I recently picked up some fresh ricotta at my local 50,000 sq. foot “Italian food emporium” in Boston and it changed me forever. I realized up until now, I had really never tasted ricotta – just poor imitations!
“Ricotta Calabro” produced right here in New England – Connecticut to be exact – was amazing!
Don’t just take my word for it – look at the awards the producer has received! link here.
I know something as fresh and amazing as this should be eaten in its original state, but the weather had been unseasonably cool and I had my heart set on some comfort food.
Pasta, cheese and tomato sauce = comfort. Throw in a little Italian sausage and even the husband will find this dish comforting!
I basically just added crumbled, cooked sausage, to some cooked pasta in a oiled casserole dish, coated it with tomato sauce and strategically set up “clouds” of ricotta. I topped it with shredded Parmesan cheese and baked it for 30 mins at 350 degrees until it was just crispy on the edges and bubbling in the middle. Comfort food at its best!
I had to take a long break from Cabinet Stew recently to attend to my mother who was ill and recently passed away. I have returned from this sad hiatus with a renewed respect for my time left on this earth and an appreciation for living more simply.
My mother was a 40 year vegetarian and a general health enthusiast. She never felt the need to “clutter” her plate with complicated ingredients, bold spices or fancy preparations. She felt nature was best left untouched as much as possible. At the same time she never passed up the chance to try something new, leading us as a family, to one “off the beaten path” bakery to another. By ten years of age I already knew where to get the best spanakopita (greek spinach pie) in my hometown.
My father in contrast was a man who appreciated a sausage as another might appreciate a vintage car or rare wine. He was a connassuier of hot dog carts, hash browns and strangely, fresh radishes. (which he ate like candy from a bowl in front of the TV)
Having observed both of them my whole life, I shaped my own eating habits around a combination of them. I love bold flavors and never pass up a good hot dog. I think nostalgically of my father when I eat radishes. However I don’t think twice about having a meal that doesn’t contain meat – in fact I don’t even recognize it as a “vegetarian” meal – its just simply a meal. I never met a vegetable or fruit I don’t like. And of course I have to seek out the most obscure local joints to try something new.
Today I salute my mother and her simple tastes.
Toast spread with Ricotta di Pecora (raw sheep milk ricotta) – topped with maple syrup and Honey Dew melon.
A couple of days over 55 Degrees (F) does not define a month.
Especially April in New England. Especially when its the coldest April on record for the region. Average temperature for the month: 48 Degrees (F)
There was snow in my backyard well into April.
So I am just saying – just because New Englanders think its time to break out the grill as soon as it hits 50 – there is still time for warm, comfort food.
Like the Italian stuffed shells I made the other day. (Freezing rain beating the windows while I cooked… Brrrrr)
There is nothing comparable to the comfort of cheese and pasta swimming in red sauce!
A few little embellishments but really nothing too crazy. Pretty Traditional.
I did break up and saute a couple of Sweet Italian Sausages in a pan, added some frozen peas and a pinch of red pepper flakes before mixing it into (cool it first) the standard “ricotta-egg-parsley-parm cheese” mix. Boil your jumbo shells just to ‘al dente’ and once they have cooled a bit, stuff them with your mixture. Place them in a bath of red sauce (good quality jarred sauce is A-ok here) and bake covered at 375 degrees for about 30 mins. I like to pull mine out and remove the foil top, drizzle with a little EVOO and sprinkle with shredded Parmesan or Asigo and bake about 10 mins longer uncovered to get those crispy edges and the rich gooey cheese goodness.
Makes great leftovers and freezes beautifully.
(Leave out the sausage if you must – yes Holly I am talking to you 🙂 )
This time of year some people are on health kicks. (we are too) Sometimes people are trying to “kick” a habit. (we are too) But I doubt anybody else is on a “Ricotta kick” like me. I am not sure what started it but I suspect it was before Christmas when I bought more than enough Ricotta to test-run a dessert before the big day. I kept coming up with ways to use up the big container and when that was gone, I bought more.
Even my last post was really an ode to Ricotta. The pasta was really just an excuse to eat more Ricotta. The green beans were to satisfy the health kick part of things.
I even recently found myself designing the cutest little meatballs to put in a baked pasta and Ricotta dish. I had a vision of the little meatballs floating around in “clouds” of Ricotta that swam in a sea of red sauce. Just to be cute I tried to make them look like a paisley pattern! Weird, right?
One night I didn’t feel like making the little meatballs so I used black olives to swim alongside my Ricotta clouds in a sea of red sauce and sausage! At least I didn’t try to “shape” the Ricotta, so that’s progress!
But no matter how you serve it…
maybe in a cannoli…
or layered in lasagna…
or stuffed into pasta…
… or in a little something I get in the Boston’s north end called “Ricotta Pie” (you might know it by another name: cheesecake)…
Cook the pasta to al dente and drain. Melt the butter and olive oil into a large saute pan and add the green beans.(It is good if they are a little damp from rinsing first) I like mine on the crisp side but if you don’t, you can blanch or micro-steam them first before sauteing. Cover for the first minute or two to really cook/steam the beans, but then uncover to actually saute. After a few minutes add the ham, garlic, thyme, ricotta. Toss. Add the half & half and let the sauce reduce a few minutes on med-high heat. Add the warm, cooked pasta and toss to coat. Add the parmesan – more or less to your taste- and toss to coat. Salt and pepper to taste.