As I write this, the sun is shining softly through my open kitchen windows, I can hear birdsong and, in the far distance, the hum of the first grass cutting, the blossom is lightly scented as the petals fall at my feet. This time of year always reminds me of long lazy afternoons in Provence, I’m not sure why. Some distant memories echoing in the back of my head. Pan bagnat, pissaladière, croque monsieur, salade niçoise and delicate omelettes. This golden baked version is one of my favourites, filled with early season asparagus, lemon-baked ricotta, nutty Gruyère, buttery shallots, French tarragon and chives, it is always made with love. The lemon-baked ricotta is one of my favourite things in all the world. It’s so easy to make and provides a beautiful topping for pasta dishes or try it carelessly slathered over lightly toasted sourdough. You’ll have a bit left over from this recipe so go for it!
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Extra-virgin olive oil
A knob of butter (optional)
4 banana shallots, finely chopped
1 bunch of spring asparagus
10 large free-range eggs
100g Le Cret Gruyère cheese, finely grated
2 tbsp of fresh chives, finely chopped
1 tsp of dried French tarragon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
Heat an oven to 180C and lightly butter a shallow 10-inch pie dish.
Line an ovenproof dish with a square of baking parchment and turn out the ricotta cheese onto it. With the back of a spoon, smash it down a little to broaden the surface area, drizzle with olive oil and half the lemon juice, scatter over the lemon zest, salt and pepper. Bake for 25 minutes, remove from the oven and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a lidded frying pan over a medium heat and add the olive oil and butter (if using). When the butter has melted, add the shallots, turn down the heat and allow them to gently sweat down for 10 minutes.
Whilst all that is going on, carefully cut off the tips of the asparagus and set aside. Finely slice the remaining spears and, when the shallots are done, add them to the pan. Leave them to slow fry for around five minutes and then remove from the heat.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the eggs. Stir in the onion mixture, half the baked ricotta and the Gruyère cheese. Add the herbs and season to your taste.
Pour the mixture into the buttered pie dish and decorate with the reserved asparagus tips.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, turning around once half way through. Allow to cool slightly before turning out on to a plate. Serve just warm or at room temperature.