Fennel broth with peas & baked ricotta is the perfect thing to eat in spring. Asparagus would be a wonderful addition to this – once it gets down off its new season $26 per kilogram high horse.
Time for a small boast: I made the ricotta for this from scratch; a process that’s actually pretty simple but will impress the hell out of your dinner guests. I’ve included the instructions for making ricotta below, but if that reeks of effort just use a good-quality bought ricotta such as Zany Zeus.
Fennel broth with peas & baked ricotta
Based on a Lucky Peach recipe
For the ricotta:
organic whole milk 2 litres (the freshest you can find)
cider vinegar or lemon juice 3 & 1/2 tablespoons
water 3 & 1/2 tablespoons
equipment: sugar thermometer and a sieve
Combine vinegar and water together in a jug. Pour milk into a large saucepan and warm over a medium-high heat, stirring pretty much the whole time. You need to bring the milk up to 94°C which is just below boiling point.
Once the milk has reached temperature, add the vinegar water mixture in a slow steady stream stirring the entire time. Keep stirring and watch as your science experiment unfolds before your eyes: solid curds will form and the liquid (the whey) will slowly turn a greenish hue. When this happens, remove the pan from the heat and leave to stand for a couple of minutes.
Strain curds through a sieve and gently push down the ricotta with a spoon to remove any excess liquid. Ready to use straight away, or cool and refrigerate.
For the baked ricotta:
fresh thyme sprigs
Preheat oven to 180°C. Lightly oil an ovenproof baking dish, add the ricotta and press down into a flat layer about 2cm thick. Sprinkle with fennel seeds, sea salt, and chilli flakes. Lay the sprigs of thyme over the top and drizzle with olive oil. Place into the oven and bake for 30 – 35 minutes until the ricotta edges are browned and coming away from the sides of the dish. Slice into cubes.
For the broth:
a fennel bulb
a celery stalk
butter 2 tablespoons
freshly ground black pepper
good-quality chicken stock 6 cups / 1.5 litres
frozen peas 1 cup
spinach or silverbeet leaves couple of large handfuls, shredded (optional)
fennel seeds 1 tablespoon
a handful of flat leaf parsley
Slice the fennel bulb and leek into quarters relatively thinly. Finely slice the celery. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the chopped vegetables. Season generously with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, bring to the boil, and simmer for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, finely chop the parsley and place the fennel seeds into a dry frying pan (no oil) and toast over a low-medium heat until fragrant. Add the frozen peas and the shredded spinach/silverbeet leaves (if using) to the broth and cook for a further 5 minutes. Taste the broth and add more salt or pepper if needed.
Ladle the broth into warmed bowls. Arrange the cubes of baked ricotta on top, sprinkle with parsley and toasted fennel seeds, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.