Chef James Lewis of Bettola Restaurant in Birmingham contributed this recipe to my book, Birmingham's Best Bites. I've come to love his homemade ricotta and this crostini is a wonderful party bite any time of the year. The ricotta can be kept in the fridge and used for other recipes.... like Jalapeno Poppers, Gnudi (Gnocchi like dumplings), cheesecake, as a filling for manicotti, or in my luscious Lemon Ricotta Pound Cake!
RICOTTA AND CHARRED TOMATO CROSTINI BETTOLA
1 gallon whole milk
½ teaspoon citric acid
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic
8-10 slices slightly stale Italian or French bread, thinly sliced
16-20 small cherry tomatoes
1 teaspoon olive oil
Pinch Sea salt, or to taste
Fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
Black pepper (optional)
Aged balsamic vinegar (optional)
To prepare House-Made Ricotta, heat whole milk to 360°F, then remove pan and let cool. Add ½ teaspoon citric acid and ½ teaspoon sea salt and stir. Chill and strain with linen or double lined cheesecloth; drain to catch whey.
To make Crostini, heat, ½ cup of oil on low in a cast iron skillet or pan. Add one smashed garlic clove and heat on low 4-5 minutes. Remove oil and garlic from skillet.
Return a small amount of oil and heat skillet to medium.
Add several slices of bread into pan and toast until lightly browned on each side. Remove slices when they have reached desired level of crispness. Add a small amount of garlic oil back into skillet and continue toasting until lightly browned.
To prepare tomatoes, lightly rub ion olive oil and sea salt. Char them in hot cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat before toasting the bread for crostini or roast them under a broiler to blister the tomato while toasting the bread. Once tomatoes are charred or blistered, smash the tomatoes to break them up a bit. If they are sweeter, leave them whole.
To assemble, spread ricotta on bread. Top with charred tomatoes. Garnish with fresh basil, season with sea salt, olive oil and a pinch of black pepper and balsamic vinegar, if desired.
Tip: When making the House-Made Ricotta, it helps to put cheesecloth over a colander and let it slowly drain. After you have strained the ricotta, remove it from the linen. At this point you can mix in your choice of seasoning; such as fresh herbs, citrus zest, honey, bacon; adjust the seasoning to fit the dish you are serving the ricotta with.
For smoother cheese, pulse in food processor until you’ve reached your desired consistency.