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Fresh Fig and Ricotta Cake

Are you lucky enough to have a fig tree growing in your yard? I’ve known many Italians (and non-Italians) with fig trees, either in the ground or in pots, and they all seem to get a prolific harvest each year. I wish I could say the same for my fig tree, or should I say fig trees, because I’ve tried year after year to grow them and never seem to get more than a handful of fruit, if that. Each year, I declare I’ve had it with my barren fig tree — no more relegating precious real estate to this freeloader. One winter I even followed through on my threat, refusing to protect a 10 year-old fig tree from its frigid fruitless fate. As expected, it died from the cold temperatures and what did I do? I went out and bought another fig tree in the spring. That was two fig trees ago. Long story short, the current fig tree died this last winter too, or so I thought. We had protected it from winter’s blast, but when we uncovered the tree in the spring, it had as much life in it as a Latin word at a rapper’s concert. But surprise! By June, the tree sprang back to life from its roots, and has even produced a half dozen fruits, although whether they ripen before the frost is doubtful. What’s a fig lover to do? Buy figs, naturally, which is what I did when I saw these zebra figs in the market.

I ate a few, gave some to my dad, but had a hankering to bake a cake with them, since my husband is such a dessert lover. In the past, I’ve posted recipes for several fresh fig desserts including a fig upside down cake, a lemony olive oil fig cake, a fig frangipane tart, a fig crostata, and a poached fig and almond crostata,  But I had never made a fresh fig and ricotta cake until now. In searching for a recipe, I came across many, and settled on one by Rosella Rago, whose website Cooking with Nonna, is always a great source of inspiration.  Rosella’s recipe calls for slicing the figs thinly.

Then placing them on top. Rosella’s recipe also called for using a round springform pan, but I didn’t have one handy at the beach house,where we spend our summers, so I used a rectangular one that measured 8″ x 11.”

The cake was moist, with a nice crumb and a lemony flavor, and is a perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee. Next time, I plan to double the amount of figs, and spread half the batter into the pan, cover with a layer of figs, then add the rest of the batter, and top it with more figs. Maybe I’ll even have my own stash of figs from my own tree by the end of next summer. Wish me (and our fig tree) luck.

Coincidentally, while I was baking my cake, my friend Stacey was also baking a fig ricotta cake, using a recipe from one of my favorite cookbook writers, Ina Garten. You can find that version here.

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Fresh Fig and Ricotta Cake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • For the Cake:
  • ½ cup olive oil + 2 tablespoons
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on top
  • 2 packets Vanillina OR 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 lemon, zest only
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt (preferably full fat)
  • 1¼ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 6 fresh figs cut into thin, round slices
  • confectioners sugar for dusting
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan or spray with baking spray.
  3. (I used a glass baking dish that measured 8" x 11" - Linda)
  4. In a large mixing bow combine the oil, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest. Using an electric mixer beat the ingredients on medium speed until combined.
  5. Add in the eggs one at a time and beat until they are fluffy and pale yellow in color.
  6. Add in the ricotta and yogurt and beat until combined.
  7. Add in the flour and salt and finally the baking powder.
  8. Beat until the dry ingredients are just fully incorporated.
  9. Do not overmix!
  10. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and arrange the fig slices in a single layer on top making sure they are not overlapping one another.
  11. Sprinkle with granulated sugar and bake until the top is lightly golden and the center of the cake has set. About 40-45 minutes.
  12. (I baked the rectangular pan only 35 minutes,)
  13. Allow the cake to cool 20-30 minutes in the pan before opening the spring and slicing.
  14. Dust with confectioners sugar if desired.
 

Ricotta and Chocolate Crostata

As soon as I saw this recipe by Domenica Marchetti in Italy Magazine, I knew I had to make it. Domenica’s recipes are always sure-fire winners, from soups to stews to desserts. That chocolate topping! That ricotta base! It’s a seemingly simple recipe, with basic flavors that complement each other perfectly — from the slightly lemony tang of the crust to the sweetened ricotta and dark, bittersweet chocolate.

Yes, you can buy your own crust, and I sometimes do, but in this case, homemade is infinitely better. The recipe makes enough for two tarts — one of which went into the freezer — and with the trimmings, I eeked out enough for two mini tart tins as well.

Follow the directions exactly to make sure you don’t have a soggy bottom. That involves resting the dough in the refrigerator for a bit, then pricking the dough and “blind-baking” it for ten minutes or so.

Fill it with the ricotta/sugar mixture and bake some more.

Then cover it with a ganache of dark chocolate and heavy cream. It will be hard to resist cutting into this one right away, but refrigerate for an hour or two to firm up the chocolate.

Serve as is, with some strawberries on the side, or if you’ve got any growing in your yard, mince some pansy flowers for a confetti of edible color.

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Ricotta and Chocolate Crostata
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2½ cups (390g) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 small lemon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon fine salt
  • ½ cup (115g) cold unsalted butter, cut into dice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 pound (500g) fresh sheep’s milk or well-drained cow’s milk ricotta
  • ¼ cup (30g) confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (250ml) plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 8 ounces (250g) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Instructions
  1. In a food processor, combine the flour, granulated sugar, lemon zest, baking powder, and salt and pulse to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the eggs and process just until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, divide it in half, and pat it into two disks. Wrap one half in plastic wrap and freeze for another use. Wrap the second piece and refrigerate it for 1 hour.
  2. Remove the pastry disk from the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, roll the disk into a 12-inch (30-cm) circle. Carefully transfer the dough to a 10-inch (25-cm) round tart pan with a removable bottom. Gently press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Trim the overhang. Refrigerate for 1 hour (or up to overnight).
  3. Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C). Remove the tart shell from the refrigerator. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork. Bake until the edges are just beginning to turn golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Leave the oven on.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons heavy cream and mix well. Spoon the mixture into the crust. Bake until the filling is set, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature.
  5. In a heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate and cocoa powder. Pour the remaining 1 cup cream into a small saucepan and heat on medium until small bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and cocoa and stir until the mixture id dark, glossy, and smooth and all the chocolate has melted. Carefully spread the chocolate ganache over the cooled filling, starting in the middle and creating a thick layer that stops just short of the crust.
  6. Refrigerate the crostata until thoroughly chilled, about 2 hours. Remove the sides from the pan and set the crostata on a serving plate. Let stand a few minutes, then cut into wedges and serve
 

 

Pear and Pecorino “Ravioli”

Many years ago, when my daughter was a student in Florence, Italy, she took us to a restaurant called “Quattro Leoni” where I first ate little bundles of pasta wrapped around pear and pecorino cheese. I’ve been wanting to make them at home for years and finally got around to trying, inspired by the restaurant in Florence.

I’ve got time on my hands these days, as many of you do, with so many people quarantined due to the Coronavirus outbreak. I hope and pray that the deaths around the world will soon taper off and stop, especially for Italy, where more people have died from the illness than anywhere else in the world. Meanwhile, stay indoors and keep “social distancing” when you need to go out. Wear a mask if you have one, even if it’s not an N-95. My brother-in-law, who is a leading aerosol scientist in the world and studies movements of aerosols (small airborne particles), says that spray droplets are huge and that almost any cloth should stop them effectively. If you must be in situations where you encounter people, breathe through a cloth covering of some sort. There are many links on Youtube showing how to sew your own mask like this one, even some that don’t require sewing, like this one.

A great stress reliever in these troubling times is pasta making. I won’t give a primer on how to make the pasta, but there are instructions in the recipe below and if you want more detail, click here on how to make homemade pasta. I used “OO” flour from Italy, or you could use a combination of semolina and all-purpose flour. In a pinch, all-purpose flour will do.

My version is slightly different from Quattro Leoni, in both the shape and the sauce. Their’s look more like little purses, but I decided to try shaping mine into these small bundles instead. And their sauce was made with taleggio cheese and asparagus – so delicious but I had neither in the house so used butter, sage and walnuts with a sprinkling of pecorino on top.

After you’ve kneaded the pasta dough, you need to let it rest a half hour, so take that time to make the filling. I used a mixture of pear, pecorino and ricotta cheese, with a little white pepper.

Mix it all together very well.

Dab a teaspoonful onto each 3″ x 3″ square. In the background, you can see I pieced together some strips of pasta so I could make continuous strips without having to knead the scraps back together and roll them out a second time. Each time you roll the pasta, it will get tougher, so try to avoid doing that. Just make sure you wet the edge of the strips so the pasta adheres. You don’t want it separating when you cook it in the boiling water.

To help you shape the pasta into the little bundles, I made this short video with instructions:

The recipe below makes enough for about 20-22 bundles, and I made small “quadretti” with the scraps, to use in some soup.

While the pasta is boiling, put together the sauce by melting some butter, adding sage and chopped walnuts.

Drain the pasta loosely, leaving a little water on each one as you place it directly into the pan. Add more butter and more of the pasta water if you want more sauce, but this was a rich dish and I didn’t feel the need for additional calories.

This serves two people generously as a main meal, and would even be enough for four if you’re serving it as a first course. But if you’re cooking for more people, you can easily double the recipe. Sprinkle grated pecorino on top and enjoy.

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Pear and Pecorino "Ravioli"
 
Author:
Serves: makes about 20-22 ravioli
Ingredients
  • FOR THE PASTA:
  • 1¼ cups flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • FOR THE RAVIOLI STUFFING:
  • 1 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • ½ cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 pear, cut into small dice
  • ¼ tsp. white pepper
  • pinch of salt
  • FOR THE SAUCE:
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • some fresh sage leaves
  • ¼ cup walnuts, chopped
  • fresh pecorino cheese to grate on top
Instructions
  1. FOR THE PASTA:
  2. Put the flour into a food processor, along with the eggs and salt.
  3. Process it for a couple of minutes until the mixture comes together.
  4. If it's too sticky, add more flour. If it doesn't seem to adhere to itself, add a little water.
  5. Knead it on a board for a few minutes, then let it rest for ½ hour, covered.
  6. Roll out the dough, either by hand or in an electric pasta roller.
  7. Don't roll it to the thinnest setting though, or the filling might break through when you're handling it.
  8. Place the dough on a board and cut it into 3 inch squares.
  9. Patch some of the long pieces together so you don't waste the dough, or so that you don't have to re-roll and re-cut it.
  10. The more you handle the dough, the tougher it will get.
  11. Place a teaspoon of the filling in the center and press the edges together, as in the picture, until you have a square shape with the four points meeting at the top center.
  12. Boil gently in water until cooked, which may take 5-8 minutes.
  13. Make the sauce, adding butter to a pan until it melts, then add a few fresh sage leaves and the chopped walnuts.
  14. Remove the ravioli from the water with a strainer, but don't worry if some of the water adheres -- it will help with the sauce.
  15. Gently stir the ravioli in the sauce, tossing them to coat with the butter sauce.
  16. Remove to plates and sprinkle more pecorino cheese on top.
 

 

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.
 

Ricotta and Nutella Tart

If you’re a chocolate and hazelnut fan, this recipe is for you. It’s got a bottom layer of Nutella, covered with a ricotta mixture and drizzled with more Nutella on top. The first time I made the recipe, I used a ready made crust and it crisped up nicely, browning perfectly on the bottom. I loved the flavor combination but thought it could benefit from a doubling of the ricotta layer.

So the next time I made it, I doubled the recipe for the ricotta layer.

The filling tasted great, but the problem was that the crust was undercooked on the bottom, even though I left it in the oven a little longer than the recipe called for. It could be because in addition to doubling the amount of ricotta, I also baked two tarts in the oven at the same time, which may have caused the pastry to bake unevenly. Or was it because I forgot to prick the pastry before smearing on the Nutella? In any event, it’s worth making this tart, but be warned – bake only one tart in the oven at a time for best results.

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Ricotta and Nutella Tart
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • ¼ cup 2% milk
  • ½ tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ½ cup plus ¼ cup chocolate-hazelnut spread, divided
  • your favorite tart or pie crust dough, chilled
Instructions
  1. In a blender, combine the ricotta cheese, milk and sugar, and blend until completely combined.
  2. Pour the mixture into a glass bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, then lightly grease and flour a 9-inch tart or pie tin.
  4. Remove the dough from the fridge.
  5. On a floured work surface, roll the dough into a ⅛ inch thick circle.
  6. Place it in the prepared tin, trim any overhanging dough with a sharp knife and crimp the edges.
  7. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork.
  8. Spread the bottom of the crust with 7 ounces of the chocolate-hazelnut spread.
  9. If the spread is too thick, soften it in the microwave or place it in a heatproof bowl on top of a pot of boiling water.
  10. Remove the ricotta filling from the fridge and pour it over the chocolate-hazelnut spread.
  11. Bake the pie for 25 to 30 minutes or until the crust is golden.
  12. Let the pie cool completely then drizzle with the remaining ¼ cup chocolate-hazelnut spread.
  13. Refrigerate the pie for 2 hours before serving.
 

 

Cassata Siciliana

If you’ve ever been to Sicily, you know that one of the classic desserts from that island is cassata Siciliana, a  delicious sponge cake layered with a ricotta filling, traditionally edged with almond paste and topped with candied fruits.

I was fortunate enough to have Fabrizia Lanza show me how to make cassata when I stayed at her farm in Sicily last spring. 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.

Cassata Siciliana may look complicated to make, but Fabrizia breezed through the various steps in short order without working up a sweat. With Easter just around the corner, this would make a mouth-watering, show-stopper dessert.

The first step is making the marzipan, using pistachios, almond flour, and a few other ingredients, including the traditional green food coloring. Make the marzipan without the food coloring if you prefer, or if you don’t want to use the marzipan at all, you can omit it, and just cover the entire cassata with the confectioner’s sugar icing.

Roll out the marzipan and place strips of it in a tin specially made for cassata. These pans are not easy to find, but a pie plate makes a good substitute. Line it in plastic wrap first to make it easier to flip.

The sponge cake (pan di Spagna) is sliced in this manner, contrary to how I presumed it would be sliced (through the middle in horizontal layers).

Place one layer of the slices on the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with limoncello, or Grand Marnier liqueur.

Spread a layer of the ricotta/sugar mixture on top.

Then repeat with another layer of the sponge cake and liqueur.

Pat it down firmly.

Then place a serving plate over it all and flip it over (fingers crossed).

Remove the pan and the plastic wrap.

Drizzle the confectioner’s sugar glaze on top.

Then decorate with candied fruits. They’re quite common in Sicily, and infinitely better in quality than what we get here in the states. If you can’t get good candied fruits, just keep it simple and use some homemade candied orange peel, (recipe here) rather than ruin your cassata with “industrial” candied fruit. Besides, the larger pieces, like the whole candied orange, are mostly decorative anyhow.

Just looking at the interior of this cassata Siciliana brings back some delicious memories and a strong desire to return to that fascinating island.

Part of the reason this cassata was outstanding was the quality of the ricotta that went into it. Fabrizia used sheep’s milk ricotta, but if you can’t find it, (admittedly not easy), use cow’s milk ricotta, well-drained. Our ricotta couldn’t have been any fresher, since we went to the farm that morning, where the cheesemaker made the cheese right before our eyes.

We could thank these sheep for the ricotta, who just a short while earlier had been milked.

Much of the pecorino cheese is drained in plastic molds, but here are some that were being drained in traditional reed baskets. Thank goodness for people still making food in the time-honored traditions of their ancestors, and for people like Fabrizia Lanza, who is helping disseminate these old world customs and recipes. If you really want to slow down and treat yourself to a unique experience, book at week at her farm, Case Vecchie and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of authentic Sicily.

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Cassata Siciliana
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE SPONGE CAKE:
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1¼ cups (150 grams) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest
  • 1¼ cup (150 grams) flour, sifted
  • 3 tablespoons limoncello or Grand Marnier
  • FOR THE MARZIPAN:
  • 2¾ cup (350 grams) almond flour
  • 1¼ cup (150 grams) pistachios, ground
  • 1½ cup (200 grams) powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon glucose
  • green food coloring
  • candied fruit, for garnish
  • FOR THE ICING:
  • 3 cups (370 grams) powdered sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon, strained
  • FOR THE RICOTTA CREAM:
  • 2 lb. (1 kilo) ricotta
  • 1½ cups (200 grams) sugar
Instructions
  1. FOR THE SPONGE CAKE:
  2. preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan.
  4. Put the eggs into the bowl of a mixer and beat for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the sugar and lemon zest and continue to beat until the mixture forms a ribbon when poured, about 15 minutes.
  6. In two or three parts, gently fold in the sifted flour.
  7. Pour into the springform pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a needed inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  8. Cool on a cake rack and set it aside.
  9. TO MAKE THE MARZIPAN:
  10. Mix the almond flour, ground pistachios and sugar.
  11. Make a well and add a teaspoon of glucose, 2 tablespoons of water and a few drops of food coloring.
  12. Combine ingredients like a dough, then roll out on a workspace dusted with powdered sugar
  13. Cut long strips lengthwise into ½ inch thick slices.
  14. Roll out three of the slices into strips about ⅛ to ¼ inch thick.
  15. Knead the remaining marzipan into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and store in the refrigerator for later use.
  16. Line a 9-inch cassata pan, or a 9-inch pie pan with sloping sides, with plastic wrap.
  17. Wrap the marzipan strips along the inside edge of the pan, slightly overlapping the ends.
  18. Press against the pan to form a smooth layer.
  19. Cut the cake from top to bottom into ½ inch thick slices and trim off the crust
  20. Put a layer of slices on the bottom of the pan, drizzle the layers of the sponge cake with limoncello or Grand Marnier.
  21. In a bowl, mix the ricotta with sugar using a spatula until evenly distributed.
  22. Spread the layer of sponge cake evenly with the ricotta cream.
  23. Carefully place another layer of cake slices on top, drizzle again with limoncello or Grand Marnier.
  24. Flip the cake on a large serving plate.
  25. Carefully lift off the pan and peel off the remaining plastic wrap
  26. Set the cassata aside while you are making the icing.
  27. Sift half of the powdered sugar into a bowl.
  28. Add half of the lemon juice.
  29. Stir the liquid into the sugar, breaking up any lumps.
  30. Sift the remaining sugar into the bowl and add the rest of the lemon juice, until it has a thin spreading consistency and forms a smooth, shiny icing.
  31. Ice the top of the cassata, leaving the marzipan sides of the cake visible
  32. If you are not using green marzipan, ice the entire cake.
  33. Decorate with whole and cut candied fruit.
  34. Refrigerate and allow to set for at least 1 to 2 hours before serving.
 

 

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Beet Ravioli with ricotta and goat cheese filling

 Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and this recipe is perfect for winning over the hearts (and stomachs) of your loved ones. Or just treat yourself to a special home made meal. You deserve it! The ravioli dough is made with beets, although it hardly retains any of the beet flavor. But it does look rather festive, and was a good way for me to salvage some of the beets I had dreadfully overcooked this past weekend. You see, I planned to make pickled beets and I placed the beets to cook atop the stove in a pot of water. I like to undercook beets since they get cooked a bit more in the pickling process, and I prefer some “bite” to the finished product. But I left the house to see the HD performance of “Carmen” live from the Met, and forgot about the pot simmering on the stove. I didn’t realize it until nearly three hours later, well after Carmen entices Don Jose with her guiles, but before he gets his revenge on the alluring gypsy.

You know it’s verboten to phone or text in the theater during a performance, but I covered by head and torso with my jacket and texted my husband to ask him to immediately drain the water from the beets. Thank goodness for husbands who are loyal to their alma mater and stay home to watch the basketball game on TV. Go Pirates!

I know it could have been avoided had I roasted the beets, but I always have trouble peeling beets when I roast them. Besides, I might have forgotten them in the oven and come home to dehydrated, or worse, burnt spheres of my favorite root vegetable.

So anyway, here I was with lots of mushy beets to use up. I’ve always wanted to try making pasta with beets so this gave me the perfect excuse. Let’s get started.

Whiz the beets in a food processor until smooth.

Add the eggs, flour and other ingredients. I used 00 flour, the kind that Italians traditionally use for making pasta. If you don’t have it, use regular flour, or add some semolina flour to regular flour. However, it’s easy enough to find 00 flour online, if you don’t have an Italian grocery store, or specialty food shop near you.

The dough is stickier than normal pasta dough – possibly because of those darn overcooked and water-logged beets of mine. So I had to knead in a little more flour on the wooden board. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for at least an hour.

I placed the dough through the pasta machine, spreading a little more flour over the dough each time I passed it through a different thickness. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out the heart shapes.

Place a tablespoon of filling over each heart and then using your finger, or a small paint brush, brush a little water around the perimeter of each one. By the way, the goat cheese adds a nice tang to the ricotta and the lemon zest brings a nice “brightness” to it. Don’t skimp on the fresh thyme or the grating of nutmeg either. It’s a delicious combination of flavors.

Cover with a second piece of the pasta, and crimp the edges with a fork.

This dough recipe makes enough for about four dozen ravioli, but frankly, I was getting hungry and wanted to get moving with dinner. So I stopped at about two dozen ravioli and made fettuccine with the rest of the dough. I had some leftover filling, but I’ll use it in a frittata.

Boil the ravioli in abundant, salted water. These were ready in only three or four minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter, and add the thyme and hazelnuts. When the ravioli are cooked, transfer them with a slotted spoon or spider to the pan with the butter and hazelnuts. Don’t drain the pasta really well; It’s good if a little water comes along to add to the sauce.

Carefully spoon the pasta into a heated dish and sprinkle some parmesan cheese over everything.

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone!

 

Click here to find out what’s cooking in Ciao Chow Linda’s kitchen each day (and more).

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Beet Ravioli with ricotta and goat cheese filling
 
Author:
Recipe type: Pasta - First Course
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 3-4 dozen ravioli
Ingredients
  • FOR THE PASTA:
  • two medium beets (or about 8 ounces pureed beets)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 large whole eggs
  • about 2½ cups 00 flour
  • salt, to taste
  • FOR THE FILLING:
  • ¾ cup ricotta cheese, drained (preferably overnight)
  • 5 ounces soft goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • salt, pepper and the grating of a bit of fresh nutmeg
  • FOR THE SAUCE:
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
  • ⅓ cup roughly chopped hazelnuts
  • parmesan cheese, for sprinkling
Instructions
  1. TO MAKE THE PASTA:
  2. Cook the beets, either by boiling or roasting.
  3. Once they are cool, remove the skin and puree the beets in a food processor until smooth.
  4. Add the salt, and eggs to the beet puree in the food processor, then start adding the flour a little at a time, until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the food processor bowl.
  5. Remove it onto a well-floured board and knead until smooth and it loses its "stickiness."
  6. Wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least an hour.
  7. TO MAKE THE FILLING:
  8. Drain the ricotta overnight or at least an hour, to remove some of the water.
  9. Place the cheeses and other ingredients in a food processor and mix.
  10. MAKING AND ASSEMBLING THE RAVIOLI:
  11. Cut the dough into four parts and work with one of the pieces, keeping the rest covered.
  12. Run the dough through the pasta machine, flattening and flouring each piece as you go along. Start with the widest setting , dusting the dough each time you feed it through a narrower setting.
  13. On my KitchenAid pasta machine, I stopped at the number four setting.
  14. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out heart shapes, then fill with a tablespoon of the cheese filling.
  15. Moisten the edges of the pasta, then place another heart shaped pasta piece on top of the filling.
  16. Crimp the edges with a fork.
  17. Drop into boiling, salted water and cook until the pasta is al dente. For me, this took only about three to four minutes.
  18. TO MAKE THE SAUCE:
  19. Meanwhile, melt the butter in another saucepan, add the thyme and the hazelnuts.
  20. When the pasta is cooked, using a slotted spoon or "spider" drop them into the pan with the butter and hazelnuts.
  21. Don't worry if the pasta is not totally drained. A little water is needed to help make the sauce.
  22. After all the ravioli are in the saucepan, gently toss them to disperse the butter, nuts and thyme.
  23. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve.

Cannoli with ricotta

Among other things, Sicily is famous for cannoli, those crunchy, ricotta filled delicacies that are ubiquitous in Palermo and throughout the island. So it was only natural that we would be making them in one of our classes at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school.

I have a real weakness for cannoli and there are plenty of good ones to be had near where I live in the Northeast U.S., but I never buy a cannolo (singular of cannoli) that’s already filled, unless it’s done right in front of me. There’s nothing worse than a soggy cannolo shell. (Well, actually there are plenty of worse things, but you get the point.) Eating a soggy cannolo is just not worth the calories.

But eating them in Sicily with sweet, creamy fresh sheep’s milk ricotta that was just made, and shells that were crunchy yet tender,  well, that’s a whole different ball game.

Don’t be afraid to make them at home. I made them for the first time decades ago, when I was a neophyte in the kitchen, and they’re not hard at all. If you can make pasta, you can make cannoli. It’s a similar procedure. You do need metal tubes to shape them, however, or if you’re handy with a saw, you can make your own forms from wooden dowels.

By the way, for the word nerds out there, the word cannolo is a diminutive of the Italian word “canna,” which means “reed” or “tube.” There’s a famous Italian book called “Canne Al Vento,” (“Reeds in the Wind”) written by the only Italian woman to win a Nobel prize in literature —  Grazia Deledda.

But back to the cannoli directions. The first thing to do is mix the dough, then knead it, and run it through a pasta machine at increasingly thin settings. If you’re a real purist and you’ve got strong arms, you can roll it by hand with a rolling pin.

Then cut it into circle shapes, using either a large circle cutter, or use a small plate as a template and cut around the perimeter with a knife. Then roll around the metal or wooden form, sealing with some water, overlapping slightly.

Fry them in hot oil until golden brown, using an oil with little flavor, like peanut or canola oil.

Drain and cool them, then fill with the ricotta and chocolate chip mixture. You can use a small spoon to do this, but if you have a large quantity, a pastry bag speeds things along.

Serve with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, and bits of candied orange peel and/or chopped pistachios, and watch them disappear.

Cannoli con Ricotta
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp. lard
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • pinch of fine sea salt
  • ¼ cup vinegar or wine, or as needed
  • 1 egg, lighten beaten, for egg wash
  • vegetable oil, for flying
  • Ricotta Cream
  • 1½ cups whole-milk ricotta, preferably sheep's milk
  • ½ cup sugar, or to taste
  • chocolate chips, optional
  • candied orange peel, chopped pistachios, to garnish
Instructions
  1. Make the cannoli shells:
  2. Combine the flour, lard, sugar, sauce and slat in a bowl and mix together with your hands.
  3. Add the vinegar, bit by bit, and knead until the dough comes together. The dough should be quite stiff.
  4. Set a pasta machine to the widest setting.
  5. Take a piece of dough and run it through the machine 7 to 10 times at that setting, folding the dough in half each time before rolling it again.
  6. When the dough is very even, continue to roll it through the machine, once at each setting without folding, until you reach the next to last setting. (The dough should be very even and silky).
  7. Lay the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and with a lightly floured 4 inch cookie cutter, cut out rounds (use a small plate as a template if you don't have a cookie cutter)
  8. Wrap the dough rounds around metal or wooden cannoli molds, dab the edge with egg, and press to seal.
  9. Repeat with the remaining dough, retooling the scraps.
  10. Heat 2 inches of oil in a wide, heavy pot over medium high heat.
  11. Add the cannoli shells in batches and fry until the shells have become bubbly, crisp, and browned, 4 to 5 minutes.
  12. With tongs, transfer to paper towels to drain.
  13. Cool and remove the molds carefully.
  14. To Make the ricotta cream:
  15. Beat together the ricotta and sugar until smooth and creamy. Add the chocolate chips, if desired. With a small spoon, fill the cannoli shells, then decorate with the candied orange peel and pistachios, and dust with powdered sugar.
 

Easter Dinner Ideas

Easter is just a few short days away and many of you have your menus all ready. But for those of you still looking for ideas, here are a few from blog posts in the past. Click on the name of the dish below the photo to take you to the recipe.

Ricotta Broccoli Rape Torta – This is a dish my son makes as an appetizer for Easter, using broccoli rape. No, that spelling is not a mistake, it is rape in Italian, while most Americans spell it broccoli rabe or raab. Any way you spell it, it’s delicious, and a lighter alternative to the heavier, meat-laden pizza piena.

Braided Easter Bread – This bread, studded with hard boiled eggs, is braided with soppressata, olives and cheese, and would be perfect with drinks before dinner.

Grilled Leg of Lamb – Marinated and cooked on the grill, this lamb recipe from Julia Child, is tender and full of flavor.

Honey Baked Ham with roasted grapes – This recipe will make you forget those prepared hams purchased from franchise ham shops – and it’s so easy to make too.

 Neapolitan Pastiera – This traditional Southern Italian dessert is made with ricotta and wheat berries.

Colomba Pasquale – It wouldn’t be Easter in most Italian households without this Easter dove, which you can make at home too.

Coconut covered lamb cake – A childhood favorite, I continue the tradition with the same cake mold my mother used more than sixty years ago.

chocolate lamb cake – Why not give equal time to the black sheep? This cake, decorated with crushed cookie crumbs, will please the chocolate lovers in your family.

coconut cream Easter eggs – These are a weakness of mine, which is why I can’t make them more than once every few years. Otherwise, I’d end up eating dozens of them.

Perfect hard boiled eggs – And if you don’t make any of the above recipes, you’ll probably make hard-boiled eggs at some point. If you’ve ever struggled with peeling them, here’s a primer that will help you avoid frustration.

Buona Pasqua a tutti!

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Girasole Rustico (Sunflower Tart)

I subscribe to an Italian TV channel and one of the programs I like to watch is a cooking show called “La Prova del Cuoco” (The Cook’s Test). The host, Antonella Clerici, invites well known Italian chefs, as well as members of the public to cook each day. On a recent program, this girasole rustico was prepared by chef Roberto Valluzzi, and it caught my eye right away. I thought it would be perfect to prepare for my Italian chit-chat group, since we usually offer both savory and sweet things in our weekly get-together.

This not only was delicious, but was a snap to prepare and makes a really beautiful presentation. You can make the pastry with your own recipe, but for this particular day, I took a shortcut and bought frozen pastry from Trader Joe’s.

All you really need to do is sauté some scallions with spinach and a couple of anchovies (don’t worry, it doesn’t give it a fishy taste. The anchovies “melt” and add great flavor). Let the mixture cool, then mix it with ricotta cheese and parmesan cheese.

Lay out the one layer of the pastry on a cookie sheet (I used a pizza stone) and spread the filling all around.

Crimp the edges with a fork, and place a small bowl in the center. You’ll need this as a guide.

Make cuts through the pastry in even measurements, then take each section and give it a twist.

It will look like this when you’re finished. Remove the bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds.

Bake for 30-45 minutes until golden brown. Cut into sections and let people serve themselves.

Buon Appetito!

Thanks to all you readers who left a comment on my last post. Six of you will be receiving a tin of these delicious Cornish sardines and you were picked by a random number generator. I wish I had enough tins to send to everyone who left a comment. The winners are Marie, Jan Mannino, Joanne W., Claudia, Victoria Skelly, and Gloria. Please send me an email (linda@ciaochowlinda.com) with your home address so I can send you the tin. I hope you enjoy them.

 

Girasole Rustico (Sunflower Tart)
 
Ingredients
  • 2 round sheets of your favorite homemade pastry recipe or purchased (I used Trader Joe's brand)
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • dash of hot pepper flakes
Instructions
  1. Sauté the scallions in the olive oil with the anchovy fillets, until the scallions are soft and the anchovies are almost "melted." Add the spinach, salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes. Set aside to cool.
  2. When cool, add the spinach mixture to the ricotta and parmesan cheese and blend well in a bowl.
  3. Lay one layer of pastry on a round cooking sheet (I used a pizza stone). You may want to grease the cookie sheet just for extra insurance so it doesn't stick, or you can place the pastry on a piece of baking parchment paper.
  4. Spread the cooled spinach mixture over the pastry.
  5. Lay the second sheet of pastry over the spinach mixture and press gently all around, but more firmly at the edges. Seal by pressing fork tines around the perimeter.
  6. Place a small bowl in the center of the pastry, and cut all around the edges, stopping at the bowl.
  7. Pick up each cut piece and twist gently.
  8. Sprinkle some sesame seeds over the middle of the pastry and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes or until the pastry is cooked.