Roasted Beets with Homemade Ricotta, Crispy Bacon, and Basil

I’ve been fascinated lately with the idea of making everything – including those ingredients we are accustomed to buying ready-made from the shops in convenient plastic tubs – from scratch. In this respect, of course, I’m about 30 years behind Alice Waters and 15 years behind most of Brooklyn. Also, although I’d like to try making my own goat cheese, for example, the unfortunate truth is that when all is said and done I’d probably prefer a nice Rocamadour or something equally French and delicious. Ricotta, however, is another story. It’s possible to find really good fresh ricotta in a supermarket, but more often than not good ricotta is the only thing you can’t find – everything else is laden with stabilizers and sugars and mystery additives. Also, everyone says making ricotta is really easy. What I’ve learned is that (1) making ricotta is easy, and (2) it really does taste better. Much, much better.

I largely followed the recipe and method in Smitten Kitchen, although I adjusted the proportions slightly. Also, while Deb recommends heating the milk/cream mixture to 190 degrees Fahrenheit (88 degrees Celsius) before adding lemon juice, I found that simmering for a couple of minutes at a slightly higher temperature (around 205, or 96 degrees Celsius) was necessary for the mixture to curdle. (This may also have been because I also followed the New York Times’ suggestion of combining all ingredients at the outset. Any cowboy will tell you that you can’t ride two horses at the same time.) However, I used the most beautiful milk I could find in outside of a farmer’s market (here, organic Ayrshire full cream milk) AND I used Jersey cream, so my ricotta is a lovely pale buttercup color, and the taste is, well, amazing.

Ricotta and roasted beetroot are a natural (some might say obvious) combination, but I love the naughtiness of adding bacon to what is traditionally a vegetarian dish. And it works; the bacon adds texture and delicious salty depth without overpowering the other flavours, and the rich fatty ricotta and bacon are cut by the clean sweet beetroot and grassy, aromatic basil. I should say one more thing. Of COURSE you can skip the laborious process of making your own ricotta from scratch and make this recipe with a really good fresh ricotta, or even with mascarpone. However if you do decide to go the whole hog (so to speak), be aware that while this is relatively easy, you need to get started a day in advance. Also, don’t throw away the whey! (Recipes will follow soon!)

You will need:

Cheesecloth

A colander

Aluminium foil

Ingredients:

For the Ricotta

750 ml whole milk

150 ml single cream (heavy cream)

½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons lemon juice

For the Beets

2-3 whole beetroots, or about ½ kilo. I had only red but gold, or a mix, would be lovely.

2-3 strips streaky unsmoked bacon

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon sugar

A handful of basil leaves, coarsely torn

Additional extra virgin olive oil, or basil infused olive oil for drizzling (I used the basil infused oil I was sent by the nice people at Seggiano, but a sweet grassy olive oil will work just as nicely).

Coarse salt

Freshly ground pepper

Method:

For the ricotta:

Line a colander with four layers of cheesecloth and set over a bowl. At this point, you can follow the Smitten Kitchen method to a T (which involves adding lemon juice after the mixture has reached temperature and leaving it to stand until it curdles) or you can do what I did. (Not necessarily better, just what I did.) Whisk together milk, cream, salt, and lemon juice, and slowly heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until it reaches about 205 degrees Fahrenheit (96 degrees Celsius), being careful not to boil. Simmer gently until mixture starts to curdle, and then remove from heat. Leave to stand about five to ten minutes, then pour into your colander. Drain for an hour and a half, then transfer the ricotta to a storage container, reserving the whey (the liquid that’s dripped from your ricotta in the bowl) for another use. Chill overnight. You’ll have about a cup of ricotta – enough for this recipe and several others.

For the dish:

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius (about 350 degrees Fahrenheit). Wash but do not peel beetroots, and individually wrap in aluminium foil. Roast for two hours or until completely tender. Carefully open foil to let steam escape, then when beets are cool enough to handle peel and trim them. (The peel will come away easily.) Halve and slice the beets into crescent moons.

Combine the two tablespoons olive oil with the red wine vinegar and sugar and gently toss with the beetroots, and leave to stand for about 10-15 minutes.

While the beets are marinating, fry the bacon until crispy and golden, drain, and then chop with a sharp knife.

To assemble, arrange four to five slices of beetroot on a plate, sprinkle with bacon, and spoon on a few dollops of ricotta. Sprinkle with basil, coarse salt, and pepper, and drizzle with additional olive oil.

Makes four servings.

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33 thoughts on “Roasted Beets with Homemade Ricotta, Crispy Bacon, and Basil

  1. I’ll skip the beets (though they are beautiful). Does that mean I can have extra ricotta and bacon? Looks great! Our cheese-making attempts have been about 50/50 successful/not. May have to try again.

    • You could do this salad with heirloom tomatoes instead of beets, in which case it would be totally different but equally delicious. I just ate that for dinner. Either way you get extra ricotta and bacon. :)

  2. Oh, I am having a total beetroot love affair at the moment and so is my 5 year old, much to the concern of her grandmother who rushed her off to the doctor last week for fear of some dreadful affliction evident by the colour of what was in the toilet bowl! Pickled beetroot, roasted. Yum! Have not made my own ricotta before but will try this :)

  3. I’m with Michelle – I’m not a fan of beets (it’s the after-taste)… I’m a little too lazy to make ricotta, but the combination of ricotta and bacon is simply stunning. I made my own filled pasta with ricotta, bacon and apple sauce recently – it was yum!

    • I am firmly in the “loves beets” camp — it must be my Eastern European roots. I do find, however, that slow-roasting reduces the metallic taste that so many find objectionable; also, golden beets are much milder than red beets. I’ve just checked out your ricotta, bacon, and apple post — it reminds me a bit of pierogi (Polish dumplings), which are often made filled with soft farmer cheese or ground pork and served with apple sauce and fried onions.

  4. Love beets! (I eat them raw) Love roast beets! Love ricotta! (the Indian version is paneer) Love bacon! And love that your dressing is simple enough to let the flavours shine through.
    What’s not to love about your recipe, Susan?

    • Thank you! I love raw grated beets — I add them to salads. I’ve been meaning to make my own paneer; I hear it is equally easy (makes sense). Thanks for your sweet comments. :)

  5. This is a really lovely dish I say this because I want to eat it. I’ve never made ricotta and probably never will while i live in Sydney as there is a small artisan factory near me that you can go and get fresh ricotta by the kilo from in the morning. You take your own container and it is warm when you get it. Very hard to resist ! Good on you for making it and learning the process
    http://www.mykitchenstories.com.au

  6. Yummy! I love making my own ricotta. I use Salvatore Brooklyn’s recipe which is just whole milk (the best you can get) and lemon juice. They are very fussy about temperature, just about being very gentle about not breaking the curds up before straining. I should try the Smitten Kitchen spin on it! Yours looks amazing :-)

  7. Good job on the ricotta! I’ve done something similar with paneer (only real difference is no cream and pressing the cheese as it drains) and loved the result. So much better than supermarket versions.

    The bacon would make a wonderful combo with the other two as well, a good balance. Would it throw everything out of kilter if you added a wee drop of maple syrup I wonder, maybe balance with walnuts?

    • Do you know, I thought about adding maple syrup and toasted pumpkin seeds, but then decided the syrup would clash with the basil. Maple and bacon are *so wonderful* together. Roasted beets, of course, work with almost everything.

  8. Pingback: Southern-Style Whey Crumpets | Susan eats London

  9. Though I can’t get down with roasted beets (oh how I’ve tried), I love that you made your own ricotta. I tend to favor citric acid when I make mine (which I find in the middle eastern section of the “ethnic aisle” in the grocery store) because I find when I use lemon juice, it always tastes faintly of lemon. Which is sometimes great and sometimes not. Definitely better with some cream! Beautiful dish.

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