toolbox talking

roasted roma tomatoes 

I’m not sure if I mentioned it, but recently I acquired a couple of new cookbook gems via a generous birthday gift voucher from my good mates Craig & Juanita. (thanks guys… I feel very special) One was the second cookbook from Sam & Sam Clarke of Moro restaurant in London which recently featured in these pages with my adaptation of their beautifully balanced harissa. The other was from an Aussie expat living in London and cooking up a storm at the Petersham Nursery restaurant; Skye Gyngell with her evocatively titled ‘A year in my kitchen.’

Now I’m a sucker for cookbooks in general but there’s something about a book based on the rhythms and flavours of the seasons that I find especially compelling. And Skye well and truly delivers on that front. But the bonus section that I’ve found myself returning to is what she terms her ‘toolbox’ or the basics that she uses as her ‘building blocks’ to enhance and balance the flavours of whatever dish she is preparing.

So this week, rather than tell you a story I thought I’d introduce you to the stonesoup toolbox. But after reviewing my recipe index, things started to get a little out of hand. So we might save that analysis for another night. So in the mean time and because it is just so delicious, I thought I’d share my take on Skye’s baked ricotta which gives you the chance to try out not one but two toolbox items….stay tuned for a secret spice blend next week…..all good things

roasted tomatoes
makes 30 halves
adapted from Skye Gyngell’s a year in my kitchen.

This is one of those things that you can vary your cooking time to match your schedule. I think they taste best of cooked at lower temps for longer. The flavour is more intensely tomato without the more caramelized action of shorter higher temp cooking.

Whatever you do just don’t come home from a big Champagne dinner with your good mates Rhys and Toby and think to your inebriated self ‘I’ll just turn on the oven and give the tomatoes a little more heat before I go to bed’ and then promptly brush your teeth and crash-out in bed without turning the oven off again…guaranteed tomato charcoal.

15 roma tomatoes, halved lengthwise
10g sea salt
15g sugar

Preheat your oven to 150C if you have time or 200C if you’re in a rush. Place tomato halves cut side up on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Sprinkle with salt and sugar and bake for 3-4hr if in slow mo or 1hr if fast tracking. Eat straight away or store in the fridge covered with a little olive oil for up to a couple of weeks.


baked ricotta with roasted tomatoes & basil oil
serves 8
adapted from Skye Gyngell’s a year in my kitchen.

I’ve always loved the concept of baked ricotta and over the years have tried many a recipe both savoury and sweet over the years but they always turn out disappointingly dry and not so tasty. I’m not sure whether it’s the large injection of parmesan cheese or baking in a waterbath that does the trick but whatever it is, this baked ricotta works. So much so that I’ve actually made it two weekends in a row – as regular stonesoup readers will know, repeating a recipe is not a very common occurrence in my kitchen.

The tomatoes and basil oil make a lovely accompaniment but you could easily serve it straight up with a green salad on the side or if you’re in a more carnivore mood drap with a few slices of proscuitto. It would also make perfect picnic fare, summer here we come.

With a simple dish like this the quality of your ingredients is of the utmost importance. Make sure you get your ricotta from a good deli rather than using one of those dodgy tubs in the dairy section of your supermarket. Likewise with your parmesan, make it at least grana padano and grate just before using.

3 eggs
750g full fat ricotta
400g parmesan cheese (grana padano) freshly grated
6 sprigs lemon thyme, leaves picked
extra virgin olive oil
roasted tomato halves, see recipe above, optional, to serve
basil oil, see recipe here, to serve, optional
ligurian olives, optional, to serve

Preheat oven to 180C . Lightly whisk eggs in a large bowl and stir through ricotta until well combined. Mix in parmesan and thyme and season well. Rub a loaf tin with olive oil and spoon in the cheese mixture. Place loaf tin in a larger baking tray and pour water into the larger tray so that it comes about half way up the sides of the loaf tin. Bake for 50mins – 1hr or until the ricotta is firm and golden brown. Remove from the water bath and allow to cool to room temp in the tin.

Run a knife around the edge of the tin to loosen and then invert onto a serving platter. Top with tomatoes and drizzle with basil oil. Scatter over olives and enjoy.

note: If you do decide to make this in advance and refrigerate overnight it’s really best to remove from the tin while still at room temp to avoid and embarrassing wrestling match trying to separate cheese and tin in front of your guests. Trust me.


ps. If you’re curious about the non food photos on the side bar, click on them to go to my flickr and check out the beautiful shack that I was lucky enough to hang out at this weekend just past. relaxing is an understatement.

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