Here's an elegant starter that is almost effortless. Choose ripe figs and adjust the amount of honey to their sweetness. Garnish the plate with fresh or dried lavender if you have some and want a visually impressive result. Serves four.
500g good quality ricotta ½ tsp salt Freshly ground black pepper 3 tbsp olive oil 1 tsp chopped rosemary, plus extra sprigs for garnish 4 fresh figs, cut into quarters or six 3 tbsp lavender honey or heather honey 120g mixed bitter salad leaves 4 slices sourdough bread, toasted
For the dressing: 3 tbsp olive oil 1 tbsp lavender honey or heather honey 1 tbsp red wine vinegar Pinch salt
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/ gas mark 4. Put the ricotta in the centre of a clean tea towel, squeeze to get rid of some of the liquid, then transfer the cheese to a bowl, season and mix well.
Lightly oil four individual ramekins or one round ovenproof dish about 15cm in diameter (this dish looks great in a brown terracotta one). Spread the ricotta inside and level with a palette knife or a spoon - the cheese should come about 2.5cm up the sides.
Drizzle half the olive oil over the cheese, sprinkle with chopped rosemary and lay a small rosemary sprig on top. Bake for about 20 minutes for individual ramekins, 28 minutes for a large dish, then remove from the oven, top with the figs, drizzle over half the honey and bake again for eight minutes longer. At this point the figs should be semi-cooked but retain their shape.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool down slightly. You can serve the cheese slightly warm or at room temperature.
When ready to serve, whisk together the dressing ingredients in a large bowl. Add the salad leaves and toss. If using individual ramekins, carefully remove the cheese, keeping the figs on top, place on a plate, drizzle the remaining oil and honey on top, and serve with the salad and bread on the side. With the large dish, simply use a large spoon to scoop out a generous portion of cheese and place on the bread slice, making sure some figs are left on top, then drizzle with honey and oil. Place a mound of salad on the side.