Tuesday 12 May 2009

Slow-baked Cherry Tomatoes with Ricotta and Thyme

Slow-baked Cherry Tomatoes with Ricotta and Thyme
A simple, sublime, slow-cooked dish combining only four beautiful ingredients: ripe tomatoes, fruity olive oil, ricotta cheese and fresh thyme. I came up with this recipe in a panic, when I realised that the shoulder of lamb I'd bought to make my slow-cooked lamb was so small and under-meaty that there was no ways it would have fed seven rather special people.

And this was a special gathering of friends: six out of the seven people sitting around my table were in my house, also for dinner, a year ago, when an armed gang burst through our gates and held us at gun point. We all escaped without injury that night, and went on to eat our dinner of lamb two hours later, once the police had gone. A year down the line, I figured that we should draw a line under the incident by having the same dinner, with the same people. It wasn't a celebration: just a time of sober (actually, not very sober) reflection.

Anyway, back to the tomatoes: what makes this dish so good is the contrast between the sweet, deep, gloriously summery flavour of the baked tomatoes in olive oil and the delicate (bland-and-almost-soapy) taste of the ricotta. Don't be tempted to use a salty or aggressively flavoured white cheese (such as feta or goats' cheese): shreds of good mozzarella would, however, be very nice.

The second time I made this, I let the tomatoes stand at room temperature, overnight, before adding the ricotta and reheating the dish, which greatly enhanced the thyme flavour.

Faintingly good with bruschetta, and excellent piled on top of a piece of grilled linefish.

Slow-baked Cherry Tomatoes with Ricotta and Thyme

500 g (1 punnet) of ripe, plump cherry tomatoes (I used Rosa variety)
3 Tbsp (45 ml) fruity olive oil
A few sprigs of thyme
1 200-gram block ricotta cheese
salt and milled black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C. Tip the cherry tomatoes, whole, into a small-oven proof bowl or dish. Stir in the olive oil and scatter over the thyme sprigs. Season with salt and pepper. Place, uncovered, in the hot oven, and allow to bake, undisturbed, for 1 hour.

Remove from the oven and stir gently to distribute the juices. Cover and allow to stand for a few hours, or overnight. Crumble the ricotta into dice-sized pieces over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with a little more olive oil, but do not stir. Replace in a hot oven for 5 minutes, or until the ricotta has warmed through.

Serve warm, or at room temperature.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

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