Yesterday, I had my first Rome Sustainable Food Project lunch, put together by Mona Talbott and her crew of cooks and interns. The choices of different delicious tidbits with which to pile one’s plate was almost overwhelming. I took teeny portions so that I could have some of everything. There was pasta with lentils, a green bean and fennel salad with chopped roasted almonds, warm zucchini with tomatoes, pâté topped with pickled onions on toasted whole grain bread, big leaves of Boston lettuce (which I’m sure has another name here), and pizza bianca. Everything was delicious, but the one item I couldn’t resist getting more of was another crostini—this one a slice of whole grain bread topped with the most delicate, moist ricotta, a drizzle of flavorful olive oil, and a few tiny shreds of basil. The elements are all utterly simple in themselves, but together they made one of those morsels that cause you to close your eyes and focus on the flavor that is sadly, thrillingly, fleeting.
One of the inspiring thing about the kitchen here is that they source as many ingredients as they can locally. Mona has spent a good part of her three years here getting to know the dairy farmers, vegetable and livestock farmers and purveyors, and cheese makers, in order to find the best ingredients. The ricotta served yesterday comes from Tuscany, and is sold at what Mona describes as the best cheese shop in Rome, La Tradizione, near the Vatican. I’ll have to find that one….
The ricotta pictured here is the piece I bought the other day at Antica Caciara in Trastevere. I thought I’d make some pasta with ricotta, peas, and prosciutto, based on Marcella Hazan’s recipe in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, a favorite of mine. But after yesterday’s lunch, I think I’ll have to make crostini. Anyone want to come over for aperitivi?
(based on my experience and not Mona’s recipe; serves 4 or so)
1 c. ricotta (the best you can find!)
1/4 c. basil chiffonade
2-4 tbs. evoo (again, the best you can find)
salt to taste
1/2 round loaf whole wheat bread, cut into 1/2-inch thick half-slices
Toast the bread slices until crisp. Spread a large dollop of ricotta on top of each, sprinkle on a smidgen of salt, sprinkle on the basil, drizzle with olive oil. Serve with wine and olives!