Lemon-Ricotta Crostata with Mascarpone

lemon ricotta crostata slice cropped 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. 

crostata filling 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.

lemon ricotta mascarpone crostata
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!

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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.

Lemon-Ricotta Crostata with Mascarpone

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

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).

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46 Responses to Lemon-Ricotta Crostata with Mascarpone

  1. Ciao Chow Linda April 2, 2014 at 9:05 am #

    Domenica – I like that little “imperfection” too – if you can call it an “imperfection.” To me, it looks perfectly wonderful. I too, made a pastiera for years, but few people really loved it, so I keep making different things each Easter – one year an Easter dove “colomba”, another year a cheesecake, another year a zuppa d’Inglese. This year I shall try your crostata di ricotta, but I have to confess, I may tweak it a bit with some candied orange peel and/or some dark chocolate bits. Maybe I’ll make two – yes that’s it – one of your original recipe, and one with the candied orange peel and chocolate bits. Or maybe three – another one with melted chocolate blended into the ricotta. oh Dio mio. I’m getting carried away. BTW, That’s a lovely photo. I love the color combo of that green plate with the orange napkin and greenish accents in the cloth.

    • Domenica Marchetti April 2, 2014 at 9:58 pm #

      Linda I love this. All your riffs sound delicious. I’m curious to know more about your homemade colomba. I’ve never done it. I usually buy one at the Italian market nearby, but I don’t like it as much as I like Pandoro or Panettone. Thanks for the photo compliment. I get my kitchen towels at La Cuisine, in Old Town Alexandria. They have these beautiful French towels in all the colors of the rainbow. xx

  2. Rosa Mayland April 2, 2014 at 9:24 am #

    Magnificent and surely mighty exquisite! Exactly the kind of recipe I was looking for lately…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  3. jamielifesafeast April 2, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    Stunning, just stunning, Domenica! I love crostata and I love lemon. And I absolutely love this kind of tart filling. Blending mascarpone into the ricotta is wonderful and must make for a richer, creamier filling. This is so bookmarked! Gorgeous!

  4. Adri April 2, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    Hi Domenica, Tweakers unite. I’m definitely part of the club. Your crostata is really beautiful. Lemony, with the ricotta and mascarpone, I bet it is super light. I have to make this. I may even tweak it.

    And as for the “imperfection” – I’ll tell you about imperfections. The wisest words ever spoken came from a former voice coach “Her vocal imperfections are what made us able to recognize Maria Callas’ voice over all others. They are what moved us. Never bemoan the imperfection.” So there you have it. Imperfections make us what we are. We just have to stop calling them imperfections. Then life would be perfect.

    • Domenica Marchetti April 2, 2014 at 10:00 pm #

      How sweet. I love it. And I know you are a fellow tweaker. Keeps things interesting, doesn’t it?!

  5. Betty Ann @Mango_Queen April 2, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

    This rustic lemon ricotta treat looks absolutely amazing. The recipe is so simple, too, I’m inspired to try it. How I wish I lived closer so I could take your cooking classes. And that Abruzzo trip is on my wish list for next time. Thanks for sharing this and the blog-love, Domenica!

    • Domenica Marchetti April 2, 2014 at 10:01 pm #

      Betty Ann ~ would love to have you on the Abruzzo trip. What fun we would have! Keep it in mind for sure. xo

  6. Barb | Creative Culinary April 2, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

    There is no point for me in using a recipe unless I tweak; I feel compelled to add a spin. Not to say that sometimes I recognize the perfection in front of me and just do it. Thinking this is one of those times!

    You know what; that crust is perfectly imperfect. It’s what happens; it’s evidence this is a real pie and not made up version of perfection to look photo ready. I would eat my slice and never once complain, promise. Or two slices. 🙂

    • Domenica Marchetti April 2, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

      Barb, I’ll trade you two slices for two of those awesome chocolate chip-espresso-coconut cookies you just posted. Deal?

  7. JoAnn Cola April 2, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

    I was going to prepare a pastiera for our Easter dinner, but I think I will try this one instead. Looks really good! And probably put out a plate of those cookies, too!

    • Domenica Marchetti April 2, 2014 at 10:07 pm #

      Please let me know if you give it a try JoAnn. BTW is your pastiera a family recipe? I wonder if it’s like my mom’s…

      • JoAnn Cola April 24, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

        Domenica, I made this for Easter, and it was wonderful! This is definitely a keeper. I made it with my neighbor’s Meyer lemons, and of course, we invited them to Easter dinner, too. Didn’t get around to the cookies, as there was just too much on the menu already. And, no the pastiera is not a family recipe. I don’t really have many of the old family recipes, I just try to duplicate them from memory once I have a basic recipe to start from. I guess that qualifies me as a tweaker, too!

        • Domenica Marchetti April 25, 2014 at 10:14 am #

          Thanks for reporting back JoAnn. It must have been delicious with Meyer lemons! So glad everyone enjoyed it. Cheers, D

  8. Phyllis @ Oracibo April 2, 2014 at 9:00 pm #

    I’m joining the “tweaker club.” After all isn’t that what recipes and cooking is about? I like the idea of adding mascarpone to the ricotta mixture, thinking that it might keep it really creamy, unlike when you use just ricotta. I found that with just ricotta is starts out really creamy but then a few hours later not so much! Will try your crostata dough this weekend…gotta use up that grape “jam” from Montepulciano. Will cover the bottom of the pastry shell with it then add some apples & pears because it’s time to move on to lemon crostata!

    • Domenica Marchetti April 2, 2014 at 10:10 pm #

      That’s exactly it, Phyllis. Ricotta on its own has a more grainy texture. The mascarpone makes it much creamier and it stays that way. BTW you can refrigerate this and it will be just as good a day or two later. The crust holds up well. Your jam crostata sounds out of this world. Wish we could find that kind of grape jam over here, rather than, well…you know. Cheers, D

  9. Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti April 2, 2014 at 10:16 pm #

    This looks delightful and lighter and creamier than a pastiera. I would never have noticed the crack in the crust, if you did not point it out. To me this just means your crostata was lovingly home made.

    • Domenica Marchetti April 2, 2014 at 10:36 pm #

      Thank you Pat ~ and you’re right, it’s lighter and creamier than pastiera. Thanks for stopping by. Cheers, D

  10. Rhianna April 3, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    This sounds wonderful. Two tweak questions: Do you think I could use all ricotta if I had an abundance? And could I make this in a deep dish pie pan?

    • Domenica Marchetti April 3, 2014 at 10:54 pm #

      Hi Rhianna. You could use all ricotta (1 lb total). The problem with just using ricotta is that the filling tends to be grainier and less creamy. I would recommend passing it through a fine-mesh sieve to remove some of the graininess, and then whipping it in the mixer with the other ingredients to make it fluffier. That should help. You could make it in a deep-dish pie pan, though it’s likely there wouldn’t be enough filling to reach the rim. It won’t be as pretty, but it would probably bake fine. If you don’t have a tart pan with a removable bottom I highly recommend getting one. I use mine all the time, for both sweet and savory tarts. Let me know how your tweaking turns out!

  11. Michelle - Majella Home Cooking April 3, 2014 at 11:25 am #

    I love this recipe, Domenica. I’m not a huge fan of ricotta cakes as they can be too wet and grainy. I imagine that the mascarpone changes the mouth feel entirely. Antonio’s birthday falls on Easter this year (my baby’s turning 5 – sniff, sniff) – he loves lemon. This would be a great birthday dessert for him (or at least one of them!).

    • Domenica Marchetti April 3, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

      Michelle, I have the same issues with ricotta cakes/tarts. Too wet, too grainy. This one takes care of both those problems. And the crust really holds up well. Won’t turn soggy, even sitting in the fridge for days. I can’t believe your little guy is going to be 5. You’re lucky ~ still lots of years to go. Enjoy every moment!

  12. elisa April 4, 2014 at 8:28 am #

    Well, I will tweak mine too, I will make just the filling, bake it and eat it as a baked pudding….and I will sprinkle some powdered sugar on it……

    • Domenica Marchetti April 8, 2014 at 7:26 am #

      Elisa, I think that is a wonderful idea. The filling puffs up just like a soufflé and then gently falls. I’ll bet it would make a fine pudding.

  13. duespaghetti April 5, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

    It was definitely high time to add to our crostata recipe repertiore – thank you! The pine-nut laden Torta della Nonna is our ricotta crostata stand-by, and we are definitely pastiera fans come Easter time, but this lemon-ricotta-mascarpone crostata sings of spring and we’re eager to try it. The imperfection is what makes it beautifully home-made.

    • Domenica Marchetti April 8, 2014 at 7:30 am #

      Grazie Due! Torta della Nonna is off-limits for us, as my daughter is deathly allergic to pine nuts, of all things. Thanks for stopping by and Buona Pasqua!

  14. rozpaige April 6, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

    Domenica, your lemon ricotta crostata was the perfect ending to your wonderful cooking class in Charleston. Thank you for sharing this recipe so that I can prepare it for my family. It was so light, lemony and heavenly! I hope that you will write a cookbook on the glorious fruits of Italy someday too! Buona fortuna in all that you do! Grazie, Roz

    • Domenica Marchetti April 8, 2014 at 7:35 am #

      Roz, thanks for your kind words. It was such a treat to have you and your mom in class. Glad you enjoyed it. Buona Pasqua!

  15. Carol Sacks April 7, 2014 at 6:22 pm #

    I had to sit down. That gorgeous crostada made me lightheaded:) I need a slice of this right now!

  16. elisa April 8, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

    I baked just the filling (with cow’s milk) on Sunday and came out delicious!

    • Domenica Marchetti April 14, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

      This is good to know, Elisa. I wondered how it would turn out. Did you serve it with a sauce or just with powdered sugar?

  17. Laura (Tutti Dolci) April 11, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

    Beautiful crostata, I’d love this for Easter! A little dusting of powdered sugar solves most things – I think we could all use a dusting ;).

    • Domenica Marchetti April 14, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

      Thank you Laura. I agree re: powdered sugar. Happy Easter to you.

  18. paninigirl April 12, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

    My mouth is watering. I’m going to make it using Meyer lemons. Your crostata is beautiful and the perfect dessert for Easter.

    • Domenica Marchetti April 14, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

      Janie, I’ll bet it will be fantastic with Meyer lemons. I look forward to hearing how it turns out. Cheers and Buona Pasqua.

  19. elisa April 15, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

    Domenica, I just served it with powdered sugar, was very delicate.

  20. cristina April 16, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

    What a beautiful dessert/lattice with delicious ingredients, Domenica! I luv recipes using ricotta, mascarpone and any excuse to use lemons. Wish your classes were closer to the West Coast and how I’d luv to do that Italy tour!!

    • Domenica Marchetti April 17, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

      Ciao Cristina ~ thank you! I hope to be back on the West Coast at some point. Stay tuned 🙂

  21. familystyle food (@familystylefood) May 2, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

    I’m an infrequent sweets eater, but everything in this crostata would make me happy! Lemon and mascarpone are wonderful together. And your lattice gets an A+ as far as I’m concerned.

  22. Domenica Marchetti May 6, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    Many thanks. Yes, lemon and mascarpone are a match made in heaven. As good as (or maybe even better than) lemon and meringue. Cheers and thanks for your comment.

  23. DomenicaD May 12, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    Loved this recipe! Super easy, and instead of the lattice, I added whole shelled pistacchios (raw) to the top of the tart in the last 5-10 minutes of baking. It’s how they serve the tart all over Sicily, and it’s super tasty. Not to mention beautiful.

    • Domenica Marchetti May 12, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

      Ciao Domenica! Thanks for writing. Your version with pistachios sounds delicious. I’m going to try it this weekend. Cheers, D

  24. Nancy April 3, 2015 at 9:06 am #

    Has / does anyone remember their Italian relatives making this with rice in the filling?

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