crostini with lemon ricotta, fresh basil, black pepper and drizzled with a vanilla infused olive oil

Crostini means “little toasts” in Italian… so topping my “little toasts” with a creamy lemon ricotta cheese, adding a few twists of black pepper, some basil and adding a little sweetness with a drizzle of vanilla infused olive oil gives these “little toasts” a bit of panache.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of home-made ricotta cheese (click for recipe)
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed (optional)
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • sea salt
  • 1  stick of french bread cut into slices (1cm thick)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced in half (optional)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • a handful of fresh basil leaves, finely sliced
  • vanilla infused olive oil or plain olive oil
How to make:

Combine the ricotta cheese, garlic and lemon zest in a small bowl, season with sea salt to taste. This can be prepared some hours in advance and stored in the refrigerator until needed.

Preheat the grill to high and lightly toast french bread slices on both sides until golden brown. Rub the cut side of garlic over one side of each piece of toasted bread. When cooled spread the prepared ricotta cheese on top of each piece of crostini. Season with a few twists of black pepper, drizzle over some vanilla olive oil and scatter over fresh basil on top and serve.

Try using fresh mint instead of basil and drizzle some walnut oil over the crostini instead of  vanilla oil for a different variation.
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crostini topped with home-made ricotta cheese and garnished with gremolata

 ricotta cheese

Ricotta is a soft creamy but slightly grainy cheese, white in colour with a hint of sweetness to its flavour. Ricotta means “recooked” and is derived from the fact that the cheese is made by heating the whey (a by-product of cheese making) from another cheese such as mozzarella. Ricotta is a versatile cheese and can be used in savoury and sweet dishes. This home-made version may not be authentically Italian, but is really delicious, easy to make and a great introduction to cheese making. Simple ingredients used and no specialized equipment needed. So before you reach for the tub of Ricotta give this recipe a try… you might get hooked!

Home-made Ricotta Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 500ml full-fat milk
  • 250ml whipping cream
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1+1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Useful Kitchen Jewellery:
  • saucepan
  • wooden spoons
  • sieve
  • straining bag
  • citrus juicer
  • mixing bowl
  • A simple introduction to cheese making, use a straining bag or cheesecloth to line the sieve

How to make: Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan, add the sea salt. Over a medium heat and stirring with a wooden spoon bring the liquid to almost boiling point. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Almost immediately the liquid will begin to curdle, leave un-disturbed for 5 minutes.

Curds and whey beginning to form after the addition of lemon juice

If you are using cheesecloth instead of a straining bag make sure you have a piece large enough that you can double over if you need too, my straining bag has a very fine mesh so I found that worked for me. How quickly the whey drains from the curds depends on the weave in the cheesecloth, so keep that in mind. Good quality white kitchen paper towels (no coloured designs) could be used instead of the cheesecloth.

Place the sieve over a heat-proof bowl lined with the cheesecloth/straining bag and spoon the curdled liquid into the center.

For a firmer consistency leave the curds to drain for about an hour

I like to strain the cheese for about an hour, as the longer you leave the cheese to strain the firmer its consistency will be. If you prefer a softer cheese strain for a shorter time, the cheese will firm up more when refrigerated.

The whey draining from the curds

Once the whey has been drained from the curds, discard the whey (could be used in bread making) and place the Ricotta cheese into an airtight container and refrigerate until needed. The Ricotta cheese will keep for about 3 days. I sometimes double the recipe if I find that I need a larger quantity. This recipe will give you about one cup of Ricotta cheese.

for the crostini

  • I french stick of bread, cut into slices (1cm thick)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced in half (optional)
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Gremolata

How to make: Preheat the oven grill to high and lightly toast the french bread slices on each side. Rub the cut side of the garlic over one side of each piece of toasted bread. Spread the cooled slices of french bread with some Ricotta cheese and then garnish each slice with some prepared Gremolata and serve.

 

will I or will I not keep my herb mincer

off to a rolling start

Looking at this rolling herb mincer with its nine blades I thought it should make short work of mincing parsley for a simple garnish called Gremolata. Taking out the chopping board, parsley washed and dried, the herb mincer at hand…and its off to a rolling start…or so I thought.

A couple of quick rolls over the parsley and my thoughts were “you’ve just ruined my lovely fresh parsley.” The parsley very quickly got stuck between the blades and looked mangled, bruised, wet and started to turn my chopping board green. Not good! The blades are very blunt and I am sure that is one good reason for my badly bruised parsley. Also this herb mincer has a curved top which dragged the parsley into the blades and it all just got stuck. So, putting the herb mincer aside and taking the reliable chopping knife out, I finished the job in a breeze.

quick and easy

Gremolata is a combination of lemon zest, garlic, parsley, and olive oil, preparation only takes a couple of minutes and is best made close to serving time. Traditionally an addition to Osso Bucco (braised veal shanks), Gremolata is also great as a garnish on grilled meats and seafood.

Geremolata

Ingredients:

  • zest of one lemon
  • 1  small garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • pinch of sea salt
Useful Kitchen Jewellery:
  • knife
  • chopping board
  • citrus zester

 How to make: In a small bowl mix all the above ingredients together and let the Gremolata stand for about 10 minutes before serving, so all the flavours can blend together. Sprinkle over grilled meats and seafood of your choice.

the last word

There are many brands and designs of herb minces on the market and I am sure some may have better blades, however the herb mincer is not a kitchen tool that I would rush out to buy, a chopping knife or mezzaluna is my preferred choice for chopping herbs. I will not be putting this rolling herb mincer back into the kitchen drawer for further use. It has been suggested that I use it for cutting fresh pasta sheets into ribbons but I think I will leave that job for my pasta machine.

 

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