a little bit french ... a little bit italian hors d'oeuvres

I know that it isn’t tomato season yet, but I couldn’t resist posting this recipe because I am really hungry for tomatoes after the long winter. And what is so great about this recipe is that you use cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes seem much more flavorful than the larger varieties early in the season.

This recipe is a little bit French and a little bit Italian. I found it in a beautiful book, The Heirloom Tomato by Amy Goldman. Even though the recipe has just a little salt added here and there, using Sal del Mar really intensifies the flavors.

INGREDIENTS: BAKED RICOTTA CHEESE 1 1/2 pounds whole-milk ricotta cheese 1//4 cup extra-virgin olive oil Coarse-ground pepper

SHERRY SHALLOT VINAIGRETTE 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar Sal del Mar to taste 3 tablespoons finely diced shallots 1/2 cup pure olive oil 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

CHERRY TOMATO SALAD 2 pints of cherry tomatoes Sal del Mar to taste Freshly-ground pepper to taste 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves

TAPENADE 1 cup Nicoise olives 1 garlic clove Sal del Mar as needed 4 oil packed anchovies 1 1/2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

8 1/4-inch thick slices rustic bread Pure olive oil as needed

For the tapenade:  Remove pits from the olives. Make a garlic paste by slicing the garlic clove thin, sprinkling with Sal del Mar, and using the flat of your knife to mash the garlic into a fine paste. Place the anchovies, garlic paste, and capers in the a bowl of a food processor. Process until almost smooth. Add the olives and pulse until finely chopped and spreadable but not pasty. Transfer the mixture to another bowl and stir in the olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

For the bread slices:  Brush lightly with olive oil and grill until crispy or toast them in a 400-degree oven, flipping once, until browned.

For the cherry tomatoes: Make the vinaigrette by mixing the vinegars and Sal del Mar. Add the shallots and soak for 30-minutes. Whisk in the olive oils. Taste and adjust with additional vinegar, oil or Sal del Mar. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and mix with the vinaigrette one hour before serving. Season with salt and pepper. Combine in a bowl with a wooden spoon, working gently so as not to bruise the tomatoes.

For the ricotta cheese: In a bowl, combine the ricotta cheese with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Place the mixture into an oval gratin dish that has been greased with olive oil. Smooth the top and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Grind the pepper over the top. Bake on a foil-lined sheet pan until the cheese is heated through and a golden-brown crust forms on top. Cool at room temperature, about 25-minutes.

Serve the tomato salad, baked ricotta cheese, tapenade and grilled bread on separate dishes and have guests make their own delicious hors d'oeuvres.