Crostata Ricotta, is one of my favorites and one of the first I learned to bake. It was near the top of my list when I catered, and I pushed it like **** partly because it looks good “rustic.” One might as well make a virtue out of necessity, and God knows I’ve never had the precision of a “how do they do that” pastry chef.
The recipe came to me via the Time-Life cooking series. But first I lost the book; then I lost the catering notebook in which my slightly tweaked version resided; computers crashed; e-copies disappeared; hail; fire; brimstone. Fortunately, I had a pretty good idea of how to make it, even if my memory version didn’t involve repeatable measurements. It was all by eye, by pinch and by gosh. Not too long ago, we found the spiral-bound no-picture portion of the Time-Life Italian cookbook at a thrift stores, which only goes to show I’m not sure what.
This recipe, very similar to the Time-Life, filtered through memory and experience, is what I use now. Although ingredients and techniques have advanced over the millennia, the dessert is not too different from one your ancestor might have been served in ancient Rome.
By the way, you can add pasta frolla to your repertoire of crusts and use it in situations where you might otherwise choose a pate sucree.
On the basis of the pie’s ultimately rustic appearance, consider the recipe dedicated to those of us who can’t color within the lines.
Yield, 9" cheesecake – 8 satisfying or 12 civilized servings
Skill level: Intermediate
9" Spring-form pan
"Equipment" isn't usually a category in my recipes. I just wanted to make sure you knew in advance you needed a larger area than usual to roll out the dough. It's not the sort of thing you want to learn when you're already up to your elbows in flour.
Crust (Pasta Frolla):
2 cups AP four
3/4 cup butter (1-1/2 sticks)
4 egg yolks
4 tbs cup sugar
3 tbs dry Marsala, or liqueur of your choice.
1 tsp fresh micro-planed or grated lemon or orange zest
1/2 tsp salt
5 cups (2-1/2 pounds) whole-milk ricotta (whole milk means do not use part skim)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbs flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract (preferably homemade)
1 tsp freshly micro-planed or grated lemon or orange zest
4 egg yolks (Egg-white egg wash follows, remember to reserve an egg white)
1 tbs. white raisins previously soaked rinsed, drained, and diced.
1tbs. diced candied orange peel
1 tbs. diced candied citron
2 tbs pine nuts
1 egg white (Aha! Told you it was coming)
Crust (Pasta Frolla):
Big crust. You’re going to need a large board or area for this dough, at least 13" on the short side.
It’s an Italian style dough, so we might as well mix it the Italian way. Volcano!
Cut the butter into small pieces. Put them on a plate. Allow them to soften on the counter for half an hour or so.
Dump your flour into a mixing bowl as a mound. Use your hands to hollow out a well, so the mound becomes a volcano (!).
Add the butter, yolks, sugar, liqueur, micro-planed zest, and salt into the volcano’s caldera (hole). Use your fingertips to mix the ingredients together, pulling more and more flour into the wet ingredients as you work. When you’ve got the flour incorporated, use the heels of your hands to work the dough just until it is smooth and can be formed into a ball. Try not to overwork the dough, and do not knead it.
Alternatively: (1) You can add all of the dough ingredients to a stand mixer’s work bowl, and, using the paddle, mix at low speed until a dough just forms. Or, (2) If you use a food processor, be very, very careful not to overwork – limit yourself to the fewest possible number of pulses.
Divide the dough into two pieces, one about 3/4 of the total amount, and the other (you’ll never guess) about 1/4. Dust both sides of each disk with flour. Alternatively, you may dust each side of both disks. Wrap the dough balls with cling wrap, flatten them into disks about an inch thick, and refrigerate for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350F
Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9" spring form pan.
Remove the large disk from the fridge, flour your (large) board generously, and turn the disk a few times in the flour.
Roll out the dough by starting from the center and rolling almost – but not quite – to the edge. Turn the dough a quarter of a turn and repeat. Continue turning and rolling, but start rolling all the way to the edge. If the dough sticks to your board when you turn it, use your largest spatula or a bench knife to lift it and refresh the flour underneath. Success is a crust more than 11" in diameter and about 1/8" thick. 1/8" is pretty thin, actually. It’s why we’re using such a structured dough for the pie, and vice versa.
Using the rolling pin method, transfer the dough to your spring-form. Press the dough into the bottom and around the sides without stretching, but as gently as possible; draping excess dough over the edge. Use pressure from your pin to cut off the excess by forcing it against the edge.
Partially bake the dough for 10 minutes, and remove from the oven. This crisps the inside of the crust, where it will meet the filling. It’s not absolutely necessary and you skip the step if you want in order to handle the dough as little as possible and to prevent the sides of the crust from sinking down into the bottom when it warms. I’m of mixed minds, and so present you with alternatives.
The citrus zests were presented as lemon/orange alternatives. Lemon crust with orange filling is quite good; but just as good is to reverse, or to go all one or all the other. If you do an orange crust, you may want to try a lemon/lime filling.
Similarly, you’re not restricted to Marsala. You could an off dry sherry like an Amontillado, or a dry Madeira. I like liqueurs as much as wines. The Time-Life book specified Strega, but you could do just as well with Triple Sec or anything else which tickles your virtual palate.
Using an electric mixer, combine the ricotta, with the sugar, 1 tbs of flour, 1/2 tsp salt, the vanilla, the micro-planed zest, and the egg yolks. Beat fast enough to get a little air into the mixture (to leaven the cake), and long enough to thoroughly incorporate all of the ingredients.
When the mixture is mixed, fold in the raisins, the candied peel and the citron. Note: Don’t feel restricted as to which candied fruits and peels you may choose to use or not use.
Turn the filling into the crust, and smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the top with the pine nuts.
Remove the remaining disk from the refrigerator, and roll it out as before – this time into a 9" circle. Cut the dough into 1/2" wide strips. You can cut the dough with a knife, or a straight or fluted wheel.
Use the strips to weave a lattice, or make a “lattice-lite” by simply laying the strips, criss-cross fashion, across the top of the crostata.
Beat the egg white with the water, and use the resulting wash to brush the lattice lightly.
Baking, Cooling, Platng:
Set the filled spring-form onto a baking pan, and set them on a rack placed in the middle of the oven. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the filling is firm and the crust goes GBD (“golden brown and delicious”).
Remove the crostata from the oven, and set it, spring-form and all, on something elevated to begin cooling; for instance, you can use the grates on your gas burning stove, a coffee can, or an elevated rack.
As soon as the outside of the pan is still warm but cool enough to handle comfortably, remove the outside of the pan. Then with the crostata still on the spring-form’s bottom, set it on a rack to finish cooling.
After it’s completely cooled, the crust will be strong enough that, if you like, you may remove it from the bottom using a large spatula, grace and gravity.
As with all cheesecakes, this one benefits from ripening. However, unlike most cheesecakes it’s quite good fresh and warm too. I write 'em, you decide.
PS. This recipe is original with me. If you like it and want to share it with someone else, you have my permission on satisfaction of each of the following two conditions: First, your sharing is not for gain; and second, you attribute it to me, Boar D. Laze. I would consider it a kindness if you would also mention my eventually to be finished book, COOK FOOD GOOD: American Cooking and Technique for Beginners and Intermediates.