There are some Thanksgiving dishes you can't mess with much: the turkey, the stuffing, the potatoes — they've all got to be on the menu, or somebody at the table is going to throw a fit.

But your guests certainly won't have any complaints about a gourmet appetizer created by James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz.

Luckily for us, Schwartz was generous enough to share the recipe for one of his favorite Thanksgiving hors d'ouevres: toasty crostini with homemade apple chutney and ricotta cheese.

"You might not think so, but making ricotta from scratch is so easy, and there's nothing like making it yourself and eating it freshly made, still warm from the stove," says the chef and owner of Miami's Michael's Genuine Food & Drink and several other restaurants. "The cheese, chutney and crostini all come together for the perfect bite."

Best of all, Schwartz says his recipe can be prepared ahead of time, allowing the cook to step away from the stove and mingle with guests before the main dish. "I certainly don't want to be stuck in the kitchen while everyone else enjoying Thanksgiving fun together, so making a manageable menu to begin with is key," he says. "Simply warm up the chutney on the stove, build your crostini, and enjoy the company you are in."

And if you can't tear yourself away from the kitchen to enjoy quality time with your family, just recruit the kids as kitchen helpers. "I have memories of being in the kitchen with my mom cutting up the Stroehmann white bread for stuffing," recalls Schwartz, "and that togetherness from cooking carries through with my family today."

So whatever your plans for Thanksgiving, be sure to enjoy them with the people you love — along with a big batch of Schwartz's ricotta crostini, because it sure couldn't hurt.

Chef Michael Schwartz's Ricotta Crostini With Spiced Apple Chutney

Ingredients:

  • [Crostini Ingredients]
  • 1 baguette, cut into ½-inch thick slices on a slight diagonal
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • [Fresh Homemade Ricotta Ingredients]
  • 1 gallon whole milk, preferably organic
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, or more to taste
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • [Apple Chutney Ingredients]
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ½ red onion, diced small
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
  • ½ cup fresh orange juice
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon agave syrup
  • 5 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into a ½-inch dice
  • 1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

  1. For the crostini, brush the bread on both sides with olive oil and arrange side by side on a baking sheet; season lightly with salt and pepper. Bake until light brown and crisp, about 10 minutes. Flip the slices over or rotate the pan if some are cooking faster than others. Let cool completely. Alternatively, you can brown the bread on a hot grill or with a panini press, which will impart a light smoky flavor.
  2. When making the ricotta, make sure your pots and utensils are super clean. Any pot or utensil with remnants of strong food flavor on it will impart that taste to the cheese. This is why you should not use a wooden spoon unless it is brand-new. Schwartz recommends using stainless steel pans and utensils, and no wooden spoons unless they are brand-new. If you are new to making ricotta at home, use a thermometer to check how hot the milk mixture is; guessing is not a good option. Aim for 170–180 degrees F. Slow heating is the best for making curds. Don’t try to rush the process or you’ll end up with much less ricotta.
  3. In a heavy-bottomed nonreactive pot, combine the whole milk, buttermilk, and salt over medium-low heat. After about 20 minutes, you will start to see steam rise from the milk; at that point give it a gentle stir with a metal spoon.
  4. After about 10 more minutes you’ll begin to see curds rise to the surface (the curds are the clumpy white mass). Once you see curds floating, cook for 5 more minutes. At that point the curds will begin to sink, and that means it is time to strain the mixture.
  5. Line a colander with a large piece of cheesecloth that has been folded over a couple of times. Set the colander in the sink. Pour the curds into the cheesecloth, leaving as much of the whey—the liquid—in the pot as possible. Gather the edges of the cloth, tie or fasten into a knot, and tie the bundle to the faucet; let the curds drip for 5 minutes.
  6. Transfer the ricotta to a food processor and add the zest, cream, and more salt if desired. Pulse until smooth and combined. If you aren’t going to use it immediately, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Try to eat it within 2 days; it really is best the first day you make it.
  7. Begin the apple chutney by heating the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the red onion and cook until translucent and soft, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and mustard seed, and cook for an additional minute.
  8. Add the orange juice, vinegar, brown sugar, and agave syrup, and increase the heat to high. Simmer for 1 to 2 minutes, then stir in the apples, curry powder, salt, and pepper.
  9. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to cook until the apples are soft and the liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before serving. (The chutney keeps for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.)
  10. To assemble the crostini, spread a generous spoonful of the ricotta cheese over a slice of the toasted bread, and top with a dollop of apple chutney. If desired, warm up the chutney on the stove-top shortly beforehand.

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