Recipe by Chef Kelsie Kerr, Standard Fare, Berkeley | Photo by Judy Doherty
It truly is the little touches that make the difference at the table. While good vinegar (like top-quality extra-virgin olive oil) may not be at the top of your list of special ingredients, both make all the difference in a salad or a sauce.
Kitty Keller imports some of my go-to vinegars. She has always chosen traditional ingredients made by talented artisan producers, the kind of ingredients that inspire fantasies of foreign trips with glimpses into makers’ cellars. My favorite among her vinegars is a Banyuls, which is made from a sweet, fortified wine from the Languedoc region of France. This Banyuls was a revelation when I first tasted it, and I have never tasted one as good since. It has great pungency with deliciously rich, nutty overtones and an interesting fruity and mineral complexity. I especially like using it in dressings for salads and to deglaze a pan for summer braises. Don’t stop with Banyuls in your discovery of Kitty’s vinegars. Her PDX Sherry vinegar is like no other I have tasted: deep, rich, and smooth.
When selecting ricotta, I look to Bellwether Farms, a local dairy in Sonoma that makes delicious ricotta from sheep or Jersey milk whey. Most local stores carry it in the cheese department.
Fig leaves produce an exotic aroma when baked, and they are perfect for wrapping around fresh cheese and fish. In fact, fresh local petrale sole, rockfish, or salmon (when in season) would work just as well as the ricotta in this recipe. While it’s unlikely that you’ll find figs leaves at the market, the East Bay is filled with fig trees. I see them growing everywhere I go, and if you don’t have a tree, it’s likely that your neighbor may have one. Just ask if you can take a few leaves.
Small green or black lentils work best for the salad, as they will hold their shape and will not turn mushy while cooking.
Serves 4 to 6
- 12 ounces ricotta
- Salt to taste
- Extra-virgin olive oil (various uses)
- 4-6 large fig leaves
- Lentil Salad (see recipe below)
- Summer Squash Salsa (see recipe below)
In a small bowl, mix the ricotta with salt to taste and 2 teaspoons olive oil. Wash and dry each fig leaf and brush with olive oil. Spoon an equal portion of the ricotta into each leaf, and fold the leaves around the ricotta, poking the stems through the leaves to help keep them folded over. Place the stuffed leaves on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and store in the refrigerator until ready to bake (since these are best served still warm from the oven). Pull the tray of leaves and cheese from the refrigerator 15 minutes before baking as you preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake until puffed and golden, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven.
Spoon the lentil salad onto 4 to 6 plates. Slide a fig leaf onto each plate overlapping the salad. Spoon the summer squash salsa over the cheese and salad. Garnish with more chopped herbs and a drizzle of olive oil if desired. The fig leaf is edible but really too fibrous to be eaten.
Makes about 3 cups
- 1 cup lentils, small green or black
- 1 tablespoon Banyuls vinegar
- Salt and fresh-ground pepper
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons slivered scallions, white and green parts
- 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
Bring 6 cups of salted water to a boil. Add the lentils and cook for 12 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover with a lid. Let sit 12 minutes. Check a lentil or two. They should be fully cooked, but still have body. If they are still not quite done, let sit a few minutes longer. Drain the lentils reserving ½ cup cooking liquid. Sprinkle the vinegar over the warm lentils and season with salt and pepper. Let sit for 5 minutes. Taste and experiment with adding small amounts of salt and vinegar to check if lentils are improved by adding more of either. Stir in the extra-virgin olive oil, scallions, and parsley. If the lentils seem very tight and stodgy, loosen them with a bit of the reserved cooking liquid.
Summer Squash Salsa
- A mix of squash in various colors will look nice. For the fresh herbs, try basil, summer savory, parsley, chives, or a mix of several.
- Makes about 1 cup
- 2 small, firm summer squash
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh herbs
- Salt and fresh-ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon Banyuls vinegar
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Remove the two ends of each squash and slice very thin. (A mandoline makes this job easier.) Cut the slices into thin strips to make batons or julienne. Sprinkle the squash with salt to taste and let it sit on a dinner plate to soften. Chop the herbs. Mix the vinegar, oil, and pepper together. Stir in the chopped herbs. The salted squash may have shed liquid onto the dinner plate, and you can stir that liquid into the herb oil. Taste for salt and acid and adjust as needed.