Spring + asparagus = ricotta. That’s just the way my mind works. But then, ricotta is often the right answer at my house. I eat it plain, drizzled with honey, dolloped on pasta and baked into cheesecake. And this spring, I have a new way to use it, courtesy of Napa cooking teacher Julie Logue-Riordan. With thick asparagus, a sharp vegetable peeler and some top-notch ricotta, you can wow your Easter guests. And if you like the recipe (as much as I do, the dish could be your go-to salad as long as the asparagus season lasts.
Just a few words about choosing ricotta as there are some really inferior brands out there. Look for a whole-milk ricotta with no stabilizers (i.e., no pectin, guar gum, carrageenan or gelatin). Fresh ricotta should have a delicate, fragile texture; stabilizers don’t belong. Most commercial ricotta is acidified, typically with vinegar or citric acid. You should not be able to taste the acid addition.
California’s Bellwether Farms cultures the milk for its basket ricottas, both the cow’s-milk and sheep’s-milk versions. No acid is added. Culturing takes longer, which is one reason most producers don’t do it. What’s more, cultured ricotta is “much trickier,” Liam Callahan told me, “but it’s much more tender because you don’t have to mix it to get the vinegar distributed.”
That said, I really like the Calabro hand-packed ricotta, too, and it is acidified with corn vinegar. The Connecticut company takes great care in packaging, so the ricotta stays moist, tender and sweet even on its long trip to my Napa kitchen.
Here are some other favorite ricotta recipes from Planet Cheese to make now and in the spring days ahead:
- Bruschetta with Fresh Ricotta, Fava Beans, and Mint
- Baked Ricotta-Stuffed Zucchini
- Ricotta Frittata
- Ricotta Ice Cream
- Caramel Ricotta Pudding
Shaved Asparagus Salad with Ricotta
Courtesy of Napa Valley cooking teacher Julie Logue-Riordan. Julie uses lemon olive oil (olive oil pressed with lemons) on the ricotta. If you don’t have any, add a little grated lemon zest to the olive oil before spooning it over the ricotta.
- 2 tablespoons sliced almonds
- 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons minced shallot
- ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
- 1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh chives
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound thick asparagus spears, tough ends snapped off
- 3 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino romano or Parmigiano Reggiano
- ½ pound whole-milk ricotta
Preheat an oven to 350°F. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet until golden brown and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Let cool.
In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, lemon juice, shallot and lemon zest. Let stand 10 minutes to allow the shallot flavor to mellow. Whisk in the olive oil and 2 teaspoons each of the mint, chives and tarragon. Combine the remaining herbs and set aside. Season the dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
Put the asparagus spears flat on a work surface. With a sharp vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus lengthwise into thin ribbons. Put the ribbons in a bowl and add enough of the dressing to coat them lightly. You may not need it all. Add half of the almonds and half of the pecorino and toss gently. Taste for salt. Let stand a few minutes to wilt the ribbons slightly.
To serve, put a spoonful of ricotta on each of 4 salad plates. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil (or with lemon olive oil, if you have it). Sprinkle with the remaining almonds and herbs. Surround with the asparagus salad and sprinkle everything with a little more pecorino.
Cheese Class: Cheese with Chardonnay
Thursday, May 17
Trefethen Family Vineyards
1160 Oak Knoll Aveune,
Napa, CA 94558
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m
Join me on Thursday, May 17, for a rare opportunity: a chance to explore cheeses with some of Napa Valley’s most esteemed Chardonnays. You’ve probably heard sommeliers say that cheese pairs best with white wine. We’ll test that theory in this guided tasting with both young and aged Chardonnays from Trefethen Family Vineyards. Trefethen has promised to reach into its collection of prized older vintages—Chardonnays acclaimed by critics for aging gracefully. And I have just the cheeses for them! Seating is limited; reserve here.