skip to Main Content
Menu

Ricotta cheesecake with rhubarb raspberry topping

I’ve got plenty more recipes and posts coming to you from my time in Sicily at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School, but since rhubarb season here in the Northeast U.S. is so brief, I’m posting another rhubarb recipe first.

Besides, it was my husband’s birthday recently and one of his favorite desserts is a ricotta cheesecake. Pairing the cheesecake with a rhubarb raspberry topping seemed a natural.

In order to minimize our indulgence, I made it in a small pan – a 6″ cake pan with a removable bottom. This will easily serve four people, but if you want to make it in a larger, springform pan that’s traditionally used for cheesecakes, just double the recipe below.

I made an almond flavored crust, and followed through with the almond flavoring in the cheesecake too.

Having recently returned from Sicily, where we cooked with sheep’s milk ricotta still warm from our visit to a cheesemaker in Vallelunga, I went on the hunt to find some here.

 I did track some down at Valley Shepherd Farms Creamery in Long Valley, New Jersey, more than an hour’s distance from where I live. Fortunately, I didn’t have to make the drive, since they come to the farmer’s market in my town, as well as many other places in New Jersey and New York. It is a bit pricey, another reason to make a small cheesecake. But you could also use cow’s milk ricotta, as long as you drain it thoroughly to eliminate a lot of the moisture.

I first pressed it through a sieve to eliminate any clumps.

After baking the crust, and mixing the cheesecake, I wrapped the pan in aluminum foil and baked it in a bain marie (water bath). I find that baking a cheesecake with a bain marie makes for a more even bake and eliminates the hard, brown edges that sometimes rise higher than the center of the cheesecake.

However, whether due to the water bath or something else, you need to bake the crust until it’s really well cooked, or you could end up with a softer crust than you might like.

After baking let it cool completely before adding the topping. In fact, wait to add the topping until just before serving. I used a combination of rhubarb and raspberries cooked in orange juice and sugar, but you could add strawberries instead of the raspberries, or use only rhubarb. The sauce is also delicious mixed in with yogurt for breakfast (or over ice cream).

Slice and spoon more of the sauce on top if you like. (And of course, I like. Wouldn’t you?)

Ricotta cheesecake with rhubarb raspberry topping
 
 
Ingredients
  • Uses a 6" removable bottom cake pan. Serves four
  • Double quantities if using a larger springform pan
  • For the Crust:
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • 2 T. flour
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1 T. melted butter, cooled
  • ½ large egg yolk
  • ¼ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. almond extract
  • For the Cheesecake:
  • 3 eggs (actually a half of one of the egg yolks I used for the crust, above)
  • ¾ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. almond extract
  • 1 lb. ricotta (sheep's or cow's milk)
  • 1 T. orange zest
  • For the Topping (this is enough for the cheesecake plus extra for using on ice cream or yogurt):
  • 4 large stalks rhubarb
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • juice of one orange
  • ½ cup sugar
Instructions
  1. Make the crust by placing the almonds, flour and sugar in a food processor and processing until it looks like grainy sand.
  2. Add the melted butter, ½ egg yolk, vanilla and almond extracts.
  3. Press into the bottom and sides of the cake pan, which has been buttered ahead of time.
  4. Bake at 325 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until browned.
  5. Let it cool.
  6. For the cheesecake:
  7. Put the ricotta through a sieve and drain overnight if it's very moist.
  8. In a food processor, add the ricotta, eggs, sugar, vanilla, almond extract and orange zest.
  9. Blend for a few minutes until everything is well mixed.
  10. Pour the filling into the crust, then wrap the pan in aluminum foil.
  11. Place the pan into another pan and pour water around the cheesecake pan, making sure not to spill any into the cheesecake.
  12. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour and 15 minutes, longer if using a larger pan.
  13. It does not need to be "brown" on top. It should retain its pale color.
  14. For the topping:
  15. Slice the rhubarb into small pieces.
  16. Place the orange juice and sugar into a pan with the rhubarb pieces and raspberries.
  17. Cook at high heat until it reaches a boil, then lower and cook for about five minutes, or until the rhubarb pieces just start to break down.
  18. Let cool, then pour over the cheesecake just before serving.
 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Eggplant Involtini

 Eggplant wrapped around mozzarella or ricotta cheese is what I used to think of whenever I made eggplant involtini. But after my week of cooking at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school in Sicily, where I learned to make this unusual and delicious dish of pasta snuggled inside eggplant slices, you can bet that this version will be in regular rotation in our house.

It’s one of those dishes that wows with its unusual looks, tastes fabulous and can be made in advance. Who could ask for more?

Start by frying some sliced eggplant in oil, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

Cook some angel hair pasta and toss with tomato sauce and grated parmesan cheese. Make sure it’s very al dente, since it will cook further in the oven.

Now place some of that pasta on top of an eggplant slice.

Then roll the slice of eggplant around the pasta. Don’t worry if the pasta peeks through holes in the eggplant. It’s all going to get covered in sauce.

Place the rolls seamside down into an ovenproof pan.

Cover with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese.

Bake in the oven and top with more parmesan cheese (or ricotta salata) before serving.

Serve one involtino as a first course, or two as a main course.

The eggplant involtini were just one of four courses we ate each night, after prepping and cooking everything under chef Michael’s guidance. Some things were already prepared, like the cured olives and artichokes sott’olio we enjoyed with some bubbly from the nearby winery one night.

The ingredients for nearly everything we consumed were grown on the property, or nearby, including the olives, artichokes, lemons, bergamot, almonds and pistachios.

lettuces and fennel

artichokes in the garden.

lentil plants

Wild fennel was in season, so it was abundant at this time of year and we ate it raw in salads and cooked in frittatas.

Bergamot was sliced thinly into salad and tasted nothing like a lemon, which it resembles, but was much sweeter, even the fleshy white part.

Pamela (a charming young woman from England, and the only other participant the week I was there) and I sat down to dinner each night at the large kitchen table to share the fruits of our labors with owner Fabrizia, her husband, chef Michael, gardener Hans, office manager Henna and others who were passing through.

Together with the delicious food, conversation flowed along with the perfectly paired wines from Tenuta Regaliali, the winery on the property. Stay tuned for more about that in further posts.

Eggplant Involtini
 
Author:
Serves: Serves 10 (2 per person)
 
Ingredients
  • 5 large eggplants
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • 2-3 cups (500-750 ml) good quality well-seasoned tomato sauce (not tomato puree)
  • 12 oz. (300 grams) angel hair pasta
  • parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • ricotta salata (optional)
  • fresh basil, mint, or oregano
  • olive oil
Instructions
  1. Slice eggplants about ½ inch think.
  2. Deep fry in a large pan of oil, flipping halfway through, until deep golden.
  3. Drain on paper towels.
  4. Cook angel hair pasta in well salted boiling water for 1 minute (must be very al dente because if will cook further in the oven).
  5. Toss with plenty of tomato sauce and grated Parmesan.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  7. Cover the bottom of a large, ceramic baking pan with more tomato sauce and some olive oil.
  8. Take one eggplant slice and place a small bunch of pasta in the middle and roll up.
  9. Place in pan seaside down and repeat with remaining eggplants and pasta, packing rolls snugly into pan.
  10. Cover with more tomato sauce and Parmesan.
  11. Tuck leaves of fresh herbs between the rolls
  12. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until cheese is melted and everything is warm.
  13. Optional: Top with more grated Parmesan or ricotta salata cheese.
 

Panelle at Case Vecchie

Move over potato chips. There’s a new kid on the block — panelle. Actually panelle aren’t new. They’re a Sicilian street food that you’ll find all around Palermo. But eating them freshly made at home – crispy and crunchy on the outside, and creamy in the center – well, that’s a whole new experience. Stay with me for a recipe at the end of this post.

Making and eating panelle is just one of the wonderful opportunities I had during my week at Case Vecchie, at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School, run by Fabrizia Lanza, shown here with her beloved dog, Macchia. Fabrizia, who lived and worked in Bologna in the field of art history, moved back to Sicily to take over the cooking school founded by her late mother, Anna Tasca Lanza. The school offers lots of different programs from food writing to sketching, and even a ten week intensive course called “Cook The Farm.” Click here for more information.

The drive through the countryside approaching the farm – located near the center of the island of Sicily – was a visual delight (albeit a challenge to navigate and drive simultaneously, but fear not, there’s a train that runs nearby). Lush green fields and acre upon acre of vineyards were spread out before me, welcoming me as Springtime in Sicily laid out its thick green carpet.

Arriving at the farm, one is struck not only by the landscape, but also by the beauty of all the doors and woodwork painted in a vivid royal blue.

 

I was led to my room and threw open the shutters to enjoy this glorious view. Oh, what a joy to wake up to this each morning.

I learned so much and have so much to share with you from my week at Case Vecchie, including some of my favorite things:

Sheep (if you’ve read this, you know how much I love sheep) and cheese we ate from the milk of these animals.

Eating freshly made yogurt and preserved amarene cherries for breakfast:

pizza making using a wood-fired brick oven:

Cooking with the freshest vegetables, including wild fennel (finochietto) used in salads and in this frittata:

A visit to Regaliali Winery, adjacent to Case Vecchie and part of the original family holdings, to discover and taste a whole world of Sicilian wines beyond nero d’avola:

I even had time to paint and take a pisolino (nap) now and then — a truly relaxing week.

There’s so much more to tell, that I’ll reveal in subsequent posts, but for now, let’s return to those panelle and let me show you how they’re made. First, you stir the chickpea flour with water. It’s not that different from making polenta. Michael, the chef at the cooking school, and our very personable and knowledgable instructor for the week, led us through the steps. He likes to add fennel seeds, not usually included in panelle recipes, but they were a delicious addition. Incidentally, if you’re a cook and/or teacher looking for a job, Michael’s leaving this summer and the hunt is on for a replacement.

Spread the mixture out thinly and evenly on some plates, then let it sit and cool.

At that point, it will be easy to peel the solidified mixture off the plate. Stack them one on top of the other and slice into triangles.

Then fry them until they pop up and are golden brown.

Drain on paper towels, sprinkle a little salt over the top, and watch them disappear.

Do follow me down the road for future posts about this magical place and the some of the dishes I cooked and ate there, including cavatelli, cannoli, cassata and a most unusual eggplant rolatini. All the ingredients we ate and cooked with (including the almonds, pistachios and citrus fruits) were either grown on the farm or nearby.

And I promise to post more frequently. I’ve had computer glitches since returning. But all those frustrating hours spent with tech support on the phone are forgotten when I look at this serene path leading from Case Vecchie, a never ending source of inspiration.

Panelle from Case Vecchie
 
Author:
Cuisine: Sicilian
 
Ingredients
  • 4 cups (250 grams) chick pea flour
  • 3 cups (750 ml) cold water
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon fennel seeds (optional)
Instructions
  1. Combine the flour, water, salt, pepper and fennel seeds in a medium sized pan and whisk until smooth.
  2. Cook over medium high heat, whisking constantly, until mixture is like a very stiff polenta.
  3. Lower the heat if necessary to keep from burning.
  4. Cook for a few more minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan.
  5. Working quickly, spread the mixture with a wooden spatula onto plates so that it is about ¼ inch (0,5 mm) thick.
  6. Let sit until cool, 15 to 20 minutes.
  7. when dough is cool, loosen the edges with a knife and peel the "crepes" off the plates and place on a work surface, stacking one on top of the other.
  8. Cut stack into 16 wedges.
  9. In a large frying pan, heat 2 inches (5 cm) of oil until hot.
  10. Place wedges of chick pea mixture into hot oil and fry, flipping occasionally, until golden and crisp, about three minutes.
  11. Dry on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.
  12. Continue frying remaining wedges and serve hot.
 

 

 

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Good Friday In Taormina

Good Friday in Taormina

Good Friday is the most solemn day of holy week for Catholics, and no where is it observed with as much pageantry as in Sicily. Many towns and villages across the island hold elaborate processions commemorating the suffering, or passion of Christ as he was led to his crucifixion.

Each town has a different custom, but the processions almost always end with bands playing lugubrious music as worshippers carry a statue of Jesus Christ through the streets.
Several years ago we were Taormina during holy week. Taormina is a jewel of a town on the eastern coast of Sicily overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Mt. Etna and the Calabrian peninsula. Tourists stream into the town because of its scenic location, abundant flowers, quaint architecture and ancient Greek amphitheater.
But all that pales in contrast to the spectacle that is Good Friday in Taormina.
The event starts in the late afternoon just before dusk, as hundreds of women clad in black, carrying orange-colored lanterns, descend the narrow steps linking the main streets, and begin the procession.
Young girls wearing white dresses and white cotton head coverings follow the women.
A local priest and altar boys come next. Then comes another group of women who are supporting on their shoulders a statue of the blessed mother engulfed by flowers. A band playing somber music processes behind them, while the men of the village begin their march, bearing the statue of Jesus on their shoulders. The entire group slowly walks to the duomo and back.

After dark, the procession is repeated in silence, except for a lone drummer tapping out a haunting beat. At this point, shopkeepers turn off their lights, a hush comes over the town and the faithful make their final homage to Christ, illuminated only by the glow of candlelight. Whether you’re Catholic or not, you can’t help but get caught up in the beauty, the history and the solemnity of the occasion.

Click on the video below and you’ll see what I mean.