Well into summer, it’s way too hot for a picnic but never too hot for brunch. Time the weekend rolls around, whether it’s Saturday morning or Sunday, don’t we all love waking up knowing that in just a few hours… maybe around 10:30 or 11:00, we’ll luxuriate in our favorite portmanteau… brunch. Strong, rich cups of coffee, fizzy mimosas jazzed up with an additional splash of pineapple juice and grenadine to make a gorgeous Blushing Bride or a tall, deep coral colored tumbler filled with spicy potion of tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, tabasco and vodka all guarantee a great beginning to your gathering. Growing up, brunch was sometimes not the most relaxing time spent. My parents frequently included our grandfather, Grandpa, who was notorious for aiming sharp, hurtful comments at unguarded men, women and children. He liked me so I never felt the sting of his tongue. My father certainly felt it, as a child and young adult. My father was a child of the Depression. And although he had a great sense of humor and was quite the prankster, he was also somewhat quiet and very sensitive. He was the apple of his mother’s eye, a true lady known for her gentleness. Daddy was left to his own devises for entertainment, playing ball with the boys in the neighborhood or riding his bicycle 10 miles to the only pet shop in town. On the other hand, my father’s sister, my Aunt Sunny, was Grandpa’s favorite and he loved to spoil her. Horses and riding habits, ballgowns and music lessons; none were too fine for Aunt Sunny. Meanwhile, Dad and Grandpa were like oil and vinegar. My sisters and I loved to hear the story of when our father was just a boy of 7 or 8 years. Dad had exchanged angry words with his father and Grandpa, predictably, verbally cut him into ribbons. After Grandpa left the house for his office, Dad festered and stewed and, finally, well, decided to kill him. Keep in mind my father was only a child. Dad planned to dig a deep, wide pit, the bottom studded with bamboo poles, the ends sticking up whittled to razor-sharp points. The pit would then be covered and camouflaged with a criss-cross of branches and leaves concealing it completely. When Grandpa returned home from the office, Daddy’s intention was to call his father out back where he would then fall into the pit and become impaled on the bamboo stakes. No more hurtful confrontations. Daddy cut down boughs of trees and whittled one end of each with his pocket knife. He spent the rest of the day feverishly digging. At the end of the day the pit was covered with branches, sticks and leaves. He was pleased. He had finished in time and all that was left to do was wait for Grandpa to come home. When my grandfather arrived, my father called to him from the backyard. “Dad! Dad! C’mere. I’ve got something to show you. C’mere!” He thought he was enticing Grandpa to the pit of death. Soon my Grandfather would meet an untimely and gory end and this little boy could not wait. Grandpa strode through the back yard towards my father. Daddy said his half-pint heart was beating like a rabbit on crack. And just like that, in the snap of a finger, it was finished. In a handsome pair of tobacco colored brogues, Without giving it a second look or even noticing it, Grandpa stepped over the pit as though it was a puddle. A puddle! I always shrieked with laughter when Dad got to that part. A puddle! “What did you want to show me?”, Grandpa asked. Daddy just hung his head and mumbled some inane reply. They didn’t always get along but the first time my father returned from the Amazon and began his work with Symphysodon genetics, Grandpa found a new respect for Dad. Gone were the caustic remarks, replaced with affectionate and witty observations. They became the best of friends. Grandpa always spent Sunday afternoons with us and, as I mentioned earlier, that meant brunch. One of the last brunches with us was spent at our club. The entire family was seated outside, surrounded by palms, a pool and, everyone’s favorite, the open air bar. We were enjoying our drinks and chatting… catching up on the week, when a very small coconut dropped out of one of the palm trees landing dead center on Grandpa’s completely bald head. Silence fell over the table like a death shroud. We kids held our breath… we didn’t even make eye contact with each other for fear we wouldn’t be able to control the paroxysms of laughter which were our natural reactions. Our waiter picked the wrong moment to pass by our table. My grandfather lashed out at him. I can still hear his roars. Talk about cleaning out somebody’s clock. I’m pretty sure that waiter is somewhere still licking his wounds. Ooof. Awful! Our brunches are indoor now and this baked ricotta is one of the classics I serve. Happy Independence Day!
Baked ricotta is wonderful served at brunch or cocktail hour. It’s delicious warm, room temperature or cold. I serve it alongside my finest cruet of olive oil. My guests serve themselves to a slice or smear of the torta and drizzle the olive oil over their serving to their liking. It can be served alone as a side or with bread as an appetizer. I used to drain my ricotta over the sink wrapped in cheesecloth but my feeling is that today’s ricotta is pretty firm so if you’re not inclined or have time to drain it, that’s more than fine. However, if you open a container and it seems watery then you will need to drain it. That will be your first step and will add one to two hours draining time to the preparation. But just eyeball it. I shred my parmesan cheese rather than grate it. I enjoy the flavor more of both the parmesan and the ricotta when shredded. Oil cured olives are found, (surprise), on the olive aisle of your grocery store. They won’t jump out so look for them. They’ll be close to jarred Kalamata olives. Oil cured olives come with the pit but as they are soft and tender the pit slips out with little effort on your part. The pitted olives will be roughly chopped so it matters not how they look. When the ricotta first comes out of the oven it’s tall and puffy. However, as it cools, it will deflate. Once it has cooled it can be turned out onto a serving platter whole or cut into wedges. The torta may be served with or without bread but always with olive oil on the side. Delish!
Baked Ricotta with Parsley & Oil Cured Olives
- 2 15-ounce containers ricotta cheese
- 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
- 3/4 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped plus one pretty sprig for decoration
- 1/2 cup oil cured olives
- good olive oil in a cruet to serve
- crostini, grilled bread or crackers to serve, optional
- Drain ricotta cheese if needed.
- Pre-heat oven to 375°. Line an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper pressing well into the bottom and sides. Fold any excess paper over the sides of the pan.
- Place ricotta in a bowl and break up with a wooden spoon.
- To the ricotta add eggs, Parmesan cheese and parsley and mix well so all ingredients are fully incorporated.
- Add the olives to the mixture and GENTLY fold into cheese. Take your time. If you mix too quickly or forcefully the olives will give off their “ink” and the torta will have a gray cast.
- Turn the mixture into the lined pan, press into the sides of the pan and smooth the top.
- Gently press in the decorative sprig of parsley into the torta, spreading open the leaves for a gorgeous presentation.
- Bake for 60-75 minutes or until ricotta is firm in the middle and golden on top.
- Allow to cool before transferring to serving dish.
- Serve with a cruet of good olive oil on the side.
- To serve as an appetizer, include a basket of French bread rounds, crostini or grilled bread on your table.