Last April, Tom and I spent two weeks eating our way through Italy. For me, there’s no greater joy than that. Almost everything we tried was delicious – simple cacio e pepe, house-made boar sausage, fresh pecorino cheese, pesto focaccia, tagliatelle with a mountain of shaved truffles… It was everything a food-loving girl like me could ask for and more.
Though we visited some of the major cities and monuments, one of my favorite stops was Cinque Terre – a group of 5 small towns near the Italian Riviera connected by a hiking trail. The hike was tougher than we expected, but you’re gazing at the Mediterranean Sea, while wading through vineyards and olive branches. One of the most beautiful vistas I’ve ever seen. Thank goodness we had a good breakfast that day. A sicilian style pastry that resembles a donut, stuffed with ricotta cheese and drenched in honey syrup. Absolutely amazing. Now, I wish I could eat a ricotta-stuffed, honey-drenched donut every morning, but a girl’s got a figure to maintain. So I tried to take the same flavors and make a breakfast dish that was easier and healthier, but still retained some of the magic of Cinque Terre.
This casserole is similar to a baked, stuffed french toast. Stale baguette soaked in a batter of milk, eggs and cinnamon, then layered with fresh ricotta and honey and another layer of soaked baguette. Bake until the top is golden and crisp and the insides are custard-like. A drizzle of honey, agave nectar or maple syrup to finish it off and I could almost recall my perfect hike before heading off to work.
1 tsp. butter
1/2 a baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices
3/4 cup milk (skim is ok, but whole is better)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
6 oz. fresh ricotta (you can usually get fresh ricotta from a cheese shop or fancy grocery store, but regular is ok if you can’t find fresh)
1/4 cup honey
extra honey, agave nectar or maple syrup for drizzling
Preheat the oven to 350° and grease a small baking dish (I used a 9-inch oval) with the butter. Place half of the baguette slices in a single layer at the bottom of the dish.
Whisk the milk, eggs, cinnamon and salt together until well-combined and pour half over the bread. Spread the ricotta over the batter-soaked bread and drizzle with the honey.
Place the remaining bread over the top of the ricotta, pressing down a bit to compress, then pour the remaining half of the batter of the top, making sure to coat each piece of bread.
Let sit for 30 minutes (or overnight) covered in the refrigerator. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the top is golden and crisp and the custard is set.
Serve and drizzle with honey, agave nectar or maple syrup.
Makes 2 large or 4 small servings.