Last night Mr NQN and I had a little dinner party with friends. It all started off quite innocently when a friend said that she couldn't go out for dinner because she was watching her budget for that week and was all the more sadder for it. "No problems!" I said and offered to cook dinner completely forgetting that on the same day I had an all day outing with the Free Range Cook Annabel Langbein and reader Wendy.
I wasn't terribly worried and figured that I'd make a pasta with ragu sauce, Mr NQN would tidy up, Queen Viv would bring dessert and Miss America would bring some wine and we'd all be fine.
And then my hand twitched a little.
"Add something else" my brain said. "You have to serve vegetables!" it said to me chiding me.
So I added a salad and then two. And then I recalled what a friend Teena had once said to me. Her Italian father had enjoyed his first Chinese restaurant meal but questioned "But where's the bread? It's not a meal without bread!"
So onto the menu went a bread. Since I was in the full throes of an Italian feast, I decided to make a ricotta and herb bread. It's a gorgeous number and a soft loaf interspersed with herbs. Don't worry if you don't have ricotta, as long as you have milk you can make it from scratch in about 15 minutes. It's also useful if you have some leftover ricotta and want to add an interesting texture to your bread. The bread is almost focaccia-like in texture although with less large holes and less oil. The herbs impart a savoury quality that balances the Italian dishes well.
I used a combination of herbs realising that I don't have a lot of dried herbs, mostly fresh ones so the colour was a little startling before I put it in the oven but the bright green herbs darkened once baked. Best of all, I tried to save my sanity by baking this a few days before and freezing it in slices. And if you want to get a little bit indulgent, making this into a garlic bread with pats of garlickly butter wedged between each slice is not a bad way to end a weekend ;)
So tell me Dear Reader, do you enjoy making your own bread?
Ricotta and Herb Bread
An Original Recipe by Not Quite Nigella
1 teaspoon dried yeast
3 tablespoons milk, lukewarm
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
2.5 cups bread flour
2/3 cup ricotta cheese* instructions on how to make your own ricotta see here
2 tablespoons basil flavoured oil oil or olive oil
1-2 tablespoons leftover whey from ricotta making (or use water if you have bought ricotta)
2-3 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped
1.5 teaspoons salt
Step 1 - Line a baking tray with parchment. In a small bowl, place the milk and sugar and sprinkle the yeast over and stir. Allow to bubble and activate in a warm place for 10 minutes until frothy.
Step 2 - Fit a dough hook on your mixer and add the flour, ricotta cheese, olive oil and the yeast mixture. Put on the lowest speed and add extra whey or water if needed. It's quite a soft and light dough. Place in a clean bowl and cover with cling wrap and place in a warm area for 1-1.5 hours until tripled in size.
Step 3 - . Punch down the dough, add the fresh herbs and salt and knead by hand for a couple of minutes. Shape into a loaf shape and place on prepared tray. Allow to rise in warm area for another 30 minutes or so. Preheat oven to 220C/440F. Bake for 30 minutes until hollow sounding inside.