We recently hosted a mini-reunion for a few of the participants of the spring Panini Girl Cooks In Italy trip to Lucca. After being home for about a month I thought it was time to get together and relive some of the memories and recreate some of the food that we sampled there. It wasn’t hard for me to come up with a menu. I knew I wanted to keep it simple and that I wanted to serve homemade pasta for an entree. Dessert, however was another story. I never seem to make it as far as dessert when dining out in Italy. Most of my pastry consumption happens during the day!
I had a vague memory of a very light cheesecake that I once baked some years back. The more I thought about it, I was convinced that this would be the perfect ending to our dinner. The recipe comes from the very authentic book The Italian Baker by Carol Field. I don’t actually own this great book but knew I had copied the recipe at one point. Imagine my surprise when I unfolded the paper and in the intro Carol had written that this recipe came from the mountainous Garfagnana region of Tuscany and is based on its prized ricotta cheese. Of course I didn’t have access to that wonderful sheep’s milk ricotta for my cheesecake, but I do have the memory of that day and that will have to tide me over until I get back to the farm.
Crostata di Ricotta
1/2 cup golden raisins
3-4 tablespoons Marsala
1 pound ricotta cheese, preferably whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
4 eggs, separated, room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
Unbaked pastry shell Pasta Frolla
2-1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1-3/4 sticks cold butter, cut into cubes
Place flour, sugar, salt in the bowl of a food processor. Process a few times to combine the ingredients. Add the chilled butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg, egg yolk, vanilla and lemon juice and pulse until the dough comes together. If it appears too dry, add a little water, a few drops at a time. Remove from processor, form into a ball then flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill until firm, at least 1-2 hours before rolling it out. I find the best way to roll it out is between two pieces of parchment. This is more dough than you’ll need for a 9″ springform. I probably only used a little over half the dough and froze the rest for another time.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9″ springform pan. Line the pan with the dough.
Soak the raisins in the Marsala at least 15 minutes. Drain, but reserve the Marsala.
Press the ricotta through a wire mesh sieve into a mixing bowl or process with several pulses in a food processor fitted with the steel blade until smooth and transfer to a bowl. Add the sugar and flour and beat with a wooden spoon until creamy. Add the egg yolks, heavy and sour creams, reserved Marsala, and the vanilla. Stir until thoroughly blended and then stir in the raisins. Beat the egg whites with salt until the peaks are stiff and fold into the ricotta mixture. Pour the mixture into the tart shell and smooth the top.
Bake until the filling is set and the pastry is golden brown, 50 to 60 minutes. Turn the oven off and let the cake cool for 30 minutes with the oven door open. This cake is best served warm, so try and bake it the same day as you want to serve it. If you have to refrigerate it, warm it in a 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes before serving. Serves: 8-10