Food for Thought
The genesis of this ricotta fritter recipe is a perfect example of the way food ideas — and recipes — evolve.
Small globes of tender ricotta cheese, fragrant with lemon and orange zest, deep fried for a hot, crisp veneer, this dessert began as Jane Ward's longing for Sicilian ricotta cheese pie, the stuff stacked in pale brown rounds in bakery windows in Boston's North End at Easter, each weighing a good 21/2 to three pounds.
"Start here," Ward's idea said.
An accomplished home cook, food blogger, and author, Ward turned away from pies heavy in both tradition and style, to a trail marked "this way for something lighter."
She stopped next at Nigella Lawson's recipe for lemony ricotta hotcakes from the cookbook Forever Summer. Lawson's recipe is a slap-dash assembly of ricotta, skim milk, flour, separated eggs, and baking soda.
Certainly lighter than the Sicilian grandmothers' ricotta pies, these small pancakes are fresh and cheesy, and an excellent vehicle for fresh strawberries. Lawson recommends eating them outside on a summer morning; that's the "oh, I'm bad!" part of the recipe.
Taking notes, Ward headed down yet another trail, this one leading straight to her own kitchen and marked, "this way for something sexier."
There's nothing like dropping batter into hot oil to turn heads, which is what Ward did with Nigella's, not just gilding the lilly, but frying it, sprinkling it with confectioner's sugar, and dipping it into one of three sauces: chocolate, lemon and raspberry.
Oh, Nigella, you haven't met Jane. As for the Italian grandmothers? They're winking at her.
(Adapted from a recipe for Ricotta Pancakes from Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer)
(Makes 16-24 fritters)
1 quart vegetable or canola oil for frying
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
zest of 1 lemon, or zest of an orange
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Optional: 1/2 cup diced apple, pear, or dried apricots
Prepare a good thickness of paper towels and/or brown paper for draining your hot fritters and set aside.
Start preheating vegetable or canola oil in a large (14-inch) skillet. Test temperature with a candy/deep fry thermometer. Oil is ready for frying at 360-370 degrees.
As oil preheats, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon or orange zest in a medium size mixing bowl and set dry ingredients aside.
Break two eggs into another medium size mixing bowl. Beat eggs lightly and add to them the ricotta cheese, sugar, and vanilla. Combine with a whisk until mixture is smooth. Add dry ingredients to the egg and cheese mixture. Using a rubber scraper, gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet. Blend only until the flour has been incorporated, and do not overmix.
(Note: if you choose to add in any optional fruit, fold it into the batter during the last few seconds of mixing and mix only until evenly distributed.)
Check oil temperature with the thermometer. For frying, the oil should reach between 360 and 370 degrees. When oil is ready, drop batter by tablespoons or a small ice cream scoop (about 1¬ Tbsp.) into the skillet. Make up to 6 fritters at a time, taking care not to overcrowd the skillet, thus lowering the oil's temperature.
Cook one side until golden, then turn the fritter using a slotted spoon to brown the other side. Continue to turn during cooking to fry evenly. Fritters take about 3-4 minutes to cook.
Remove finished fritters from oil using the slotted spoon and transfer them to the paper to drain. Repeat the frying/draining process with the next 6 fritters at a time until batter is gone.
When fritters are done and draining on the paper, sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar through a sieve or sifter. Serve immediately on dessert plates, either plain or with lemon, raspberry, or chocolate sauces for dipping. Fresh berries make a nice accompaniment.
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained of pulp and seeds
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
Whisk sugar and lemon juice together in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the cream. Then whisk in the eggs and yolks. Whisk well.
Pour this mixture into a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium heat, continuing to whisk constantly. The curd will begin to thicken after a few minutes (3-5 minutes). Remove from heat immediately before overcooking and push through a strainer with a rubber scraper into a small bowl.
Cover the surface of the curd with a sheet of plastic wrap and set to cool slightly. Serve lukewarm.
4 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate chips (such as Callebaut or Ghirardelli)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. softened unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Scald cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar. Before cream boils, remove it from the heat and stir in the chocolate, butter, and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Let cool slightly then give one more vigorous stir. Transfer to a small bowl. Serve warm. (May be cooled and reheated in a double boiler before serving.)
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. water
2 pints fresh raspberries (or 1 bag frozen)
Heat sugar and water together in a small saucean until sugar is completely dissolved. Add to this simple syrup the raspberries. Bring to a simmer and simmer steadily under liquid is slightly reduced and fruit and syrup look slightly thickened. (Frozen berries will take longer.)
When thickened slightly, remove from heat. Using a fork to mash or a stick blender, puree the berries in the saucepan. When pureed, pour berry sauce through a sieve and push it through the mesh with the back of a spoon into a small bowl, removing all the seeds and leaving a smooth sauce.
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Food for Thought runs weekly in the Times' Taste of the Times section and is written by Heather Atwood, an author and mother from Rockport. Questions and comments can be sent to Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her blog at www.heatheratwood.com.