It's hard to believe that Summer is almost over. Seems like just yesterday I was trapped in a nursing chair with a newborn and pitching an idea for a new cookbook in a hormonal haze, with my first baby heading off to kindergarten. Now, that newborn is careening into toddlerhood (and careening into everything else in the process), a cookbook manuscript has been officially completed and delivered, and my little girl has graduated from kindergarten the same week that she lost two (!) teeth. The past few seasons have meant serious business.
But just in time for the end of Summer, things are shifting, and with that comes a slightly slower pace and a little more time that can be spent doing whatever the heck we want — more time inhaling my kids' necks, more time to write in this space, and more time to finally pour over the stack of new cookbooks that I've been collecting on my desk since last Fall. Having just finished many months of dealing in the currencies of sugars (albeit less-refined ones), butter, and flours, and coming into some glorious weeks of sunshine and gleaming Summer fruits, I've been in the market for simpler, lighter fare to satiate the sweet teeth around these parts.
And during one recent, delicious, totally free moment to flip through all those aforementioned cookbooks, I found my answer in the pages of Donna Hay's latest, completely gorgeous book, Fresh and Light.
In addition to wanting to eat all the things on all the pages, the most remarkable thing about the book is, with the exception of one blue-striped straw and a linen with a stripe of stitching, every single prop in the entire book is white. Every linen, every plate, and even every piece of flatware (white forks? I die!) is white. This allows the food to really pop, of course, but it also leaves you sort of wanting to throw a grenade at your cabinets and drawers and refill them with only white things, so you can feel a bit more like Donna Hay. It's a stunner, this book, I'm telling you.
Prop envy aside, I'm also deeply in love with the feel of the recipes. It's the kind of simple, seasonally-driven food that you want to eat all Summer long, even here in San Francisco, where we're cloaked in fog for most of the actual summer. But come September, when we finally get our taste of hot Summer weather, I'll be paging through this beauty all over again.
In spite of the fog, we still manage to find plenty of great Summer fruits around here, starting right now, actually. Stone fruit is absolutely killing it here lately, so I decided to give Donna's (we're on a first-name basis now, you see) Berry and Ricotta Slice a peachy twist, with a smattering of blueberries for good measure.
If you're a cheesecake lover but lack the patience or calorie allotment necessary to make a big honking cheesecake (not to mention the willpower to keep from forking the leftovers straight from the fridge for two days straight, not exactly bathing-suit-friendly snacking, there), then you'll really love this recipe. It's as much about vibrant seasonal fruit as it is about the light, creamy, cheesecake-like layer underneath. So light and lovely, so full of flavor and sweetness. So. Very. Donna.
The recipe is so mind-blowingly simple that your head will come off your shoulders. I've adapted this recipe to line up with American-sized packages of ricotta and cream cheese (the original recipe calls for 400 grams ricotta and 125 grams reduced-fat cream cheese, for our international friends).
My favorite pan in the world is a quarter sheet pan. It's 8-by-12-inches and works well here. However, the original recipe calls for a 20-by-30-centimeter tin, which works out to be a hair under 8-by-12-inches, and I think my slices were a tad thinner than they should have been. That said, if all you have is a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, I might try upping the ingredients by about a third so that your slices don't end up depressingly thin.
Because I love cheesecake-y things loaded with vanilla and lemon, I opted for a scraped vanilla bean rather than extract and used the lemon zest in addition to the juice from one large lemon.
This recipe calls for a touch of rice flour to bind the batter and thus is gluten-free. I had rice flour, so I used it here, and it was great, but I am confident that all-purpose flour would work as well. Tossing the fruit in an extra squeeze of lemon and honey is optional, but it's something I added to give the fruit a bit of sexy gloss and keep the peaches from browning. If you use all mixed berries, there's no need to worry about browning, obviously.
Peach and Blueberry Ricotta Slice
Adapted from Donna Hay's Fresh and Light
Serves: 10 to 12
1 15-ounce container (425 grams) part-skim ricotta cheese
4 ounces (113 grams) reduced-fat cream cheese
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces/100 grams) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon (2 1/8 ounces/62 grams) freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (or the seeds from 1 whole vanilla bean)
1 tablespoon rice flour or all-purpose flour
2 medium peaches, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 6-ounce (170 grams) container fresh blueberries
1 teaspoon honey
1. Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 325°F. Spray an 8-by-12-inch rimmed baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and line it with parchment paper. Lightly spray the paper, too.
2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the ricotta, cream cheese, sugar, eggs, 1/4 cup lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla extract or seeds, and rice flour or all-purpose flour. Process until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until set, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pan once from front to back halfway through baking. Chill completely in the refrigerator, at least 1 1/2 hours.
3. To serve, in a medium bowl, toss the peaches and blueberries together with the remaining teaspoon of lemon juice and honey. Remove the slab of ricotta custard to a serving platter (or not). Tumble the fruit over the custard. Cut into squares and serve. This dessert can be assembled and chilled several hours in advance.