This is for and about home cooks - the women all over the the world (and through the centuries) who put dinner on the table every night. They know how to cook quickly, easily, economically, healthily and satisfyingly whether for one or a dozen.

Part memoir, part diary of shopping, cooking, reading and thinking about putting supper on the table, by a former fashion/design writer/consultant whose secret love has always been food.  

 

Easy Baked Ricotta

_

Ricotta, like olive oil, parsley, parmesan and garlic, was basic in my Italian-American mother’s Queens kitchen.

When she’d spent a happy afternoon at the local auction house (where she once bought, for $1 on a dare from the auctioneer, a locked trunk filled with spectacular lace and beaded satin 1920’s evening dresses) her standard no time to cook supper was ricotta, grated parmesan and pasta with or without a quick tomato sauce. Occasionally, instead of tomatoes, some chopped zucchini and parsley went into the pot. Whatever, it was fast, it was good and it was cheap – what more could you want? *****

Sometimes, especially when her brother or sisters were visiting for Sunday lunch, my mother would make what for me was a favourite treat – baked ricotta. Now you can find baked ricotta recipes on the web in great variety, but my mother’s (or possibly my grandmother’s?) was very simple – fresh ricotta, fresh herbs (parsley, thyme or oregano, depending on which was at hand), grated parmesan – lightly mixed together in an oven dish, drizzled with olive oil and baked briefly. Sometimes she added the zest of a lemon and/or an egg for a slightly lighter, soufflé-like variation which I preferred. We ate it as a first course or appetiser spread on bread from the nearby Italian bakery.

So delicious.

This past June in New York, a lunch at MOMA was a disc of parmesan custard with a lush, mixed leaf salad. Back in London I replicated that treat, using Rowley Leigh’s amazing recipe from his (sadly now closed) Café Anglais. Completely wonderful.

And then I replicated it again, this time replacing the custard with my mother’s easy baked ricotta.

Baked Ricotta

NOTE: this is really a no recipe recipe, meaning that you can add, subtract or include completely different ingredients as you like, for example: (1) a few chilli flakes; (2) chives/lemon/garlic (instead of herbs/parmesan); (3) stiffly beaten egg whites a la Nigella Lawson (instead of a whole egg); (4) pour a mixed of chopped herbs/garlic/chilli over the top of plain ricotta before baking a la The River Cafe. All are good. Have a look on the web for more ideas. (You might even try a good quality fresh farmer's or goat's cheese.)

ALL YOU NEED: for two making a lunch or a light supper

Individual oven proof ramekins, bottoms lined with baking parchment paper

12 ounces fresh ricotta

1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley (or 1 heaped tablespoon, to your taste, of fresh thyme or oregano)

1/2 cup grated parmesan

1 egg, beaten

Combine thoroughly and fill 2 (or 3, depending on size) ramekins. Bake in preheated 400F/200C fan oven for about 20 minutes or until puffed and slightly browned on top. Cool to room temperature, turn out onto a dish, remove the disc of baking parchment and serve surrounded with a mixed green salad. 

Note: these can be kept in the refrigerator, covered with clingfilm, for a day or two. 

***** Pasta With Ricotta

Again, this fast and easy dish really doesn't need a recipe, but the entirely wonderful Arthur Schwartz has provided one in his "The Southern Italian Table".

FOR EACH PORTION

2-3 ounces of any pasta you like

1/4 cup ricotta

1 heaping tablespoon of grated pecorino or parmesan cheese

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

METHOD - PER PERSON:

Boil the pasta in at least 1 quart of water with 2 teaspoonfuls of salt. 

Spoon the ricotta into the pasta bowl and blend in the grated cheese

Just before the pasta is cooked to taste, stir 2 tablespoons of the pasta water into the ricotta mix so that it is a little runny.

Drain the pasta well, then toss with the ricotta. Add salt and pepper to taste and eat immediately.

 

 

 

Simple Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breast

Easy Salade Frisee