Earlier this spring, I rediscovered ricotta cheese as a simple dessert. Similar to cottage cheese, ricotta can serve as a substantial filling for both sweet (cannolis) and savory (lasagna) dishes. But it can also stand on its own as a low-fat, high protein dish. A recent brunch order in a New York City restaurant delivered a plate full of ricotta as the main course. And it totally worked.
A couple of weeks ago when I was in New York for the James Beard Awards dinner, my mom and I paid a visit to Prune, the tiny, eclectic bistro belonging to Chef Gabrielle Hamilton. I had been wanting to visit Prune ever since I read her wonderfully written memoir “Blood, Bones and Butter” (2011).
Within of few steps of turning onto 1st Street in the East Village I could tell that Gabrielle had found a special place to nurture her talents. It was the trees. There was a comfortable marriage between the old boughs, heavy with spring blossoms and the solid front stoops that reached down to the sidewalk. I wouldn’t describe 1st Street as elegant, but striking in a wabi sabi kind of way – good bones, delicate flowers, and gritty concrete. For a fleeting moment, I felt transported to a European city where settling in to enjoy a hot drink alongside a bustling sidewalk of well-dressed people is a form of entertainment and relaxation. Gabrielle’s street is a tiny pocket of pleasure.
After a few paces, we reached Prune’s geranium pink awning. Even at 2 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, there was still a 45 minute wait. So we found a bench in an East Village garden across the street and passed the time watching small birds splash in a minute pond among stones and tall grasses. I wondered if in their leafy paradise they knew they lived in the one of the world’s largest cities? It hardly mattered.
If you’ve read “Blood, Bones and Butter,” then you’ve essentially visited Prune from the way Gabrielle describes it: small, with an antique ornate wooden bar, tinned ceiling, old white tile floor. She’s left all the character intact and cleverly decorated with mirrors that seem to hang with a Gaelic shrug to add depth and light to the corners. The hostess, relaxed in a pair of loose linen overalls, cuffed just above a pair of solid black clogs, looked as though she was ready to slide in behind a potter’s wheel. All of the servers wore pink T-shirts, and despite the softness of the color a tattoo here or a piercing there gave them a fashionable, edgy air.
Like most New York restaurants, there is hardly enough room for all the tables. Mom and I were sat at a table for two that pressed against the back of our neighbor’s chairs. It hardly mattered.
Prune’s menu is know for its quirky twists. My coddled egg with roast chicken was petit, soft, and perfect with a side of balasmic dressed greens and toasted sour dough bread. But Mom’s dish was more unusual. A large round of ricotta cheese, topped with dried figs, plump red raspberries, toasted pine nuts, and drizzled with honey. On the side were three miniature deep-fried triangular scones sprinkled with powdered sugar. Utterly delicious. Afterward, we felt as if we had not just eaten – we had tasted.
The ricotta dish was so simple and elegant I’ve recreated it for you here. I overtoasted the pine nuts a bit, but really, it hardly matters.
Ricotta cheese delight
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 dried fig, sliced
3-4 plump raspberries
1 teaspoon pinenuts, toasted
Mix together the ricotta cheese and vanilla. Scoop into a serving dish and garnish with figs, raspberries, pinenuts and drizzle with honey.
Related post on Kitchen Report: An evening at the James Beard awards