) Eventually I found this intriguing recipe for charred green beans with ricotta and lemon on Epicurius and felt inspired by the elegant simplicity of the recipe. The first time I tried this recipe (and with great success, I might add) I followed the instructions to a T and yes, it was just as gorgeous and delicious as I’d hoped. However, me being me, I wanted to fiddle around with the basics and create my own riff on this already brilliant idea (this sort of creative license is why I’m a disastrous baker.) Lo and behold, this recipe for roasted green beans and broccolini on a bed of ricotta was born. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have a grill to fall back on but if I did I would be using it for this recipe – the slightly charred green beans and broccolini add a sweet and nutty flavour which complements the light creaminess of the ricotta*. Fortunately, a hot oven can mostly replicate this effect (albeit, without any aesthetically pleasing grill marks.) Don’t skip roasting the lemons with the green beans and broccolini, they won’t get those beautiful char marks food stylists strive for but the moderately high heat results in fat wedges of lemon with meltingly tender, almost buttery pulp. The quantities called for are open to interpretation, you can use more or less of everything depending on how many servings you need.

Ricotta

*A note on ricotta: Buy the best, full-fat ricotta you can find (remember, this doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive ricotta you can find.) If you’re in Canada and you can find Quality Food’s Canadian Cheese Grand Prix-winning ricotta I’d highly recommend this particular brand. Another tasty option is sheep’s milk ricotta (if you can’t find it at the grocery store check out your local cheese shop or farmer’s market.) Sheep’s milk ricotta has a light, milky taste and is generally well-tolerated by people who suffer from lactose intolerances or allergies.

roasted green beans and broccolini on a bed of ricotta:

1 lb. green beans, tipped and tailed

1 lb. broccolini

2 Tbsp. + 1 Tbsp. olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked pepper

2-3 lemons, halved

1 – 1 1/2 cups full-fat ricotta

Dried red chili flakes

Fresh parsley and basil, roughly chopped/torn

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°.
  2. Line 1-2 baking sheets (depending on their size) with parchment paper or a Silpat.
  3. Spread the green beans, broccolini and lemon halves (pulp side down) across the baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, gently massaging it into the vegetables. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  4. Roast the vegetables for 30-40 minutes, stirring everything two or three times as it cooks. If the green beans and broccolini look like they’re cooking in a shorter amount of time reduce the heat to 350°.
  5. While the vegetables are roasting, spread a generous layer of ricotta across the bottom of a large serving platter (or a smaller one, depending on the number of servings you end up with.)
  6. Remove the roasted vegetables from the oven and loosely pile across the surface of the ricotta, drizzling with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and any juices that may have accumulated in the baking sheet.
  7. Finish the dish by slicing the lemon halves into smaller wedges, nestling them into the ricotta with the vegetables. Sprinkle the dried chilies, fresh basil, and parsley over top before serving.

Roasted Green Beans and Broccolini On a Bed of Ricotta 2

When I was a little kid I was obsessed with Tina Turner (and Lionel Richie, but that’s another story.) I used to wear my leotard from ballet lessons and make up dances to every single song on Tina Turner’s Simply the Best album in my room with the door closed. I’m pretty sure I wore out the tape from overuse, I’d listen to it on my Walkman walking to school, mowing the lawn with a clunky old push mower, and lying in bed at night. I actually hadn’t listened to Tina in a long time, years in fact, but the other day I was trying to do some writing and I felt really stuck and (unsurprisingly) this amazing greatest hits collection saved the day! I’m choosing “Better Be Good To Me” for this post because it has an amazing video involving a werewolf-like man and a song you can strut to.

Tina Turner – Better Be Good To Me

Kale and Ricotta Spinach Puff Pastries

A pale green plate with 2 Kale and Ricotta Spinach Puff Pastries resting on top of 3 kale leaves.

These delightful little puff pastries look impressive but couldn’t be simpler to make thanks to the wonders of frozen chopped kale and pre-rolled puff pastry sheets. I like to make these whenever an appetizer emergency strikes as I usually have all the ingredients handy (and by appetizer emergency I mean when I realize halfway through a glass of wine that I haven’t eaten all day). I’ve used feta, Boursin, and fresh goat cheese in place of the ricotta, but there’s something about the delicate pillowy texture ricotta that I feel is perfectly copacetic with the rest of the ingredients. Take the puff pastry out of the freezer at the same time as the kale and forget about them for a half or so until they’re both defrosted. If you can’t find frozen chopped kale feel free to use spinach instead (or any other green you can find in the freezer section). I should add that these make excellent cold or reheated leftovers, just brush them with some melted butter and heat in a warm oven for 5-6 minutes.

kale and ricotta spinach puff pastry:

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed in the fridge or at room temperature

About 250 grams of frozen kale, thawed and squeezed out of all excess moisture

1 clove of minced garlic

1 shallot, finely diced

2/3 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

2 eggs

A couple of gratings of fresh nutmeg, or a pinch of dried

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Mix together the thawed and thoroughly drained kale, garlic, shallots, ricotta, salt, pepper, grated nutmeg, and one egg until totally combined. Set aside.
  3. Unroll the puff pastry onto a baking sheet, using the attached parchment paper as a base. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter slice the puff pastry into 9 squares.
  4. Using two spoons evenly distribute the kale mixture into the centre of each square, you might not need the entire mixture (in which case, extras can be used as the base for a super tasty quiche).
  5. Carefully fold the corners of each puff pastry square into the centre and pinch together, it’s okay if you need to stretch the dough a bit to get the corners to stay together.
  6. Whisk the remaining egg and brush onto the puff pastries with a pastry brush. Bake for 25 minutes or until the puff pastries are nicely and lightly browned. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

And just because I saw Slowdive AKA my favourite band of all time just a few weeks ago (although it feels like a million years ago now) I’ve been listening to their latest album with the frequency of a fan obsessed. I think this song is so beautiful, I’m so happy I got to see them play it live. Just some very lovely shimmery shoegaze for a rainy afternoon.

Slowdive – Sugar for the Pill

Slow Roasted Red Pepper and Ricotta Pasta Sauce

White bowl full of penne and a roasted red pepper blush sauce on an orange tablecloth.

I’m coming down from one incredible weekend; it’s Tuesday and I still feel some residual buzzing going on. Last Friday afternoon 11 of our friends came up to Vancouver from Seattle and San Francisco for a gigantic friend reunion of sorts. On top of that, I saw Beach House twice (!!) – Saturday at The Vogue and then Sunday night at Performance Works on Granville Island. Saturday’s concert was of course, wonderful, and Sunday’s performance was so special and so beautiful. Beach House did a series of intimate concerts in very small spaces, just the 2 original band members, and my husband was lucky enough to have been able to get us both tickets. From the moment we stepped into the witchy magenta hued space I felt utterly enchanted, the light show itself was gorgeous and sitting on the floor with cushions while you get to experience the visuals and the music all at once was an unforgettable experience. It was wonderful being able to surround myself with a live performance in such an aesthetically pleasing cocoon, I felt as though I was floating on the way home afterwards.

Tray of cut up peppers, celery, cucumber, and grape tomatoes.

On Saturday afternoon we all came to the consensus that dinner should be easy and totally uncomplicated. Pizza was ordered and I made a vegetable platter with hummus that I doctored with Greek yogurt and cumin. At the end of the evening I came home by myself, in desperate need of some solitude after the concert and the swarms of people downtown. While everyone else went on a drinking adventure I got into my pajamas, had a beer, and watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer in bed (which is pretty much my definition of paradise). I also snacked on the leftover cut up vegetables but realized that I’d need to think of a good use for all of the peppers I’d cut into strips. Monday night, when Ian and I were both in battery charging mode AKA extreme states of introversion, I decided that the leftover pepper strips would be just perfect for a pasta sauce because let’s face it, pasta has and will always be the best form of comfort that food can possibly offer. I wasn’t in any hurry because I was having a great time just reading a PD James book on the couch so I slow roasted the vegetables, this also made them very sweet and full of flavour without the unsightly addition of sugar burned black flecks in the sauce. The ricotta helps to thicken the sauce without having to add flour, it also gives an incredibly rich taste and texture without adding a surplus of cream. In fact, the small amount of cream called for in the recipe could easily be substituted with milk, just be sure not to bring the sauce to a boil in order to avoid accidental separation.

slow roasted red pepper and ricotta sauce:

3 sweet peppers, cut into strips

10 grape or cherry tomatoes

1 large red onion, cut into fat wedges

4 cloves of garlic, left whole in their papery husks

3 Tbsp. olive oil

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2/3 cup of ricotta

1/3 cup of cream

5 fresh basil leaves (plus more for garnishing), torn into pieces

Pasta of your choice

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Spread the pepper strips, tomatoes, onion wedges, and garlic in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and freshly cracked pepper, add the rosemary whole and with your hands toss the vegetable mixture to coat.
  3. Roast the vegetables for up to an hour, stirring every 20 minutes or so to ensure even cooking. The vegetables are done when they’re very soft and beginning to caramelize. Remove the rosemary and garlic husks and transfer the remaining vegetables and their juices to a food processor and pulse until you have a not so smooth puree.
  4. Add the red wine vinegar, ricotta, cream, and 5 basil leaves to the food processor and give a final blitz – the sauce should still be slightly chunky in texture. Adjust the salt and pepper if neccessary.
  5. Cook the pasta until al dente, saving about 1/2 cup of cooking liquid for the sauce. Lower the heat and transfer the sauce into the pot used for cooking the pasta and stir in the cooking liquid and sauce. Allow the pasta and sauce to cook together for about 5 minutes, this will give the sauce a chance to thicken up before you serve it. Garnish with a generous amount of fresh basil that’s been cut into a very fine chiffonade.

This song is an ideal addition to my soundtrack for the last few days, kind of like a beautiful sunset after a sublimely sunny day – pure, melodic, and strangely intimate. After Sunday’s show I now have an accompanying vision of light installation flower walls from floor to ceiling and both of us on pillows, leaning into each other in the softest moment possible.

Beach House – Real Love

Pasta Bake with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Ricotta Cheese

Blue oval baking dish full of pasta shells, tomatoes, eggplant, and ricotta cheese on an orange background.

I have a bad habit of buying eggplants with the best of intentions and then never using them before they start to deteriorate. Every time I open the fridge I guiltily take note of the slow shrivelling that is happening before my eyes. Yes, even the state of my fresh produce causes me anxiety. I had been watching this eggplant for the past couple of days with a feeling of impending doom, why aren’t there more Easter-y recipes that call for eggplant? When I looked in the fridge this morning I knew it was now or never time for this eggplant, and for once I knew exactly how I wanted to use it. I must be in a spring nesting mood lately, all I want to do is cook for people and be in the kitchen. I already made macaroni and cheese on Saturday, why wouldn’t I make another gigantic cheesy pasta bake? The eggplant and tomato make a velvety sauce, a perfect backdrop for generous dollops of fresh ricotta and oozing mozzarella cheese. This is a very bare bones recipe, the eggplant and tomatoes shine with the addition of a handful of chopped niçoise olives and a few pantry staples. You could use torn fresh mozzarella, caciocavallo (regular or smoked), Macedonian feta, or sheep ricotta as alternatives to the cheeses suggested in this recipe. I’ve added jarred roasted red peppers, chopped capers, green olives, and pickled zucchini to the sauce depending on what I have on hand at the time (what I’m looking for is something that’s going to give fantastic umami resonance to the final taste).

pasta bake with eggplant, tomatoes, and ricotta cheese:

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 large eggplant, cut into a small dice

5 plum tomatoes, cut into a rough chunks

3 cloves of garlic, minced

A small handful of niçoise olives, pitted and roughly chopped

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. kosher salt

Generous amount of freshly cracked pepper

1/2 -1 tsp. dried chillies

A large handful of fresh basil, torn into small pieces

1 lb. of pasta shells

300 g container of fresh ricotta

1 cup of grated mozzarella

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Salt the cut up eggplant for half an hour in  sieve before rinsing well and blotting dry in a clean kitchen towel.
  2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the eggplant, tomatoes, minced garlic, and niçoise olives. Add the dried oregano, salt, freshly cracked pepper, and dried chillies; continue to cook for 8-10 minutes or until very soft.
  3. While the eggplant and tomato sauce is coming together, cook the pasta shells according to package directions making sure to reserve 1 cup of cooking water. Stir the cooking water into the eggplant and tomato sauce and add the pasta, tossing to coat. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the fresh basil.
  4. Spread a layer of the sauced pasta on the bottom of a 9’x13′ glass casserole dish. Dollop the ricotta over the pasta to cover (there will be lots of bare spots). Spoon the remaining pasta over the ricotta layer and finish with the rest of the ricotta and the grated mozzarella.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes and allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with additional fresh basil if desired.

Oh it’s been so nice to have time to do nothing this weekend, including listening to a whole bunch of jazz, eating hot cross buns, sleeping in, and making food for my friends.

Dizzy Gillespie – There is No Greater Love