Last year marked one of the least snowy winters that New York City has ever not enjoyed. This year is shaping up to be a little better, but let’s face it, we haven’t had reason to call the whole day off in more than two years, and that’s a shame. The absence of the pure, white fluffy stuff is dire enough as to make people look elsewhere for alternatives. I have a hare-brained theory that this is what’s been fueling all the brouhaha over home dairy-making as of late.
This season’s issue of Edible Brooklyn reports on a host of DIY food topics: Ricotta, kombucha and dumpster diving among them. Everywhere I look it seems that foodies are opting for their own fresh cheeses, and commonly ricotta. Having recently come to unsatisfying results with yogurt-making and killing a kombucha colony, I think I’m sitting this one out for a while. In the meantime, I’ll try to better acquaint myself with how and what makes ricotta great. Lasagna is one answer. But bruschetta — sandwiched between crispy bread and something flavorful either hot or cold — is a little more refreshing. And easy.
fresh ricotta — it even tastes like snow
I’ve been spoiled by so many holiday parties lately. So far there have been the small, intimate ones, the unfortunate dance beat-deejayed company ones, the obligatory friends-of-friends hosted ones where you barely know anyone, and then, there’s always that friend who really tries to outdo herself by hosting an elaborate, multi-course dinner party. This year, that person was my friend Colleen. I can’t praise enough the skill with which she fed an apartment full of friends with a 22-pound turkey, numerous sides, four pies and plenty of cookies. For my part, I simply brought this appetizer.
Creamy and delicate, this squash and ricotta bruschetta just makes me feel all clean somehow. Once bitten into, the squash is bright and lemony, accented by dark, gooey caramelized bits and a hint of rosemary. I like the hearty, nutty flavor that a crisp multigrain baguette lent these — as well as the added nutritional value. (Good loaves can be found at Trader Joe’s and, appropriately, Whole Foods.) It seems others enjoyed the combination as well, or I grossly underestimated the number of guests at the party, since this plateful was swept clean in minutes. If you opt for other types of squash instead of butternut or acorn, different cooking times may be needed; the best method is to keep peeking at your roasting pieces until they’re at the softness that you prefer. With a 1/2-inch dice, it doesn’t take long.
beta carotene-building blocks
Winter Squash Bruschetta
(makes about 16 pieces)
1 1/2-lb butternut or acorn squash, peeled, de-seeded and chopped to a ½-inch dice
½ multigrain baguette (or plain if preferred), sliced to 16 ½-inch rounds
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup fresh ricotta
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
few pinches rosemary (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss diced squash pieces in two tablespoons of the oil and optional rosemary and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 20-30 minutes, rotating or flipping them once midway through cooking. Pieces should be caramelized and crispy in parts but not too crisp. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
Line the bread slices in an even layer on a baking tray and bake at 250 degrees for about 5 minutes, until just crisp. Remove from tray and let cool completely.
Spread a layer of ricotta on each piece of bread. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on top of each one, then place a spoonful of the squash on top. Squirt a few drops fresh lemon juice on top of each piece. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil across the tops, and serve immediately.
(for 16 pieces)
1/2 loaf multigrain baguette (at $1.99): $1.00
a 1 1/2 lb butternut squash (at $0.75/lb): $1.13
1/2 cup fresh ricotta (at $2.99/15 oz.): $0.80
3 tablespoons olive oil: $0.30
1/2 lemon: $0.17
Three brownie points: I will gladly eat bread, veggies and cheese in any form. But this one happens to be one of the most guiltless combinations of the three: Starting with fiber-rich multigrain bread — and only a sliver per scoopful of squash — going onto Vitamins A, C, potassium, manganese, calcium and even Omega-3 fatty acids found in most winter squash, and finally the healthy dose of calcium and relative low fat in ricotta (compared to other cheeses). Joy to my world.