Tangy-sweet tomatoes that are hitting their peak -- paired with creamy ricotta -- make this an ideal summer salad. Created by sous-chefs Noah Rosen and Salvador Garcia of Wilshire restaurant in Santa Monica, the salad grabbed the attention of Times columnist Russ Parsons, who noted that “the aged balsamic adds a depth of flavor that you don’t normally expect from a tomato salad.” Lush ricotta that you make yourself also sets this tomato salad apart from others. Easy to prepare, the ricotta is tinged with nutmeg for an earthy aroma and spiked with Parmesan for a little extra richness.
In a heavy saucepan, warm the milk, buttermilk and nutmeg over high heat. Stir the mixture frequently until it reaches 120 degrees (warm to the touch), about 2 to 3 minutes.
Stir occasionally; the milk will begin to separate. When it reaches 175 degrees to 180 degrees, about 1 to 2 minutes, gently scrape the bottom of the saucepan. The curds will rise to the top. Cook at 180 degrees for 1 minute.
Line a strainer or colander with cheesecloth and place it over a bowl or pot large enough to catch the liquid from the cheese. Pour the contents of the saucepan into the strainer. Gently stir in the Parmesan and salt while the mixture is still hot. Gather up the corners of the cheesecloth and tie it up with string. Let it drain for 15 minutes. Once the ricotta is at room temperature, transfer it to an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator until ready to use. Makes 1 cup.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Tear the baguette into chunks, toss lightly with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 10 minutes until golden. Makes 2 cups.
Tomato salad and assembly
Keep the tomatoes at room temperature. Cut them into different shapes and sizes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle the tomatoes with the olive oil. Arrange on serving plates.
Drizzle the tomatoes with the aged balsamic vinegar. Scatter the croutons and torn basil atop the tomatoes. Top each salad with two quenelles of ricotta cheese (about 2 tablespoons each).