My mom has been making homemade ricotta since I was a little girl. It evokes for me the scents of our small kitchen and the feel of her linen apron against my cheek as the soft, fresh whiteness of the cheese magically turned into tarts, fritters and other such delicacies that I adored. When I moved out on my own, I had this crazy idea that I should learn how to do it myself, but then I decided to take the easy way out and punted back to my mom, and she still makes ricotta for me any time I like. What can I say, I'm a spoiled kid!
To tell you the truth, what I love doing best is just eating it straight from the little glass bowl that I usually get in my goodie bag, but this time, mom outdid herself and the bowl was so large that I was practically forced to use it in other ways. There's only so much ricotta and honey on toast that a girl can take, you know.
I decided to create a little afternoon snack - to go with a cup of tea, perhaps - and since the cooler weather inevitably brings out my inner Brit, I wanted it to be a dainty confection, as fun to make as it is to eat. After I took these out of the oven, I thanked my lucky stars that I was afternoon-tea-ing by myself today because no way would I have shared any of these with anyone else. Ok, maybe I would have shared with my mom, but that's it! The tender, delicate apples cupped a custard-like nugget of sweet ricotta, and the smell of it all, of apple orchards and afternoons in my mom's kitchen, almost sent me into another world. Instead of life being like a bowl of cherries, I'd much rather that it be like these wonderful little tartlets - you know exactly what you're going to get, and it's going to be delicious.
Apple and Ricotta Tartlets (makes about 8 servings)
8 oz fresh ricotta cheese 4 medium apples (I used Gala, but any firm variety will do) 4 tbsp sugar 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 egg butter for buttering muffin tin
Turn oven to 350F and butter well 8 cups in a standard-sized muffin tin. Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the stem and the core. Then, slice the apples into as thin slices as you can manage - the thinner, the better. If the slices are too thick, they won't bend and you'll end up with a bunch of broken pieces which, although delicious, isn't what you're aiming for here.
In a small bowl, mix the ricotta with the egg, sugar and vanilla extract until everything is well incorporated.
Arrange the apple slices in overlapping circles inside the muffin cups. They will look like flowers with a large opening in the middle. Drop ricotta into the opening, doming it a little on the top.
Bake for about 30-35 min, until the apples are very tender and the filling is set and slightly puffed. Let cool for a few minutes and then gently remove with a fork or a small spatula. Serve warm.