There are certain recipes I cook over the decades which have come to be a firm favourite in our household. Spinach Ricotta Slice is an enduring recipe that I have tweaked over the years into its current format. That’s the enjoyment of cooking for me personally; being able to tweak recipes until I hit the favourite combination of colour, form and texture. I use similar principles in my paintings and bead embroidery designs. Colour form and texture has slowly crept into the cooking as well.
What I like about this enduring recipe is that it provides an alternative form of protein and vegetables all within the actual slice. Ricotta cheese is the foundation of this recipe. My grandmother back home used to make ricotta cheese from the whey left over from cheese making. Grandmother Maria Bertoch (nee Bersan) used to swirl a few freshly cut fig tree twigs into the warmed up whey to make the ricotta coagulate into fluffy white curds. The fig branch sap was an excellent coagulant. My grandparents had extremely poor lives that were exacerbated by the onset of fascism and the war. My ancestors were resourceful, hardworking and self sacrificing people that made do with what they had, unlike the out of control, consumer ridden excesses of the current age where people are sucked into acquiring loans to purchase the latest of everything.
Spinach Ricotta Slice is very easy to make. Over the decades I have developed quick, “mix and bake” style recipes that fit in with my busy working life as an artist. Pop down to the larger supermarket and purchase a 1 kilogram basket of ricotta cheese for this recipe. You will also need a quantity of cooked up spinach or Swiss Chard. I have both in my garden but you can easily thaw out two, 250 gram packets of frozen spinach if you don’t grow your own. I also added a few leaves of Tuscan kale to this green blend.
I simply dump the ricotta into a big mixing bowl and add cubed up carrots, peas and corn, 1 cup of sliced up semi dried tomatoes, cooked up greens, dried herbs from the garden, 6 free range eggs and 1/2 cup of grated up Parmesan cheese. A very simple recipe. Mix all the ingredients together and dump the blend into a suitably sized baking dish that has been greased. Make sure the eggs are free range!
Smooth over the top and add a further sprinking of grated Parmesan. I bake this slice for 1 hour at 170 degrees Celsius in our old banger of an oven. Baking times will vary according to individual ovens. I use a fan forced oven to crisp the top. The slice must be set before removing from the oven. Give the tray a jiggle. If the mixture wobbles, you need to cook a further 10-15 minutes. The slice will rise a bit like a souffle but will level out upon cooling.
I always have a request for oven baked chips to go with this recipe. Don’t for one minute consider buying in a package of commercially prepared chips either. They are tasteless compared to the home made variety and are a value added product which means you are paying a whole lot extra money for something that can easily be prepared at home. Remember the old saying of “look after the pennies and the pounds look after themselves”? There is a lot of truth in this homily in a culinary sense. The whole purpose of these recipes is to save you money and feed your family with home prepared, nutritious foods that have both substance and flavour and are prepared with the care and attention you impart in each dish. I worry about the current generation of younger folks and whether they have been taught to connect with cooking wholesome foods and growing produce that will sustain them for their lives. For me personally, cooking is an essential life skill as is growing food.
Wash up a quantity of roasting potatoes. Do not peel them though because the vitamins are underneath the skin and there is a lot of flavour in the skin. Slice up into chunky chips. Peel some sweet potato and chunk up as well. Dump the lot into a bowl and coat with some extra virgin olive oil. Dress the chips with some salt and pepper to taste, some herbs and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Lay the spuds out in a single layer on the low lipped roasting sheet. Roast the lot for approximately 50 minutes at 190 degrees Celsius using a fan forced oven. Ten minutes before serving, drizzle over some white balsamic glaze to taste. Whack the tray back into the oven to allow the glaze to set. The sweet/acidic flavour of the balsamic glaze is an excellent gustatory counterpoint to the sweetness of the sweet potato chips. Test a chip with a fork and if there is no resistance, the chips are ready to serve. The crunchiness of the sweet potato and potato chips are lovely next to the soft slice. Potatoes made this way are always popular with our friends and family.
Serve this delicious and nutritious vegetarian slice with a salad. I add some home made red tomato chutney as an embellishment. This slice will provide you with 6-8 generous serves and lends itself very adequately to a main meal focus. A wonderful recipe for the hospitable table to feed the descending hoards. I have a policy of serving up a lot of vegetables in our main meal every day. This recipe, alongside the side salad is a “10 vegetable meal”. Another culinary success for me as our meal focus in this household is always vegetables and pulses first with a decidedly second constellation of meat based adjuncts.
Teddy loves to sample ricotta and will remind me to hand over the goods whenever I prepare this recipe. Teddy enjoys both fresh ricotta and also a small piece of the cooked up slice in his meal. I should have called Teddy “Teodoro” as this furry rapscallion has definitely developed the tastes of my ancestors. Try as he may, I have to end up wiping Teddy’s face as he cannot manage to lick off the ricotta from his petulant bottom lip. I usually receive a gentle nudge on my leg when preparing food as a tactile reminder from Teddy “Teddlybops” Hoover that he would appreciate a small sampling. That’s the Shih Tzu for you. A regular bon vivant.