Eton mess is a classic British summer dessert traditionally consisting of whipped cream, strawberries and crumbled up meringue piled into a dainty dish or glass. There are almost as many stories behind the name of the treat as there are recipes – my favourite involves an over-excited labrador and a pavlova. It’s not just because of the back story that it’s one of my favourite desserts: you can use any fruit you fancy; it’s ludicrously simple to make – especcially if you use ready-made meringue, and always looks pretty despite being a literal mess. The golden rule, as with all simple dishes, is to try and use the best quality ingredients you can get you hands on.
I recently made my own ricotta and ate rather a lot of it straight-up with a ripe tomato and slivers of basil. This got me thinking whether it would be possible to make a savoury version of a traditional sweet. There are lots of other desserts which have been converted including cheesecakes, clafoutis and crumble and I hoped this would work too. Creamy ricotta replaced the usual whipped cream and ripe diced tomato played the role of fruit but I was unsure what to use in place of meringues. Eventually I plumped for cubes of bread tossed in good olive oil and lightly toasted which provided the crispy texture I was after. With some shredded basil and a little salt and pepper the result was a great little vegetarian starter for a summer dinner party or a light lunch served with green salad and a nice glass of white wine.
Savoury Eton mess
Serves 4 as a starter
- 2 thick slices of rustic-style white bread (slightly stale is best)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 250g ricotta
- basil or chives, finely chopped
- salt and pepper
- 2 ripe tomatoes or 2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes (try to find tomatoes that are a bit sharp)
Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Cut the bread into 1 cm cubes, toss in the hot oil and toast until golden brown and crispy, about 4 mins.
Mix the ricotta with the herbs, a little salt and pepper.
Dice the tomatoes or, if using cherry tomatoes, cut into halves.
Either mix all the ingredients together for an authentic-looking mess or layer the ingredients into small bowls. Decorate with more herbs and serve immediately.