There is a saying that goes something like this: “one can never be too thin or too rich”, but I believe there should be one about “one can never eat enough ricotta”. That version suits me to a tee because I have been going through a bit of a ricotta phase. This means that we go through anywhere between 3/4 to one kilo of it a week and there are only two of us. Well there is mainly one of us because I am the one who loves it on toast with a bit of homemade jam in the morning for breakfast or eats chunks of it just as it is for a snack.
I know that some of the people I connect with through my blog or my Instagram account make their own ricotta (and I am seriously impressed) but I don’t. I have tried a couple of times and it tasted a bit too much like vinegar (which you add to the milk to separate the whey) or lemon (I tried that too and I didn’t really like the taste). Plus there are some great local ricotta makers around – I love both That’s Amore and the La Casa del Formaggio ricotta. The latter comes in a 1kg pack in its own perforated green basket – and I give my spare baskets to mamma. She loves reusing them around the house, making them into fruit bowls or into baskets for collecting herbs from the garden. That generation never wasted a thing!
Apart from eating ricotta with toast and on its own, there is generally (but not always) some left over each week to make a savoury pie or a cake. The cake is often my mother’s ricotta cake recipe, but when I have a bit more time on my hands, I make a ricotta crostata. My old recipe for ricotta crostata is here but you know, there are endless variations when it comes to using ricotta and this new version is delicious.
I based the recipe loosely on the one my virtual friend Domenica made on her blog, Domenica Cooks . I love Domenica not only because she churns out brilliant blog posts (and cookbooks) at a rapid rate, but because she goes from the USA to Italy a couple of times a year, either running tours in Abruzzo (where her family is originally from) or to research another cook book. I mean, what a great lifestyle. A big thumbs up to Domenica and her blog for giving me inspiration to add another ricotta cake to to my repertoire!
I made some variations from Domenica’s recipe – the crust uses spelt flour, I added grappa soaked sultanas and orange zest to the ricotta filling, and didn’t use mascarpone at all as there was none in the fridge. And it is easily my new favourite ricotta based dessert – I made it twice this past week (including for a family dinner party – it went down a treat) – and could easily be tempted to make it again next week (if I don’t eat all the ricotta first).
crostata di ricotta (with spelt flour)
For the crust
450g (2 & 1/2 cups) spelt flour (or other unbleached plain flour)
50g (3/4 cup) caster sugar
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 small lemon, zest finely grated
225 g (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into tiny cubes
2 large eggs
1/2-1 tablespoon ice cold water or milk
For the filling
350g (1 & 1/3 cups) firm ricotta
50g (1/3 – 1/2 cup) pouring cream
2 large eggs
110g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla essence
1 small lemon, zest finely grated
1 small orange, zest finely grated
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
40g-60g (2 -3 tblsp) sultanas pre soaked in grappa/brandy/warm water
To make the dough, place the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in the 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 eggs and cold water/milk and process until the mixture begins to clump together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and briefly knead. Divide it into two lots – 3/5 of the dough for the base (shape into a disk between two sheets of plastic wrap and flatten with your hand or a rolling pin) and the other 2/5 into a rectangle (again place it in cling film and flatten it using a rolling pin if you like). Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Prepare a fluted tart tin (23cm/9-inch diameter) with a removeable base – i line the sides and base with aluminium foil. Get the larger disk of chilled pastry from the fridge and roll between the two sheets of cling film to make a circle that is larger than your pan. It should be about 3 mm (1/8 inch) thick. Drape the pastry over the pan, pressing the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan and trimming off the excess. Prick the base of the pastry all over using the tines of a fork, cover with cling film amd return to the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. To make the filling, combine the ricotta, cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice and zests and using a handheld beater, beat the ingredients on medium speed for about 1 minute, or until thoroughly combined. Stir in the drained sultanas (it is ok if some of the grappa goes in as well).
Remove the tart shell from the fridge. Place the filling into the shell and smooth it with a spatula. Roll out the reserved piece of dough and cut strips with a fluted pastry wheel (3mm or 1/8 inch thick). 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.
Bake the crostata for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is set. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Dust with icing sugar and transfer to a serving plate when it is completely cold (it can crack if you handle it too much when it is warm). I love to eat it best the next day, cold from the fridge but others like it at room temperature. It will last in the fridge, covered in cling film for 4 or so days.