You see those white chunks with grill marks on them? That is ricotta salata. Salted ricotta cheese on a flavorful tomato salad. I could eat this salad every day for lunch.
Ricotta salata is one of my absolute favorite cheeses in the world. It is a ricotta cheese that has been pressed, salted, and dried and it is simply amazing!
It can be crumbled, sliced or even grated! I like it grated over some of my pasta dishes. I really like to eat it plain with a chunk of bread. There I go almost forgetting to tell you what tomatoes are doing here instead of a cake. My most sincere apologies. I will make it up to you this weekend with a delicious cake I made for a special birthday.
The tomatoes…you may remember (or not) that I participate in a Vintage Recipe Swap that my friend Christianna from Burwell General Store put together a couple years ago. It’s a cozy and casual swap where the group is given a vintage recipe to change up and make your own. The cool part of this swap is that the members every month stray so far from the original and get really creative. The fun part for me is seeing how far everyone runs with the original recipe. This is the original recipe:
I will say it it was probably as unappealing as the Jell-O recipe. For that swap last month I made Orange Yogurt Mini Bundt Cakes. It is a bread pudding…a tomato bread pudding. Really not that exciting or enticing. My mind was going in the direction of something very different. Definitely not a pudding variation. Different as in a tomato cake. A tomato cake is something I have never had before. A tomato cake is something I am now very curious to make.
I was attracted to this vegan tomato cake recipe. A sweet tomato cake with olive oil and cinnamon. I’ve never dreamed of olive oil with tomatoes in a cake. Could it work? The blog’s author describes it as melt in your mouth soft with a crunchy crust. I need to make this soon and find out for myself.
The other tomato cake I was leaning towards trying was Rose Levy Beranbaum's Chocolate Tomato Cake with Mystery Ganache. Rose Levy Beranbaum ‘s recipe appears in her book: Rose's Heavenly Cakes . Rose created this cake for Campbell's soup and she explains that the tomato soup adds both color and a zing to the cake.
But real life got in the way of my trying either cake recipe and at the very last minute (yesterday) I asked (pleaded) my super talented Italian executive chef husband (I can brag a little about him. God knows he deserves buckets of praise) to give me one of his recipes to make. Or rather, I had him make it for me. I asked if I could go by his restaurant before their lunches started and watch him make the salad. This is something I normally do not do as the kitchen is buzzing before the lunch and dinner shifts start. This is the the first thing that came to mind for Fabrizio when I asked him for something different and delicious to share here with my lovely readers.
The hearts of palm can be found at most grocery stores. The ricotta salata I have found at Whole Foods Market. If you are not into salty, aged cheese you could simply omit it from the recipe. But why would you do that?
Why one photo? Let's talk about my "photo session" there at his restaurant. He plated up the salad and handed it to me, "Quickly do your photos before the lunch people start to come in." I went over to the back room that is full of bright light and placed the dish on 4 different tables. I took about 25 photos. Nothing worked. It all looked blah! I looked down at a chair underneath one of the windows and placed the salad on the chair. The lighting coming from the top was perfection. I sat down on the flour and zoomed in (I was remembering Andrew Scrivani at IFBC NOLA last August telling us it's ok to just focus on the food. And I know I looked ridiculous to the staff passing by behind me setting up for lunch). I zoomed a little more and that was it. My one photo that I feel shows how delicious this salad is. I still have a long road ahead of me with food photography. I keep trying.;)
He asked me not to photograph him. Of course I didn’t listen.
It’s a simple salad full of wonderful flavors. The tomatoes have large sweet basil leaves nestled in between the layers. The sweetness of the tomatoes and basil married with the saltiness of the ricotta salata is all just magical. The crunch from the toasted pinoli and heart of palm give every bite a little extra surprise. The gazpacho dressing is perfect to eat alone by the spoonful. A healthy recipe to be enjoyed after the breads and tarts we had here during Easter. A little break sometimes does wonders. So does a good run!
Ingredients for Gazpacho Dressing:
8 ounces cucumber (about 1 cucumber), halved, seeded and peeled
3 ounces red pepper (about 1/2 red pepper), chopped
4 plum tomatoes
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 cup tomato juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (add more as needed for taste)
salt and pepper, to taste
for the salad:
1 beefsteak tomato, sliced thick
2 hearts of palm, sliced
1 tablespoon toasted pinoli nuts
4 basil leaves
3 slices of ricotta salata marked on the grill (if you can’t find this cheese, you can omit it)
handful of frisée lettuce (substitute with another lettuce if you prefer)
To make the gazpacho dressing:
Place the cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers in a blender. Blend until the mixture is smooth and thick liquid. (I suggest you add a little at a time and blend after each addition).
Add the tomato juice, vinegar and olive oil to the vegetables puree and blend. Check the flavor and if needed, add more vinegar a teaspoon at a time. Depending on the sweetness of your tomatoes, the flavor may be acidic. Check again and add another teaspoon of vinegar if needed. Add a little more olive oil by the teaspoon if needed. Season with salt and pepper taste and blend. Pour the gazpacho through a strainer into a metal bowl and let cool in the refrigerator for about an hour.
The tomato slices are stacked. Place the first tomato slice in the center of the plate. Place two basil leaves in between the first tomato and the second. Place two more basil leaves on top of the second tomato slice and top with the last tomato. Scatter the hearts of palm slices around the plate. Place the frisée lettuce on top of the tomatoes and stack the ricotta salata slices against the lettuce. Drizzle your chilled gazpacho around the salad (drizzle according to your taste. If you like more dressing, go ahead and pour instead of drizzle). Sprinkle on the toasted pinoli.