Baked Ricotta and Roasted Grapes with Balsamic Drizzle (savory cheesecake!) recipe and cookbook review: Rachael Ray 50

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Rachael Ray. That’s one polarizing name.

When my husband handed me a gift on our first Christmas together, I unwrapped it to find a cookbook, looked up and glared at him, and he ducked a little, laughing, “No! Open it up!” Tickets to Phantom of the Opera. Five years later, when our baby was tiny, and we decided I’d stay home with her, I was suddenly responsible for all things domestic with absolutely zero interest in cooking or cleaning anything. None. Then everyone in the playgroup started watching Rachael Ray’s 30 Minute Meals. She made everything look fun, doable, and yummy, and suddenly we were all cooking and doing a nice job of it. I’m so grateful that we all had her. I stumbled across this book and ordered it in a rush of nostalgia. I don’t watch daytime tv anymore so I had no idea what she’s been up to or what to expect. But now I can help you with that!

Rachael Ray 50 is filled with Rachael’s essays, a memoir of her life so far, and those are dotted with 125 recipes that mean something to her. Some of them are quick, but she’s not limiting herself to speed meals here. The pasta puttanesca was the only one that I remember from her early days. I flagged so many that I need to order more post-it notes! I’m really glad she made this one a hardcover, because it’s special.

The book is broken into three sections: Family, Friends, and Work.

I’m going to share her recipe for Baked Ricotta and Roasted Grapes with a Balsamic Drizzle. It’s like a savory cheesecake. It’s easy, delicious, and beautiful – perfect for all the upcoming holidays! Please note that there are two asterisked sub-recipes after the recipe that you’re going to want to deal with first, so that you’re just ready to go!

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Baked Ricotta and Roasted Grapes
with Balsamic Drizzle

Makes 12 to 16 servings

This is a simple spread with gorgeous roasted grapes on top. Keep them on the vine for an extra pretty effect.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
, melted, to brush the pan and put on top of the ricotta
2 heads roasted garlic, pasted*
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons EVOO
(extra virgin olive oil if you’re not fluent in Rachael :D)
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
, finely chopped
Zest and juice of 1 small lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
, to taste
2 pounds fresh ricotta, well drained
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1½ lb black grapes, Moon Drop grapes, or seedless red grapes
– look for green stems and tightly packed grapes
About 3 tablespoons EVOO
2 -3 sprigs fresh rosemary
, leaves stripped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tsp fennel seeds

Balsamic drizzle**
Toasted chopped pistachios

Fresh mint sprigs or leaves
Crostini/little toasts

MAKE THE RICOTTA: Line an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper or butter a large 1 1/2 quart ramekin and preheat the oven to 425°F.

IN A LARGE MIXING BOWL, whisk the the roasted garlic paste, honey, EVOO, eggs, rosemary, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir in the ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano with a spatula and transfer the mixture to the prepared springform pan or baking dish. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until golden and set. Cool for 30 minutes.

MAKE THE ROASTED GRAPES: Raise the oven temperature to 475°F.

PLACE THE LARGE BUNCHES of grapes on a rimmed baking sheet and dress with olive oil, rosemary, salt, pepper, and fennel. Roast for 18 to 20 minutes on the center oven rack, til they slump and are heated through.

TO SERVE: Cool the grapes until they are cool enough to handle and arrange then on top of the ricotta. Drizzle the roasted grapes and baked cheese with balsamic and garnish with pistachios and mint. Serve with crostini.

* To roast garlic, cut the end off the garlic bulbs to expose the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil and season with a little salt and wrap in foil. Roast at 425°F for 40 to 45 minutes, until golden and soft. Cool the bulbs and squish the garlic from the skins. Mash the garlic into a paste.

** I make my own balsamic drizzle: Reduce 1 cup balsamic vinegar mixed with 1/4 cup (packed) light or dark brown sugar in a small pan over high heat for about 20 minutes, until it’s think and coats the spoon. Cool. (Trader Joe’s and posh groceries sell it right in the vinegar section if you wanna buy. ~Jen)

My thoughts and pics on the recipes we tried:

1) I picked up groceries for 10 of the recipes right away. I’m not sure if the whole book was that garlic and lemon intense, or if this is just reflecting what sounded awesome to me personally. Anyway, if you love garlic and lemon, you’ll get plenty of them in here! Not pictured – 2 lbs of flank steak and 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts that I’ll grab in two days so they’re nice and fresh when I’m ready for them.

2) Chicken with Tarragon – p 128. Lovely, creamy, French chicken dish.

3-4) Crushed Crispy Potatoes – p 127. Rachel says Jacques Pepin credited her with these potatoes in one of his books, and I’m cracking up because I remember reading that. In Jacques Pepin Heart and Soul, he calls them Potatoes Rachel Ray. I have and love that book, so I’m dropping the pic of that here so you can see it, too. Anyway, their collaboration makes for some fantastic potatoes! She mentions infusing the oil with rosemary or garlic, so I did both!

5) Roast Chicken with Whole Roasted Garlic – p 93. All of the garlic. She mentions crusty bread to squeeze the garlic onto and mop up the juices. You definitely don’t want to skip that. This is an amazing chicken!!! So much flavor and the skin is perfection and the chicken’s super juicy!

6) Broccoli Rabe – p 94. Great balance of garlicky, bitter, earthy, spicy, and bright. It’s pretty mouth exciting.

7-8) Pink Champagne Spritz – p 95. This is lovely. The elderflower liqueur gives it a little sweetness, but not too much and it gets a very generous dose of bitters to counter it. Great cocktail. We clinked our glasses out at the firepit, but it would be just as perfect in holiday heels. We made it a second time at brunch with the crab stuffed mushrooms. Because thoroughness. Totally recommend.

9) Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms with Mornay Sauce – p 32. Oh gosh, are these ever wonderful. People were happy. The crab stuffing, although very seafood forward, hits on all of those stuffing notes, with buttery old bay bread chopped into it. I’d be tempted to use these as a very decadent stuffing at Thanksgiving. I only used half the filling, so I think I’ll use the rest in her crab cake variation mentioned.

10) Baked Ricotta and Roasted Grapes with Balsamic Drizzle – p 214. This is fantastic! It’s like a glorious, savory cheesecake, filled with garlic and rosemary. I snapped the pic before I added the balsamic drizzle.

11) Steak and Frico Eggs – p 293. Delicious! We loved the parmesan eggs. Never would have thought of that. Great breakfast for protein-heads.

12) Baked Pears with Gorgonzola and Crispy Prosciutto – p 63. Lovely. Very light sweetness with tangy, salty, and rich pops.

13) Upside-Down Frito Pie – p 139. This is a great Frito pie. She’s not messing around. Reconstituted ancho chiles, chipotles, and a great blend of spices give this killer flavor.

14) Chicken Paillard Croque Madam – p 171. Great dinner! Chicken, Dijon mustard, ham, bechamel, and gruyere. It’s like a croque madam with chicken instead of bread. Nice.

15-16) Bavette with Green Peppercorn Sauce Verte – p 173. Lovely steak. My kids were in an asparagus mood, so I went with that, but grilled potatoes, onions, and tomatoes would probably have been more appropriate.

17) Sweet Onion and Roasted Garlic Dip with Potato Chips and Green Onions – p 275. My husband’s in love with sweet maui onion chips and this tastes like those with roasted garlic mixed in. The chives were supposed to be on top, and the scallions were supposed to be dippers, but I just mixed them right in.

18-19) Mama Leone’s-Style Meat, Spinach, and Sausage Lasagna – p 50. Excellent lasagna, and it can feed a crowd! That she distinguishes between meat and sausage in the title made me think of the auntie in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “He don’t eat no meat? He. don’t. eat. no meat? It’s okay. We’ll make lamb!”

Some others I have flagged to try: Sunday Sauce – p 12 * Big Pan Roast Shrimp with Garlic – p 15 * Spaghetti Aglio e Olio with Anchovies, Broccoli Rabe, Preserved Lemon, and Garlicky Breadcrumbs – p 20 * Mama Leone’s-Style Spaghetti and Meatballs – p 48 * Mama Leone’s-Style Eggplant and Sausage – p 53 * Sicilian Orange and Fennel Salad with Oregano – p 72 * Swordfish Cutlets with Roasted Pepper Sauce – p 74 * Brown Butter-Balsamic Ravioli – p 87 * Dill and Cheddar Popcorn – p 107 * Jalapeno Margarita – p 109 * Crispy-Skin Fish with Morels and Asparagus – p 131 * Dozen-Spiced Fried Chicken Drumettes with Jalapeno Popper Grits – p 140 * 7-Hour Smoked Brisket Sandwich with Smoky BBQ Sauce, Sharp Cheddar, Red Cabbage Slaw, and Horseradish Sauce – p 143 * Red 75 – p 146 * Chicken and Mushroom Crepes – p 169 * Laziest Boeuf Bourguignon – p 174 * Sleep-On-It Coq au Vin – p 176 * Stone Fruit Galette with Nutty Pate Brisee – p 178 * Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni – p 195 * Tuscan Pot Roast – p 201 * Creamed Spinach with Taleggio – p 220 * Black and White Russian Root Beer Float – p 246 * Fettuccine alla Vodka – p 257 * Drunken Spaghetti with Roasted Beets (and several variations!) – p 262 * Caesar Stuffed Eggs – p 274 * Rolled Meatloaf with Broccoli Rabe, Provolone, and Cherry Peppers – p 286

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Rachael Ray 50