Fresh Ricotta: You Know You Want It
We all think we’re the master (mistress?) of our own universe, but the truth is, we’re not. You think you’re drawn to that fuchsia top because you like it? Sorry. Most likely, a highly-paid fashion forecaster set the palette for Summer '08 way back, stores have placed it strategically and, voila: You’re suddenly overwhelmed with the need for a closet-full of hot pink.
Similarly, if you have fresh ricotta on the mind, the versatile cheese has, in fact, been subliminally wiggling its way into your collective craving conscious for most of spring. And there’s more than one chef to blame (or in this case, thank).
Craving? The ricotta at Laïola is housemade.
My own ricotta revelation came the other night at Pizzeria Delfina (a restaurant which I’ll swear by again and again). A mild scoop of it came out with marinated and grilled artichokes and crostini made with Tartine bread. Simple but so delicious: Delfina’s specialty. I asked chef Anthony Strong about it and got an email back that was more of a dissertation/101-things-to-do-with ricotta cookbook. (“It’s really cool in the nettle and pinenut calzone. In the summer, we do a version of the Spanish pane e tomate drenched in olive oil, with just a little fresh ricotta spooned on top. And of course we use it in cannoli! We stuff squash blossoms with it. Koa, our pastry chef does this insanely old school ricotta and wheatberry crostata. It is the filling for our shells ... we use the hell out of it.”)
Delfina doesn’t make it in-house. Rather, they get their ricotta from the same people that make their mozzarella: Belfiore in Berkeley (why mess with success, was basically Strong’s rationale). Breaking news: The pizzeria has recently made the bold move not to salt it! “It just sort of makes sense, though we can't really explain it. It's like fresh ricotta is pure and clean, and salt seems to actually take away from that,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, last week at SPQR, I had a big bowl of fresh ricotta with crostini and at Laïola, chef Mark Denham has been crafting his own ricotta since he was at 42 Degrees. Today, he makes it with organic milk and cream, salt and Meyer lemon. The sweetness is countered with a lightly-dressed, handful of slightly bitter baby arugula and—of course—some rustic, toasted Acme bread. Laïola just started serving lunch on weekends, and now offers outdoor seating, which is perfect if you find yourself coming out of Dylan across the street with a new, spendy fuchsia get-up and a craving for ricotta. In cases like this, it can be a relief to know you had nothing to do with it.