Friday, 11 October 2013

For Helen Barolini (1925 - ),

"It had become his special task to make the ricotta, and he had a big copper kettle, jealously excluded from any other use and kept meticulously shining and clean, which he used on the wood-burning stove in the kitchen. It was like his time as a shepherd in the mountains. On days when the milk was delivered in huge quantities he'd start the fire and have the children keep it continuously fed. Then he'd stir, stir the huge amount of milk in the copper kettle with a beautiful constant rhythm that he had to keep just so, he said, so that the ricotta would come smooth and sweet."
     -- Umbertina

There are no morning people in my household.

My partner and I are usually braindead until I've had my coffee and he his tea, which brings about a dilemma. One of us needs to gather the wherewithal to slump over a boiling kettle while the other dozes uselessly.

On weekdays, when he has to catch an early bus to work, it's him. But on weekends, when his alarm is silent, I have no chance of having my coffee brought to me. His weekend dopiness is so bad that he has been given the nickname 'Sleepy Meerkat' because... well, this happens:

So I have to drag myself out of bed, stumble to the kitchen, and get our reviving drinks underway. The upside of being the early riser is that I get to observe the extended weekend version of SM's hysterically incompetent six-phase waking routine. It goes something like this:

One: Incoherent mumbling
No words are formed, no movement possible. Potential awakeness indicated only by general groaning.
Administer tea.
Two: Dream transitioning
Wildly surreal mumblings about contents of dreams, usually involving anthropomorphised animals, e.g. machete-wielding monkeys in ballgowns.
Remind SM to drink tea.
Three: Dopiness
Waking up now; slight smile, utterances limited to “goo mahnin.”
Reply “good morning,” do not get too close due to risk of paranoia.
Four: Paranoia
World is frightening and unfamiliar; tendency to be startled by curtains, pillows, etc.
Reassure SM that curtains are, in fact, curtains, and not machete-wielding monkeys in ballgowns.
Five: Narrating
Limbs are counted; actions recognised. E.g. “I’m waking up. My leg is over there. It’s bent a bit. There’s an arm in my mouth,” etc. Lasts up to half an hour.
Administer second tea, if in a hurry to progress the phases. If not, induce amusing metanarration by stating: “You’re narrating,” prompting chorus of “I’m narrating. I’m saying what I’m doing,” etc.
Six: Nodding
General agreement with principles of awakeness, manifested in excessive silent head-nodding.
Weekdays: “You’re late for your bus.” Weekends: balance third mug of tea on head; take photos.

On weekdays, with the incentive of needing to get to work, all six phases can rush past within an hour. Sometimes, though, especially on weekends, some form of food is needed to boost SM's blood sugar and get him through the phases. (I have wondered what would happen if, one Sunday, I withheld tea and breakfast. He might just nod all day. He might nod forever, like those people who get the hiccups for forty years. I shouldn't experiment on someone I love. I shouldn't...)

So this morning, I was in the mood for pancakes, and whipped some up from my favourite morning-proof recipe.

But they needed something extra. Some sort of added protein, to help SM remain nod-free throughout the morning. And since I'm still in an Italian mood, that something was bound to be ricotta. I love the thought of eating something long-stirred and drained, even though my ricotta was probably made in a sterile facility by people wearing hairnets, and not by someone's copper kettle-toting Italian papa like in Helen Barolini's novel. Still, even flaccid non-Italian supermarket ricotta can be perked up, with a few additions.

Honey makes everything better. Except maybe ant infestations.
My additions of choice for this recipe are honey, toasted almonds, and a good whipping in a blender cup. Whipped ricotta uses a thinning agent (usually milk) and a lot of aeration to make the ricotta luxurious and creamy. You can dollop the finished product on just about anything - I'd take a spoonful with figs on scones as an Italian take on Devonshire tea. 

But today this whipped ricotta was gorgeous with the season's first strawberries layered between warm pancakes into a huge stack, and drizzled with maple syrup. Actually, I would have happily stopped at "the season's first strawberries," but SM needed more wake-up nourishment than that.

Don't worry, I'll eat more of your friends later.  

I know what you're wondering. Did it work? Did SM take one bite of the magic ricotta-layered pancakes and bolt upright, speaking his gratitude in full, cogent sentences? No. He roused enough to polish off the plate and drudge reluctantly out of bed. But a few moments ago, as I uploaded a photo of his breakfast to this very post, he said: "Oh that looks good, when did you make that?" 

3 hours ago, you adorable dolt.
I would consider this a food fail, but even if he didn't recognise his own breakfast, I enjoyed mine immensely. 

Plus there's some whipped ricotta leftover, which I plan to eat for breakfast tomorrow on thick slabs of french toast with an extra drizzle of honey. Perhaps I should add some pop rocks to SM's plate tomorrow. But I shouldn't experiment on people I love. I shouldn't...

Honey-Almond Whipped Ricotta

Makes just over a cup

70g sliced almonds
200g ricotta
4 tbsp milk
2 tsp honey (I used a wild thyme variety)


Toast the almonds in a dry pan until lightly browned and fragrant. Load the almonds into a blender and grind down to as fine a powder as you can get. Add the ricotta, milk and honey, and blend until smooth and creamy. 

Serve with pretty much anything baked, or with fresh fruit, or both.

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