There’s almost always a ricotta pie of some sort on our Easter table. When I was growing up it was my mother’s pastiera, a lattice-topped torte filled with a mixture of fresh ricotta, beaten eggs, sugar and cooked wheat berries, and flavored with a dash of cinnamon and a splash of Punch Abruzzo. I liked it. It’s possible I didn’t love it (shhh).
I like a simpler ricotta crostata. For years I made the recipe from my first book, The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy. (For those of you wondering why the heck a book on soups and stews would contain a dessert recipe, the book is organized by season and, since I always like to end things on a sweet note, I included four seasonal crostata recipes ~ apple for fall, jam for winter, ricotta for spring, and apricot-cherry for summer.)
The original is a fine recipe, but what can I say? I’m a tweaker by nature. It’s not so much a quest for perfection as it is the simple enjoyment I get from those small changes and improvements, from all the variations that present themselves as possibilities.
Which is how I ended up with this latest version, with extra lemon zest and mascarpone whipped into the filling. The sweet cheese makes it a little fluffier, a little creamier, and the zest brightens the flavor.
No recipe is perfect, and I won’t claim this one is either. If you look at the picture below, you’ll see a crack at the bottom right. The filling puffed up quite high as the crostata baked, creating the fissure and then settling back down once the tart was out of the oven. Sort of like it took a deep breath, split a seam, and then exhaled. Well, for all its simplicity it is rich.
I thought about covering the flaw with powdered sugar before I took the picture. But you know what? I like these imperfections. (Perhaps they remind me of me. Perhaps I could use a little dusting of powdered sugar.)
Will the tweaking continue? Probably. For all I know, I’ll end up back at my mother’s pastiera. But right now, this is the version I love, the one that will be on my table this Easter. I hope it will be on yours, too.
Are you a recipe tweaker? Leave me a comment and let me know I’m in good company!
* * * * * *
This lemon-ricotta crostata is one of the recipes I’ll be teaching this weekend at two cooking classes, at Southern Season in Charleston and in Chapel Hill. Other dishes on the menu include crostini with grilled peppers, spring asparagus risotto, mushroom- and zucchini-stuffed crepe cannelloni, and honey-balsamic roasted carrots. Want to join us? More information is on my events page.
* * * * * *
Join me for a culinary tour of Abruzzo ~ nine magical days in Italy’s most spectacular, undiscovered region. Hands-on cooking classes included! Two dates: June 22-30, 2014 and September 21-29, 2014. Click here for details.
A lovely dessert for Easter or simply to welcome spring, this rustic crostata would be made with sheep’s milk in Abruzzo, the region where my family is from. If you are unable to find it, use a good-quality cow’s milk ricotta and make sure it’s well drained. The tart is delicious plain but I always shower mine with a generous dusting of confectioners’ sugar at serving time.
- For the dough
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- Finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon
- 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 large whole egg
- 2 large egg yolks
- For the filling
- 8 oz fresh sheep’s milk ricotta or well-drained cow’s milk ricotta
- 8 oz mascarpone
- 1 large whole egg
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for serving
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon, plus 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Make the dough
Put the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse briefly to combine. Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the whole egg and egg yolks and process until the mixture just begins to clump together in the work bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and briefly knead it together. Without overworking it, shape the dough into a disk, patting rather than kneading it. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until well chilled.
Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and cut it into 2 portions, one slightly larger than the other. Rewrap the smaller portion and return it to the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the large portion into an 11-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick or slightly thicker. Carefully wrap the dough around the rolling pin and drape it over a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Gently press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Use the rolling pin or the flat of your hand to press around the perimeter of the pan to cut off any excess dough. Put the lined tart pan in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Make the filling
In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, mascarpone, whole egg and yolks, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice and zest. Using a stand mixer or a handheld beater, beat the ingredients on high speed for about 1 minute, or until thoroughly combined and fluffy.
Assemble and bake the crostata
Remove the tart shell from the refrigerator. Scrape the filling into the shell and smooth it with a silicone spatula. Roll out the reserved piece of dough into a 10-inch round about 1/8 inch thick or slightly thicker, and cut it into 3/4-inch-wide strips with a fluted pastry wheel. Carefully place the strips over the filled tart shell in a lattice pattern, gently pressing the ends of the strips into the sides of the tart shell. Use any remaining strips to form a rim around the perimiter of the crostata.
Bake the crostata for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is puffed and just set. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Remove the ring of the tart pan and let the crostata cool completely before transferring it to a decorative platter. Dust liberally with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.
NOTES This recipe will leave you with four leftover egg whites. Don't toss them! Use them to make these meringue cookies. You will also likely have leftover dough. Gather the scraps into a ball, wrap and chill. Then use the dough to make these nutella sandwich cookies.
If you don't plan to serve the crostata within a couple of hours of baking, cover with foil and store it in the refrigerator. Let it come back to room temperature before serving (although it's also really good cold).