Locanda Verde's Andrew Carmellini prepares one of his ricotta dishes. (Willie Davis)
The cold weather makes us crave comfort foods, but there’s nothing fast about cooking them.
Locanda Verde chef Andrew Carmellini gives a tasty shortcut: A simple recipe that serves as the base for three other restaurant-worthy dishes evocative of a sun-drenched afternoon in northern Italy.
Note: all recipes serve 4 to 6.
The Foundation: Sardinian Sheep’s Milk Ricotta
2 cups Sardinian sheep’s milk ricotta or regular cow’s milk ricotta
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon each table salt; fleur de sel or coarse sea salt; coarse-ground black pepper; fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1. Beat the ricotta and the milk together until the mixture is light and fluffy, using a KitchenAid with the paddle attachment or a whisk and a medium-sized bowl. Add table salt and mix well.
2. Place the mixture in a serving bowl. Sprinkle the fleur de sel, pepper, thyme, and oregano generously across the top.
3. Top with the olive oil, which will settle on and around the cheese. Serve this with a board full of Grilled Country Bread, or store it to use as a base for the other recipes.
Breakfast: Ricotta with Honey and Burnt Orange Toast
3 cups Sardinian Sheep’s Milk Ricotta
6 tablespoons clover honey
3 teaspoons orange zest
3 tablespoons butter
6 slices of thick, crusty country bread
Slather bread with butter and sprinkle orange zest on top before toasting until golden and crunchy. While the bread is toasting, spoon the ricotta into individual bowls and drizzle with honey. Serve toasted bread alongside ricotta bowls.
Lunch: Wild Mushroom Crostone with Ricotta
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound mixed wild mushrooms, cleaned and cut into quarters
2 tablespoons shallots, diced
1/3 cup white vermouth or white wine
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
¼ cup heavy cream
splash sherry or red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
4 pieces sliced country bread
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons Ricotta
1. Heat a large sauté pan over high heat and add mushrooms. Sauté them about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms caramelize slightly and soften. Add shallots and cook 1 minute more.
2. Deglaze the pan with the vermouth and reduce until evaporated,
3. Add cream and simmer until reduced by half. Season with salt, pepper and the vinegar. Reserve.
4. Season the bread with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Toast in a toaster oven until golden brown.
5. Place a piece of the bread on a plate and spoon the mushroom ragu over the top. Place a dollop of the ricotta on top of each and serve immediately.
Dinner: Pasta Bake with Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup diced onions
1 tablespoon sliced garlic
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 cup Sardinian Sheep’s Milk Ricotta
1 cup torn basil leaves
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 lb. box of penne
2 tablespoons butter
1. Bring a pot of salted boiling water to a boil.
2. In a medium sauce pan heat oil over medium, add onions and sauté until translucent; add the garlic, sauté an additional minute. Add tomatoes and red pepper and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Place pasta in water and cook it for 5 minutes.
4. Drain pasta and place it in the pan with the sauce mixture. Stir all together until the pasta is coated well. Take ¼ cup of parmesan and sprinkle over pasta. Turn off the heat and add butter, basil and ricotta. Stir to incorporate and pour into a 14” x 9” Pyrex baking dish. Put remaining Parmesan on top and put in a 425 degree oven; bake for 20-30 minutes until the top is brown and crispy.
Hungry for more? Carmellini, the author of "Urban Italian: Simple Recipes and True Stories From a Life in Food," is offering a $39 Monday night deal at Locanda Verde dubbed Super Bowl, for its all-you-can eat pasta. Just be prepared to fight for a seat