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!



House-Made Ricotta:

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.

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I have got quite the week in front of me. Some of it is exciting and some is like jail.

The jail part is self imposed. I put myself on lockdown. No phone. No Facebook. I'd say no computer but I have to write. Suddenly, I'm having a flashback to Food Network Star.... ugh. Here's why I'm in self-imposed hiatus....  I'm trying to finish editing the collection of recipes I have gathered for an upcoming cookbook called Birmingham's Best Bites: A Collection of Recipes from Your Favorite Restaurants which will benefit the Birmingham Public Library. I loved the library as a kid and would ride my bike there almost daily in the summer to get new books to read. I bet I read every sports, horse, or Nancy Drew book they had in the place. Here's me... I always fell asleep with a library book on my head.

Martie reading in bed.jpg

I'm writing the book with my good friend Chanda Temple, who is the Public Relations Director at the library. Our deadline is this week so I'm on lockdown until I finish. The book will be a great way for the library to raise funds for events and special programs and it will also help the restaurants with their visibility, too. The book launch party happens as the conclusion of this year's Eat, Drink, Read, Write Festival on October 10,2014. I'm helping throw the party. Here's a link to tickets if you want to come. They are only $10. Purchase EDRW Birmingham's Best Bites & Instagrammy's Tickets. 

You have to be there to buy the cookbook and there are only a limited number of copies available. Besides, it is going to be a great party with lots of wonderful best bites! There are recipes from Birmingham's James Beard Award winners and nominees: Chef Frank Stitt and Highlands Bar and Grill, Chef Chris Hastings, Hot and Hot Fish Club, Chef James Lewis, Bettola at Pepper Place, Jim 'n Nicks, Ollie Irene, and the iconic The Bright Star in Bessemer. There are recipes from favorite food trucks like Shindigs and Dreamcakes to new-comers like Avondale's Hotbox, Bottle & Bone at Uptown, and the highly anticipated Galley & Garden from Chef James Boyce, Little Savannah, Satterfield's, DoDiYo's, Jinsei, Maki Fresh, Eagles Restaurant, and Ashley Mac and so many, many more have stepped up to participate.

Chanda Temple and I preview our cookbook, Birmingham's Best Bites: Recipes from Birmingham's Restaurants, Bars and Food Trucks

Chanda Temple and I preview our cookbook, Birmingham's Best Bites: Recipes from Birmingham's Restaurants, Bars and Food Trucks

We've even included a "days gone by" section with a history of Birmingham restaurants and recipes from some favorites that have closed. That section includes the recipe for my Chocolate Roulage recipe, inspired by a landmark Birmingham restaurant called Cobb Lane which closed long ago. We used to go there back in the day for special occasions like bridesmaids luncheons and baby showers and the primary reason was for the Roulage. Yes, rou-lage. Not roulade. Yes. I know the French pronounce the rolled up thingie a "rou-lade" but here in Birmingham Alabama, it is and always will be pronounced rou-lage.

This book will be the perfect present for your foodie friends so get a few and keep them for special occasions. The images are by local photographers Arden Ward Upton and Mo Davis of Arden Photography. The photos are stunning and will make the book all the more special. Here is a sneak peek: