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The Blue Mountains, two hours west of Sydney, has always held a special place in my heart, and it will continue to do so as I had the great pleasure of marrying my spunky husband there last weekend. For those of you who have had the experience of getting married, you’d know how absolutely time consuming planning a wedding is. We survived.

To my husband, I love you. Welcome back to life.

The past weeks I’ve been planning some recipes I’d share when I finally gained my time back. This wasn’t one of them. But you know, inspiration comes from many places.

My brother, also a chef, cooked us a wonderful wedding breakfast the morning after. Apart from the homemade tomato and currant chutney with habanero chilli, that he lovingly bottled and gifted for our small, intimate family wedding, there was eight hour slow-cooked double smoked ham, fresh croissants, silky scrambled eggs, cheeses, marinated olives, crispy pastizzi, and the most delicious baked ricotta.

 

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So, the inspiration for this salad comes from my adoring brother. Thanks Dan.

Ricotta is versatile and when baked becomes firm and sweet, the soft cheese being completely transformed. Add flavour with lemon zest and smoked paprika, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and cracked black pepper. Herbs are also a wonderful thing when baking ricotta, especially if you are fortunate enough to snip them fresh from the back garden or potted balcony. Try some fresh thyme, dill, or bay leaf. Rubbing the tray with oil before placing the ricotta down ensures a crisp layer will caramelise during baking and gives colour and flavour to the once white ricotta.

 

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A quick word on black rice. If you haven’t yet tried it, run, run now to the supermarket and grab yourself a box of this gorgeous staple. Also called the forbidden rice it’s deep purple colour when cooked is just as irresistible as it’s flavour, which I’m not sure how to describe other than delicious. Black rice has a similar cooking time to brown. Try serving it with your next casserole or curry, you won’t be disappointed. I like it in this salad for its flavour, colour and texture.

 

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I wanted a dressing with a little spice. Cumin and dried chilli are cooked with the corn and fresh coriander. A glug of extra virgin olive oil and the juice from the zested lemon is added with salt and pepper. It works. Though lime would be equally good and in hind sight I’ll do that next time. Lime zest and lime juice.

I used Frisee lettuce , because I love it’s shape, and it’s bitter flavour. Be sure to only use the lighter inner leaves and if you don’t like bitter lettuce, baby spinach or some peppery rocket would be divine. Let the other ingredients shine through and only use a handful of greenery.

 

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Baked ricotta salad with black rice and corn

This recipe will serve 4 as a starter

Ingredients

1/2 cup black rice

300g fresh ricotta

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 tsp hot smoked paprika

2 cobs corn

1/2 tsp dried chilli

1 tbsp cumin

1/2 bunch coriander, chopped

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Cracked black pepper

1 avocado, sliced

Inner leaves of frisee lettuce or handful baby rocket or baby spinach

 

Place black rice in a medium pot, cover with plenty of water, bring to the boil and cook for 25-30 minutes, drain and lightly rinse, set aside to cool.

 

Pre heat oven to 200C. Grease the bottom of a small baking tray with oil, add ricotta and press firmly into a small rectangle. Sprinkle with lemon zest, smoked paprika, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Bake in the oven for 25-30minutes. Set aside to cool.

 

Remove the kernels from the two cobs of corn. Heat a medium fry pan with a little extra virgin oil and cook corn gently for 5 minutes, add a little water during cooking to help steam the corn. Add chilli, cumin and chopped coriander, cook for 1 minute. Turn off the heat add juice of 1 lemon and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, season with sea salt and black pepper, set aside to cool.

 

Peel and slice avocado into small wedges. When all ingredients have cooled, place a handful of frisee lettuce in a large bowl, add black rice, cooked corn, and crumble baked ricotta into large chunks, toss gently to combine. Add sliced avocado and gently toss, divide between four plates or serve on a platter for guests to help themselves.