Cherries and Cheesecake: a cherished Roman treat

When in Rome, eat ricotta cheesecake.

 

Technically, ricotta is not a cheese.  Meaning "re-cooked" in Italian, this fluffy latticino is a cheese by-product.  Made from boiling whey, ricotta is milky and a tad sweet. From Rome to the South, ricotta graces savory and sweet dishes.

 

Italian cooks turn to ricotta because its lacks a strong taste.  It adds creaminess but won't kill other flavors. A staple throughout Italy, ricotta brightens fresh ravioli or sweets like cannoli.



Bakers in Rome use ricotta in two typical "cheesecakes" -- both called crostata di ricotta.  Filling the first variety is creamy combo of ricotta, chocolate nibs and sugar.  An older recipe chooses cherries over chocolate.

In this treat, sweetened ricotta caps sour cherry jam and a crumbly crust.  The cake bakes minus crust on top, allowing the ricotta to caramelize in the oven. Originally a Roman Jewish sweet made with candied fruit and honey, ricotta cake became a standard Roman dessert over the last 200 years.

 CRUST INGREDIENTS:

  • 2.5 cups flour

  • 2/3 cup sugar

  • 2/3 cup cold butter

  • 1 egg

  • 2 yolks

 FILLING INGREDIENTS: 

  •  1.5 cups whole-milk ricotta

  • 3 eggs (separate yolks & whites)

  • 1/2 teaspoon flour

  • 3/4 cup of powdered sugar

  • 1 jar sour cherry preserves or amarena cherries

  • zest of one lemon

 

First, prepare the crust in a food processor. Like with any butter-based crust, it's important to use very cold butter. Pulse the flour, sugar and chopped butter until a sandy mix has formed. Then add the yolks and egg and pulse until the dough begins to form into a ball. Don't over-blend.  Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and chill in the freezer for 30 min.

 

To make the filling, blend the ricotta, yolks, sugar and smidgen of flour together in the mixing bowl. Use a spoon and fold the ingredients together by hand.  In a separate bowl, beat the egg-whites until fluffy peaks form. Fold the whites by hand into the eggy ricotta mix. Stir in the zested lemon and, if desired, a pinch of cinnamon. 

 

 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Roll the crust out and fill a pie pan with it.  You want the crostata crust to spill out over the edges of the pan.  This is a rustic dessert and precision is not the goal.  Spread 3-4 tablespoons of the cherry preserves on the bottom of the crust. If you want, you can pre-bake the crust for 15 minutes first. If you pre-bake, let the crust cool before adding the jam or ricotta filling.



Pour the ricotta filling over the cherry spread, being sure to keep a bed of preserves beneath the milky mixture.  Fold any "overflowing" dough atop the sweetened ricotta.  To give the crust a golden hue, brush the edges with an egg before baking.  Bake for 50 minutes. Remove from the oven.  Let the crostata cool at room temperature before serving.

 

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