On a recent trip to Italy I visited a beautiful village in Greve in Chianti named Panzano. This small town with 12 restaurants is a picturesque postcard of Tuscany.
The best restaurant in town, in my American opinion that may not matter too much, is the family owned Cantinetta Sassolini. Apparently all of the locals agree with my #1 rating because it was packed each night I dined. On my first visit for dinner, I ordered a starter of baked cheese with a fava bean sauce. The ricotta & goat cheese was slightly caramelized on the top with that lovely chewy dark cheese flavor. I knew I had to recreate this and found this recipe on Food52.com. The sweet candied tomatoes over the savory cheese are ridiculously good.
More inspiration to come from this lovely restaurant at the top of the hill on the way to the church (after the butcher shop).
For the baked cheese:
- 15 ounces whole milk ricotta
- 4 ounces log goat cheese
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons fresh marjoram leaves, or leafy herb of your choice
- generous grinding of black pepper
- generous sprinkling of kosher salt
For the candied tomatoes:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 12 ounces cherry tomatoes
- 1/4 cup vermouth
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 3 sprigs marjoram, or leafy herb of your choice
- sea salt
- For the baked cheese: Place the ricotta in a colander lined with cheese cloth and leave to drain for about 30 minutes, pressing down to help extract liquid.
- Preheat the oven 375 degrees. Brush the inside of a 2 cup baking dish with olive oil.
- In the small bowl of a stand mixer, beat the ricotta, goat cheese and egg until smooth. Beat in the herbs (chopped if the leaves are large), a generous amount of pepper and salt. Taste your goat cheese first, saltier cheeses require less additional salt.
- Spoon the cheese mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake for 40 minutes, or until puffed in the center and browning.
- Let the cheese cool slightly, then invert it out onto a plate.
- For the tomatoes: While the cheese is baking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then drop in the tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the skins on the tomatoes start to split. Pull the pan off the flame, add the vermouth and return to the heat. Add the brown sugar and herbs and stir until the sugar is melted. Add a generous pinch of salt. Lower the heat and cook gently until the liquid is reduced to a syrupy coating for the tomatoes. The tomatoes will collapse and some may disintegrate. That’s fine.
- When ready to serve, spoon the candied tomatoes over the warm baked cheese and serve with sliced baguette or crostini.
- The baked cheese can be prepared a few hours in advance and then baked before serving. It is best served warm, but not necessarily right out of the oven. The tomatoes can be prepared ahead too and gently reheated before serving.