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Torta Dolce di Ricotta with cranberry topping

Are you wondering what to serve for dessert during the holidays? This delicious and beautiful ricotta cheesecake would be perfect on your table, with its festive cranberry topping.

The recipe is from a wonderful cookbook called “Feast of the Seven Fishes” by Daniel Paterna. While the book contains many seafood recipes and is an ode to the Brooklyn neighborhood where Paterna was raised, this showstopper of a cheesecake really captured my attention. It’s shown without any topping in the book, and you could surely enjoy this cake even without any embellishment. Containing ricotta, rather than cream cheese, it’s not at all heavy and it’s easy to make too.

One tip — I didn’t roll out the crust with a rolling pin as the recipe says. I didn’t even refrigerate it for the recommended half hour. Using my hands, I pressed it into a disk over a piece of parchment paper, then kept pushing with my palm and fingers until it reached 14 inches in diameter.

I then lifted the parchment and pressed it into the greased pan. Don’t worry if some breaks off. It’s easily patched together.

Here’s what the cake looks like as I pulled it from the oven. It puffs up a bit from the eggs, but will sink a bit after removal from the oven.

The little recess on top is a perfect nest for the topping, if you choose to add one. I love cranberries and typically have leftover cranberries after Thanksgiving, but you could serve this plain and simply dusted with confectioner’s sugar, or use other fruit — raspberries, strawberries or whatever you like — to crown this beauty. Buone feste!

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Torta Dolce di Ricotta with cranberry topping
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • CRUST:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra to dust board and pan
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened, plus extra to grease the pan
  • 2 large eggs
  • FILLING:
  • 8 large eggs
  • 3 pounds ricotta cheese, drained of excess water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • juice of 1 orange
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • FOR THE CRANBERRY TOPPING:
  • 1 bag of fresh cranberries
  • ¾ cup water
  • ¾ sugar
  • zest of one orange
  • ¼ freshly squeezed orange juice
Instructions
  1. FOR THE CRANBERRY TOPPING:
  2. Place the cranberries, water, sugar, orange juice and orange zest in a pan.
  3. Turn the heat to high and cook until the cranberries are popping and release their juices.
  4. After about five minutes, remove from heat and refrigerate for a couple of hours, to thicken.
  5. FOR THE RICOTTA TORTA:
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour a 10-inch springform pan, then set aside.
  7. To make the crust, place the flour, sugar and zest on a pastry board or clean, dry flat surface.
  8. Mix thoroughly to combine.
  9. Add the butter and work it into the dry ingredients.
  10. Gather the mixture into a mound and create a well in the center.
  11. Add the eggs, beating with a fork and grabbing the dry mixture until the dough begins to form.
  12. Shape into a disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  13. Meanwhile, make the filling by combining the eggs, ricotta cheese, vanilla, sugar, orange zest, orange juice, lemon juice in a large mixing bowl.
  14. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
  15. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place on a large board or clean, dry flat surface, lightly dusted with flour.
  16. Using a floured rolling pin (I just used my fingers and palms of my hand and pressed it onto a piece of parchment paper) roll the dough out into a large circle, approximately 14 inches in diameter.
  17. Now roll the dough over the rolling pin and carefully unwind it over the baking pan, gently easing it to fit evenly in the bottom and up the sides of the pan.
  18. (I lifted up the parchment paper and placed the dough into the pan. Don't worry if some of it breaks. You can easily patch it.)
  19. Pour or spoon the filling mixture into the crust, leaving about ¼ inch below the rim of the pan.
  20. Place the pan in a preheated oven and bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes, until the center is slighy firm.
  21. Cool for at least 2 hours.
  22. Spread the cranberry topping over the cake.
  23. Carefully run a knife or spatula around the sides of the pan to remove it, so that no crust is pulled away when you release the spring of the pan.
 

Christmas Eve Feast Of The Seven Fishes

Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes

Just in case you’re planning a multi-fish extravaganza for Christmas eve and are still trying to decide what to make, here are some ideas to whet your appetite. I’ve made all of these in years past, and most of them will be on my table again this year, including this spaghetti ai frutti di mare. It was a favorite last Christmas eve, so it makes the cut again for this year. I’ll serve it following the hors d’oeuvres that will be mostly fished-based, except for a couple of dishes for the vegetarians present.  It’s always a juggling act trying to balance the numerous  pots on the burners and dishes in the oven, so that none of them is overcooked (or undercooked.)
So I make sure I have a few things that can be made ahead of time, including this favorite of
baccalà mantecato with grilled polenta that we’ll eat before dinner while sipping prosecco.
My dad arrives with these codfish cakes. They reheat very well in the oven, maintaining their crunchy exterior. We’ll munch on these before dinner too.
If you think you don’t like octopus, you haven’t tried my Octopus and potato salad. It’s almost like eating lobster, especially if you peel the octopus and trim away the “suction cups” after cooking. Get the largest octopus you can find in order to get nice chunky pieces.
If I weren’t making the spaghetti ai frutti di mari, I might be making this dish with squid:
Some years, I’ve skipped the pasta and made this dish instead:
Seafood Risotto
But if there’s one dish that absolutely must be on our Christmas eve table, it’s this one. My son has taken over the preparation of this and has become quite adept at it:
Too many dishes with tomato sauce can make for a lopsided menu, but if stuffed squid’s not your thing, make it easy on yourself and try this swordfish in tomato and caper sauce.
Last year, I added this dish to the menu and everyone loved it. It can be made ahead of time and baked right before serving – swordfish involtini
And if you manage to have a taste of all these dishes, by the end of the evening, you might want to have this handy:
Buon Natale a tutti.
Involtini Di Pesce Spada (swordfish Rollups)

Involtini di Pesce Spada (swordfish rollups)

Christmas eve is the one night of the year when my family’s table is laden with fish – everything from spaghetti with mixed shellfish, to baccala’ cakes, to stuffed squid and lots more. We never called it the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” because we never counted. My mom just served fish – and plenty of it. The first time I went to Italy, I found it odd that my relatives there in the north don’t really make a fuss about fish for Christmas eve dinner. This “feast of the seven fishes” was totally unknown to them. My mother adopted the culinary customs of her Southern Italian family she married into, but even they didn’t have a prescribed number of fish dishes. The custom of “seven” seems to have been invented by Italian Americans. 

Whatever you call it, I still cook fish for Christmas eve and I too, can’t be sure yet on whether there will be seven. Some years it’s five, some years it’s 10 and gosh, maybe it’ll be seven this year, but if that happens, it’ll be purely by accident. I usually make my traditional dishes (there HAS to be stuffed squid and baccala), but I’m frequently guided by what looks freshest at the fish store the morning of Christmas eve. This year I plan to add involtini di pesce spada – or swordfish rollups – to the menu. I ate these the first time I went to Sicily years ago and have tried – and failed – to find a good recipe since then. But last month, Fabrizia Lanza gave a talk at the Italian cultural organization I’m involved with. When I saw the cookbook, I wanted to make everything in it, including her involtini di pesce spada. Once I did, I knew I had finally found the right recipe for that dish. It’s almost identical to what I ate in Palermo years ago and it’s delicious.
I made this for a dinner party last month so I bought a huge hunk of swordfish, but you can use buy a small amount and make it for one or two people.
I cut my chunk in half, because after pounding the slices, I knew they would spread out a bit. I didn’t want them to be so large that they’d be unwieldy to handle. Then I sliced thin pieces from each chunk, but it’s not easy, I’m warning you. I even put the fish in the freezer for about an hour to make it less “jiggly” when I cut into it. It helped somewhat. I may see if my fish guy can do this for me next time.
Here’s what I ended up with from about three pounds of swordfish.
I put some waxed paper on both sides of the fish and gently pounded with the flat side of a meat pounder until it flattened a bit (don’t use the side with the prongs or you’ll tear the fish apart.)
Then I added the stuffing. You can smear it all over the fish, or leave it in one spot. If you leave it in one spot, you’ll have a finished dish that has a lot of stuffing in one central place. If you spread it out, then you’ll have something like the first picture above. Or do a little of both. Either way works fine.
After they’re rolled up and coated with breadcrumbs, place them in a casserole with slices of lemon, orange and bay leaves in between. I have a bay leaf plant and was able to use fresh bay leaves. If you can’t find them, use dry ones. This casserole served enough for five people with some leftover after the dinner. I even had a few that I didn’t put in the large casserole.
Instead, I put them in a smaller container and froze them for later use. They later cooked up just as if they had been fresh, so you can definitely make this ahead of time and freeze it.

It sure was nice to pull that out of the freezer and sit down to this for dinner a couple of weeks later.
These were so easy to make and taste so great that I plan to add this to my Christmas eve fish feast from now on.
Ciao Chow Linda was recently interviewed by N.J. Monthly for a story about the “Feast of the Seven Fishes.” You can read more about my childhood memories of that night here.
Here are some other recipe ideas if you want to have your own “Feast of the Seven Fishes”:

Involtini di Pesce Spada
from Fabrizia Lanza’s “Coming Home To Sicily”
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for coating
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 3/4 cups unseasoned dried breadcrumbs, divided
1 lemon, half juiced, half thinly sliced
1 orange, half juiced, half thinly sliced
1 tablespoon dried currants (I used white raisins, cut into small pieces)
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
fine sea salt and black pepper
1 pound swordfish, sliced into 8 thin pieces (about 1/3 inch thick; if the pieces are too thick, you can pound them gently between pieces of wax paper)
12 bay leaves, preferably fresh
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Drizzle the bottom of a medium baking dish with olive oil.
Combine the 1/4 cup olive oil and onion in a medium skillet and cook over medium-high heat until softened, about three minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 3/4 cup breadcrumbs, mixing everything together until the breadcrumbs have absorbed the oil. (I made the mistake of mixing all the breadcrumbs with the other ingredients the first time I made this, and it was fine.) Return to low heat and toast the breadcrumbs slightly. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon and orange juices, the currants, pinenuts, and mint. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Lay a piece of swordfish on a work surface and put a heaping tablespoon of the breadcrumb filling (squeeze it in your hand to compact t) in the center and roll up. Repeat with the remaining swordfish and filling.
Pour some olive oil into a shallow pan and fill another shallow pan with the remaining 2 cups breadcrumbs. Dip each roll-up first in the oil, then dredge in the breadcrumbs until lightly coated. Place the swordfish roll-ups snugly in the baking dish and tuck the bay leaves and lemon and orange slices between the rolls. Drizzle with some more olive ol and bake until the fish is cooked through, about 10 minutes. (Mine needed 15 minutes to cook through.)
Serves four.