I'm in awe of people who grow things. From farmers to backyard gardeners to kids and their school projects with egg cartons and potting mix... whatever your scale or skill level, it's utterly impressive to take a tiny seed and nuture it til it's something substantial for you to eat or admire. For now, I live in a big city, in a small apartment so soil - that vital ingredient in plant growth - is hard to come by. Or at least it was until recently. A couple of months ago, I got a window box. Three window boxes to be exact, spanning the length of my living room windows. They're north-facing, so are bathed in glorious sunlight all day long - perfect for growing herbs.
Ricotta is so good in sweet, delicate things - breakfast hotcakes, Sardinian ricotta cake... but if you swap the sugar for salt... and pepper, oregano, and chilli... and bake it in the oven for just a short while, just about as long as it takes to reach out the window, pluck some marjoram, wash it, strip its leaves, chop them up and cover them in olive oil, it transforms into a robust, savoury showstopper. One to smear on a cracker and graze on with a glass of wine, crumble over pasta (maybe with some slow-roasted tomatoes), or cut in thick wedges for a sandwich made with the leftovers from last night's roast (whether meat or veg). It's early days for me and my herbs. Wish us luck. We're going to need it - it's more accurate to say I'm green at gardening than possessed of a green thumb. We'll see how I go - any tips gratefully received - but this recipe is an excellent incentive for success.
Baked ricotta with chilli and marjoram
Adapted from The River Café Cookbook Green by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers
Did you know you can make your own ricotta? It's so incredibly easy. All you need is milk, vinegar, and a bit of cheesecloth. Click here to find out how.
1 teaspoon dried chilli
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons fresh marjoram leaves
salt (I like Maldon)
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 220 deg C / 425 deg F.
Lightly brush with olive oil a dish that will hold the whole ricotta. Place the cheese in the dish. Scatter over the dried chilli and oregano, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.
Bake for 10-15 minutes, until it's lightly brown and feels solid to the touch.
Chop the marjoram leaves, place in a bowl and cover with extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and pour over the baked ricotta while still warm.