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I used to live in southern France, where for a time I taught English to small French children. As you might imagine, my stay in that country was a culinary dream come true: I ate all the warm, fresh bread and flaky, buttery pastries that are so cheap and accessible there, and washed them down with four-euro wines that would cost at least fifteen bucks in this country.
And then there was the cheese. Hundreds of varieties, many of them crafted locally with immense care and using the richest milk available. I stuffed myself on those cheeses (and had something to show for it, returning to New York about 15 pounds heavier than I was when I left).
The French know what to do with cheese, often eating it plain alongside some bread or fruit as we Americans have been known to do, but also treating it in ways that are less commonly seen on these shores. A dish that I fell in love with in France was a simple round of fresh goat cheese, called a crottin, that's brushed with olive oil and baked in a hot oven until its exterior browns and its interior oozes. The hot, melty cheese is served with crusty bread and lettuce dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, and makes a filling, satisfying lunch or light dinner.
This French dish of baked cheese inspired me to make the recipe I'm sharing today, baked ricotta. The cheese gets drained and mixed with soft goat cheese, seasoned with fresh thyme and drizzled with olive oil. The addition of an egg in the mixture firms up the cheese, and it bakes up something like a savory cheesecake filling. On the side, I like to serve cherry tomatoes roasted with maple syrup and vermouth, which reduces to a syrupy glaze as the tomatoes cook. It's a perfect application for winter tomatoes, which aren't always at their best when raw, but which still taste great when their flavor is concentrated through cooking. The combination of warm, salty cheese and sweet, soft tomatoes is addictive when piled onto a crusty baguette.
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