Sunday Supper

Fresh cheeses a light, tangy addition to many dishes


Peas with Baked Ricotta and Breadcrumbs
Peas with Baked Ricotta and Breadcrumbs
‘Vegetable Literacy’ / Ten Speed Press

Main dish

Peas with Baked Ricotta and Breadcrumbs

This makes a lovely light supper. You may also serve it tossed with cooked pasta shells. With its light sparkle and clean finish, a lambrusco wine makes a lovely accompaniment.

Olive oil

1 cup high-quality full-fat ricotta cheese

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

4 teaspoons butter

2 large shallots or 1/2 small onion, finely diced (about 1/3 cup)

5 small sage leaves, minced

1 cup freshly shucked sweet peas (or 1 cup frozen baby peas)

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Parmesan cheese, for grating

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a small baking dish.

If your ricotta is wet and milky, drain it in a colander, pressing out the excess liquid. Pack the ricotta into the dish, drizzle a little olive oil over the surface, and bake 20 minutes or until the cheese has begun to set and brown. Cover the surface with the breadcrumbs and bake until the crumbs are browned and crisp, another 10 minutes. (The amount of time it takes for the ricotta to set can vary tremendously depending on its moisture level.)

When the cheese is finished baking, heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the shallots and sage and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the peas, 1/2 cup water, and the lemon zest. Simmer until the peas are bright green and tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and a little freshly ground pepper.

Divide the ricotta between 2 plates. Spoon the peas over the cheese. Grate Parmesan over all and enjoy while warm. Makes 2 servings.

Source: Adapted from “Vegetable Literacy” by Deborah Madison (Ten Speed Press, $40).

Per serving: 385 calories (56 percent from fat), 24.2 g fat (15.2 g saturated, 6.5 g monounsaturated), 83.5 mg cholesterol, 19 g protein, 23.4 g carbohydrate, 4.7 g fiber, 280 mg sodium.

Fresh cheeses, as the name implies, are not ripened, or aged. White in color, they are typically moist and mild, whether made from the milk of cows, goats or sheep. They can be delightfully tangy, milky and buttery yet light.

Before pasteurization and refrigeration were invented, fresh cheeses were the farmer's way of dealing with excess milk production. Today, many of these cheeses are considered gourmet products.

Varieties include supermarket favorites like cream cheese, mozzarella, ricotta and queso fresco as well as burrata, mascarpone and chevre.

A fresh cheese can provide an appealing counterpoint to a variety of ingredients. Mascarpone, for example, can be stirred into a savory risotto or whipped with cream to make tiramisu. Layer ripe tomatoes, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella and add a dash of extra virgin oilve oil for a delicious caprese salad. Cheesecake made with ricotta rather than cream cheese is lighter but no less luxurious. Or simple enjoy a fresh cheese with a drizzle of honey or olive oil.

Fresh cheeses usually have short shelf lives and will sour if kept longer than about a week. Refrigerate them in a tightly sealed container or in the brine in which they came. Discard the cheese if you see any mold or discoloration.

Carole Kotkin is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school and co-author of “Mmmmiami: Tempting Tropical Tastes for Home Cooks Everywhere.”

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