A New Summer Appetizer

Last month while my husband and I spent several weeks on Massachusetts’s southern shore, we ate at Little Moss, a charming restaurant in the village of Padanaram. I ordered a starter listed simply as “ricotta, sugar snaps, and mint pistou” and was blown away by the flavors of the dish.  A shallow bowl arrived with whipped ricotta spread on the bottom, topped with sugar snap peas, plus a generous dollop of fresh mint pistou (like a pesto but without nuts or cheese). A golden  baguette-shaped focaccia accompanied it. Back in the kitchen of our coastal rental, I reproduced this creation and once again loved the melded tastes. After describing this dish to my friend and talented cook, Edward Lockhart, he suggested I turn it into a pick-up appetizer. So, I retested and called my variation “brioche toasts with ricotta, sugar snaps, and mint.”

For my version, I cut squares from brioche bread and quickly (less than a minute or so) pan fried them in butter and oil. Then I topped these squares with creamy whipped ricotta, blanched sugar snaps, and a good spoonful of mint pistou. The combination of the salty cheese, the sweet sugar snaps, and the refreshing mint was enticing. The brioche took the place of the focaccia, adding a nice texture to the mix.

When entertaining, making food in advance is my mantra. So, the day before, I prepared the pistou, whipped the ricotta (by whirling it in a food processor for a minute), and blanched the peas. A few hours ahead, I sautéed the brioche squares, and then quickly assembled them on a platter at serving time. Accompanied by glasses of chilled rosé, these appetizers were a huge hit at our home on two occasions last week. I hope they will be at yours too!

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Brioche Toasts with Ricotta, Sugar Snaps, and Mint

Mint Pistou
1 cup loosely packed torn mint leaves
1 medium garlic clove, peeled and halved
1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt
4 tablespoons olive oil

3/4 cup whole milk ricotta
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 medium sugar snap peas, ends trimmed and peas halved crosswise on the diagonal
16 brioche squares (about 1 1/2- inch on each side) See cooking tip.
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter plus more if needed
2 to 3 tablespoons canola oil plus more if needed

1.For the pistou, place mint leaves, garlic, salt, and olive oil in a food processor. Pulse about a minute until mint is finely chopped and mixture is pureed. (Pistou can be prepared a day ahead; transfer to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes or more before using. The pistou will be a dark green color; that's okay.)

2.Clean and dry the bowl and blade of the processor. Add the ricotta and 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Process 1 minute until cheese is smooth and creamy. (Ricotta can be whipped a day ahead. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes or more before using.)

3. To blanch sugar snaps, bring a medium saucepan filled halfway with water and set over high heat to a boil. Add peas and cook until bright green and just tender, about 3 minutes. Drain in a colander, refresh under cold running water to cool, and then pat dry. (Peas can be blanched a day ahead. Wrap in paper towels, place in a plastic bag, and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes or more before using.)

4. Up to 3 hours ahead, sauté the brioche squares. In a large heavy skillet (cast iron works well) over medium heat, heat butter and oil until hot. Add enough squares to fit comfortably in a single layer. Cook 45 seconds or until golden brown on underside. Using tongs, turn and cook the same way on the other side. Watch carefully as brioche burns very quickly. Remove to a dinner plate. Repeat with remaining squares, adding more butter and oil in equal amounts.

5. To assemble brioche toasts, spread each toast with some whipped ricotta, top with 2 sugar snap pea halves, and a very light sprinkle of salt. Then add a scant teaspoon of pistou. (You may have some ingredients left over; save for another use.) Arrange on a serving plate. Makes 16 toasts or enough to serve 6

Cooking tip: For the brioche squares you can use 2 or more brioche submarine rolls with tops and bottoms cut into 16 squares (about 1 1/2 inch each); 4 slices brioche bread cut about 1/2-inch thick, then cut into 4 equal squares; or 4 brioche hamburger buns with tops and bottoms cut into 4 equal pieces (they will not be perfect squares but will work fine).

Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2022

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