Shopping in Pimlico’s Rippon cheese shop on Saturday, happily browsing Spanish cheese for supper, I spied the tub of fresh ricotta and immediately added it to my list.
I didn’t worry about how I would use it; I already knew.
Now ricotta cheesecake is one of those staples of southern Italian cooking and everyone has a favourite (usually a family recipe). Mine is from my mother’s copy of “The Talisman Italian Cookbook” by Ada Boni, published in English by Crown Publishers in 1950. The Ricotta Pie on page 232 is the classic at its most basic (and to me, delicious). No splashes of rum or Grand Marnier, no pine nuts, cream or extra spices. Just ricotta, orange zest, candied orange, seedless raisins and eggs, plus a bit of flour and sugar. You could eat it every day.
Note: Ada Boni repeats this recipe as Budino di Ricotta in her “Regional Italian Cooking” (Bonanza Books, New York, 1969) with slightly increased measurements, using lemon instead of orange zest, plus a bit of rum. This simple lemon/rum ricotta cake variation (Budino di Ricotta) appears again in Claudia Rodin’s “The Food of Italy” . (Find the basic version again, sans rum but with orange, as ricotta pudding in a wonderful 1968 book- reprinted repeatedly over the years - "Polly-O Italian Cooking with Cheese.)
1 ¼ lb ricotta
very small pinch of salt
1 tablespoon flour
4 tablespoons sugar
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoon seedless raisins
1 tablespoon candied orange peel (or 2 tablespoons seedless raisins)
2 eggs white beaten stiff (used 4 egg whites)
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamonPreheat oven to 375F.
Butter, dust with flour and add parchment paper disc to removable bottom 9” cake pan
Beat together ricotta, salt, flour, sugar, egg yoks and orange zest. Add raisins and candied orange peel. Fold in gently the beaten egg whites and pour the batter into the cake pan. It should be no more than half full. Bake for 35 minutes (30 in a fan oven) or until firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan. Remove carefully, slide onto a dish and dust with confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon.
Serve with fresh fruit on the side, if you like
Arthur Schwartz, author of “Naples at Table: Cooking in Campagna” and “Southern Italian Cooking” offers two more luxurious versions.
One, Ricotta Cheesecake (Torta di Ricotta) soaks the raisins in Grand Marnier and folds in toasted pine nuts for a pit of crunch, and the other, Migliaccio, ups the level with crushed amaretti biscuits, orange liqueur and semolina flour. Both, I am sure, are perfection.
Ricotta Cheesecake (Torta di Ricotta)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup Grand Marnier or cognac
32 ounces ricotta cheese
6 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Grease and flour one 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.
Place the raisins in a small bowl. Cover with Grand Marnier and allow to macerate. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Meanwhile, beat the ricotta cheese with an electric beater until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time. Then add the sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and zest. Fold in the raisins and pine nuts.
Pour batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake until cheesecake is golden, and firm in the middle—about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Serve warm.
Migliaccio (semolina and ricotta pudding cake)
Adapted from Arthur Schwartz Naples at Table, Cooking in Campagnia as seen on Michael Ruhlman’s website
Butter for coating the springform pan
¼ cup finely crushed amaretti cookies or sweet biscuits of your choice
7 large eggs, at room temperature
2 pounds whole-milk ricotta
1¼ cups sugar
Grated zest of an orange
Grated zest of a lemon
3 tablespoons orange liqueur
2 cups milk
1 cup water
¾ cup uncooked semolina flour
1 teaspoon salt
⅓ cup finely chopped candied citron*
- Preheat the oven to 350°F/177°C.
- Butter a 9-inch springform pan and coat all sides with the finely crushed amaretti cookies. Put the pan in the freezer until ready to use.
- Drain the ricotta by putting it in a linen towel and squeezing gently.
- In a large bowl, beat the eggs until foamy. Beat in the ricotta, sugar, orange and lemon zests, and liqueur.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the semolina in a fine stream, stirring constantly; whisking it adds too much air. Stir in the salt and cook, stirring, until thick and creamy, about 3 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes or so.
- Stir the cooked and slightly cooled semolina into the ricotta mixture, then stir in the citron. Pour into the prepared pan.
- Bake until the top of the cake is golden and a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
- Transfer to the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving. To serve, run a thin-bladed knife around the outside edge of the cake. Remove the springform sides, and serve the pudding/cake off the base.