I love ricotta cheese, especially in desserts. And I'm very fond of almond paste, having been a marzipan fan from way back. White chocolate, well...not so much. I'm definitely a "darker-the-better" girl when it comes to chocolate. But I can work with it. Strawberries are all about celebration and the year's entry into summer. So I was pretty excited about the ingredients for my first go at Paper Chef.
The only glitch, of course, is that strawberries don't really come into season here in the Northeast until mid to late June. There are plenty of strawberries in the markets that have taken the long cross-country trek from Watsonville, but they vary greatly in flavor, bouquet and texture. Owen of Tomatilla, Paper Chef's creator and host, kindly suggested that those who live in regions where strawberries weren't yet available could use something else. But I didn't want to take the out, since strawberries actually are available to me, although not yet very delicious. So I came up with a Strawberry Rhubarb Compote, a preparation that I hoped would coax the non-local strawberry's still hidden scent and flavor out into the open. I used a supporting cast of ingredients that complement strawberries, and make them taste even more of themselves: rhubarb, Grand Marnier, and fruit vinegar. The other trick I used was to cook half of the berries with the rhubarb, which released their luscious taste. Then the rest of them were added fresh for color and texture, once the compote had cooled. The juices were reduced to a fragrant syrup and drizzled over the whole.
I thought about floating sweet little ricotta dumplings with almond and white chocolate on top of this compote. But somehow a warning voice told me that this was a recipe for disaster, as I suddenly envisioned the dumplings either falling apart in the liquid, or being tough and glutinous. Next I thought of a ricotta custard, but then decided I didn't want anything too cheesecakey. Then it came to me: Ricotta Gelato! This would be a perfect place to incorporate the white chocolate too, giving some body to the gelato. Now for the almond paste. A cookie or cake would be just right on this plate -- and what better than my favorite Scented Madeleines, butter-rich, moist with almond paste and perfumed with orange-flower water?
Below I give you the three component recipes, to plate as you wish. I like them all together. The ice cream melts lusciously into the fruit and syrup, and the madeleine is delicious dipped in the fruity mix. G and I decided that this is really a very romantic dessert. There's something about the creamy subtlety of the ice-cream, touched with haunting flavors that can't quite be placed (although you, the chef, knows that it's the hint of cinnamon and the lacing of Marsala). Maybe it's the ruby-toned fruit, redolent with the aroma of strawberries rising from the syrup. Or perhaps the madeleines are responsible. It certainly seems so as you watch them innocently cooling on the baking rack, in all their plump, shell-shaped tender sweetness...
1 lb. rhubarb, untrimmed weight
1 lb. strawberries, clean, hulled and halved or quartered
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier
1 Tbsp. blood orange vinegar
2 Tbsp. wildflower honey
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Trim and clean the rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch lengths, and put into an ovengoing dish. Sprinkle with the sugar. Add half the strawberries, reserving the other half. Mix the Grand Marnier, vinegar and honey, and pour over the fruit. Mix everything together, cover the dish with aluminum foil, and bake for 1/2 an hour, just until the rhubarb is completely tender. Let cool. Drain the fruit carefully, reserving the juice, and put it back in the dish. In another pan, reduce the fruit juices by half, until they're thick and syrupy. Place the remaining strawberries with the cooked fruit, and pour the warm syrup over everything. Mix lightly, and chill until ready to serve.
Ricotta-White Chocolate Gelato
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup cool water
2 oz. white chocolate, broken into small pieces
1 pound whole-milk ricotta
1 and 1/3 cups heavy cream, not ultrapasteurized
A generous pinch (about 1/8 teaspoon) of grated cinnamon
1 teaspoon Madagascar vanilla extract
2 tablespoons dry Marsala
1 tablespoon wildflower honey
pinch of salt
Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and add the chocolate. Whisk lightly until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the syrup.
Process the ricotta in a food processor fitted with the steel blade until very smooth. Add the white chocolate syrup and all the other ingredients and pulse the machine a few times to blend well. Refrigerate until the mixture is very cold.
Pour into an ice cream freezer, and freeze according to the freezer's directions.
This recipe was given to me by my lovely friend Ernestine, who assured me that these are the best madeleines ever. They've certainly become my favorite. She also told me that they stay fresh longer than the plain kind, especially if well wrapped and put in airtight packaging. I found that they freeze beautifully, too. Ernie got the original recipe from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook.
7 ounces almond paste, cut into small pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
5 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons orange-flower water
1 cup sifted unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
10 tablespoons(1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1. Cream the almond paste and sugar in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Transfer to a large mixer bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the almond extract and the orange-flower water and beat until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.
2. Sift the flour and baking powder together and fold lightly into the almond mixture. Gently fold in the melted butter just until combined. Refrigerate the batter for at least 1 hour.
3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Brush madeleine molds with melted butter and dust lightly with flour.
4. Spoon the batter into the molds, filling them three-fourths full. Bake until lightly colored, 8 to 10 minutes.
5. Let cool for 5 minutes, and then gently remove to wire racks to cool completely. Allow the molds to cool before rebrushing with melted butter and repeating the process with the remaining batter.
36 to 40 madeleines