If I play my cards right, I can sometimes get my hands on a batch of fresh ricotta, made by hand in someone’s converted garage a few neighbourhoods over from mine. It comes in the traditional moulded shape, marked with the tell-tale grooves of the straining basket. It’s not an exaggeration to say that that this is the best ricotta you’ll ever have outside of Italy – it’s pillowy and snowy white, and the flavour is so fresh, it’s almost sweet; you can eat it in its naked state by the spoonful.
Then there are the eggs. A couple of times a month, I get a batch of eggs from a separate supplier who, when they’re not at their day job, tend to a flock of free range chickens. The chickens are different, so their eggs are too – some are robin’s egg blue, others are deep orange or light brown with a smattering of freckles. I’ve gotten into the habit of opening the carton before I get home to catch a peek of what’s inside. There’s something about a motley crew of eggs – big next to tiny, freckled next to blue – that puts a smile on my face. It’s the kind of stuff that makes me really, dorkily, happy.
This ricotta and these eggs are part of a handful of familiar, clandestine foods that have made their way into my kitchen. They’re not luxury items in the classic sense; they’re not chic, or expensive, or novel, In fact they’re a lot cheaper than the fancy, artisanal products you might find at the store. But they are luxury items in the sense that it’s impossible to take them for granted. They are special by default. And I am head-over-heels in love with them.
Below you’ll find two recipes I made at Easter – both using eggs and ricotta (and lemon, in the spirit of Sicilian tradition) (and, possibly unconsciously, in the spirit of my trip to Sicily this summer). The first is a version of gnocchi that, instead of potato, is held together with egg, ricotta and a bit of flour. They’re called dunderi and are apparently an Amalfitan specialty, but I discovered them by watching this video on Tasting Table with Portland restauranteur Jenn Louis. I’d never made a non-potato gnocchi before, so I was a little apprehensive about them falling apart in the simmering water. But they turned out perfectly – soft, tender little dumplings, tossed in some browned butter with a little parmesan and lemon. They are a dream to eat. The second recipe is a simple, southern Italian-inspired cake that is perfect with coffee or tea. It’s hard to explain, but this for me is the prototypical Italian cake – no frills, not too many competing flavours, not exactly light, but not heavy either. Lots of lemon flavour. The leftovers from Easter were cut into wedges the next morning and dunked into espresso. (how any good Italian – and you – should eat your day-old cake).
Have a happy weekend everyone x
Dunderi with Lemon, Butter and Parmesan – recipe from Jenn Louis,via Tasting Table
Note: the measurements are in grams to yield more consistent results. If you don’t have one already, an electric scale is an indispensable tool when it comes to European recipes and baking. I only spend about $20 on mine and my only regret is that I didn’t get one sooner.
For the Dunderi:
- 480 grams whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 6 egg yolks
- 45 grams finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, using a microplane
- Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 160 grams, plus 2 tablespoons, all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting)
- Semolina flour, for dusting
For the Sauce:
- 110 grams (about 1 stick) butter
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving
1) In a large bowl, mix the ricotta and egg yolks until smooth. Stir in the Parmesan, nutmeg, salt and flour until the dough just comes together.
2) Sprinkle the work surface with a generous dusting of flour. Scrape the dough onto the work surface and sprinkle with a little more flour to prevent the dough from sticking.
3) Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and dust with semolina flour.
4) Using a pastry cutter, divide the dough into 6 equal portions. With floured hands, roll each piece into a log about a ½ inch in diameter. Cut the log into ½-to-1-inch-long pieces. Place the dunderi on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough. Make sure the dunderi pieces are not touching, so they don’t stick together. Make ahead: The dunderi can be made, covered and chilled in the fridge for up to 2 days or frozen on the baking sheet and transferred to a resealable plastic bag. (if freezing, use within one month.)
When ready to cook:
1) Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the dunderi and simmer until they begin to float to the surface, 1-2 minutes.
2) Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter until the butter becomes golden brown and toasty (6 to 8 minutes). Add the lemon juice and zest, and season with salt. Add the dumplings and toss to coat. Spoon each serving into a bowl and top with Parmesan. Serve immediately.
Lemon-Ricotta Cake – adapted from Eat My Kitchen
Makes one 8″ cake
- 80g butter, softened
- 150g sugar
- 80g ricotta
- 3 eggs, separated
- 4 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- zest of 1 lemon
- 200g all-purpose flour
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- icing sugar to dust the cake
1) Set the oven to 350°F and butter the cake pan. Combine the flour and baking powder. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt till stiff.
2) Beat the butter and sugar till fluffy, add the ricotta and mix for a couple minutes. Add the egg yolks and continue mixing for 2 minutes. While still mixing, add the lemon juice and zest followed by the dry ingredients, mixing well for another minute. Stir a couple of tablespoons of the stiff egg whites into the dough before you carefully fold in all of the egg whites.
3) Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown or when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Let the cake cool and dust with icing sugar.
Yvonne Anderson said:
This looks fantastic. Never heard of it, but what a delight i am sure.
julia chews the fat said:
Thanks, Yvonne. Yes, dunderi have quickly become my new favourite thing – they are melt-in-your-mouth comfort food at its best.
I swear Rachel Roddy has a ricotta lemon cake, possibly Sicilian too. And, if not, she probably should. Lovely cross-hatching, btw!
When I saw your FB post for the dunderi, I wondered whether they were from Jenn Louis’s Pasta by Hand. They look meltingly soft, and the lemon butter, a perfect dressing. If I had ricotta that good though, I’d be inclined to give in to laziness and just anoint it with some good oil and attack it with a spoon, or at most, spread it on a garlic-rubbed toast.
julia chews the fat said:
Oh yes, I imagine Rachel Roddy has some version of lemon ricotta cake hanging around there. Even just generally-speaking, I reckon lemon and ricotta are a fixture in her Sicilian repertoire : ) (I also still can’t believe that I’ll be spending a week with her and Luisa Weiss this summer. Pinch me.)
I agree that ricotta – the good kind – is best just on its own, with a drizzle of olive oil, maybe a sprinkling of salt. But I’d more or less eaten it that way all week and it was time for something different to use up the last of it. So glad I tried making dunderi. They’re little morsels of happiness. Give them a whirl if you get the chance!
Fresh Eggs are the best. We are lucky to live next to Metta Earth Institute. What a difference!
julia chews the fat said:
You are indeed lucky! I didn’t realise the Metta Earth Institute sold fresh eggs : )