July 17, 2010

Ricotta with Vanilla Sugar Croutons and Berry Syrup

I don't have too many words for you today.  But I do have this beautiful dessert.

Oddly enough, I came across this recipe at the gym as I was spinning away on some sort of machine, trying to get my mind off the fact that I was spinning away on said machine.  The magazine was Women's Health and the recipe comes from Giada de Laurentiis.  I know most people have their own opinions about the Food Network and it's 'chefs' but I'm alright with it.  I've made a recipe of Giada's before and enjoyed it very much so I don't think I'm above the Food Network (even if I may not share the cooking philosophy of all of it's stars).

Ok, that's already more words than I'd planned on but here's the bottom line: these croutons are amazing; sweet, buttery, crunchy, sugar-crusted, vanilla bean-y amazing.  Do not skip out on them.  They make this dessert.  And, in case you were wondering, you should probably make this dessert too.

Ricotta with Vanilla Sugar Croutons and Berry Syrup
I made some changes in the type and amount of sugar used in this recipe.  I used raw sugar for the syrup and croutons and cut it back by half for the syrup.  I also used agave nectar in the ricotta.  Additionally, I used a blackberries, cherries, and a plum for the syrup because I felt they would complement the flavors nicely and I'm not the biggest fan of blueberries (unless they are in baked goods).  Feel free to experiment!

Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis
(serves 4-6)

1/4 ciabatta loaf (4 oz), cut into 1-inch cubes (4 cups)
1.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon raw sugar
1/4 vanilla bean

Berry Syrup
1/2 cup fresh orange juice (from 1 medium orange)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 small plum, chopped
1 cup blackberries
handful of cherries, halved and pitted

1 1/2 cups part skim ricotta cheese
3 tsp grated orange zest (from 1 medium orange)
1 tsp grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
1 tablespoon agave
1/4 vanilla bean
fresh mint sprigs or leaves, for garnish

For croutons: Preheat oven to 400°F.  In a small saucepan, melt the butter and scrape in 1/4 of a vanilla bean (halve the vanilla bean horizontally, cut it in half vertically and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape out the seeds).  In a medium bowl, toss together bread cubes and melted vanilla bean butter. Add the raw sugar and toss to coat.  Arrange bread cubes in a single layer on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool completely.

For berry syrup: In a small stainless-steel saucepan, bring orange juice, lemon juice, and sugar to a simmer over medium-low heat. Stir until sugar has dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. Add blackberries, chopped plum and cherries; simmer until the fruit softens, 6 to 8 minutes. Cool syrup to room temperature. 

For ricotta: Combine ricotta, orange zest, lemon zest, 1/4 of a vanilla bean and agave in a medium bowl. Mix well.

To serve: Divide ricotta and berry syrup among 4- 6 decorative bowls.  Top with croutons. Garnish with mint sprigs is desired.

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