Sunday, 17 June 2007

Zesty Torta di Ricotta

Torta di Ricotta is quite misunderstood outside of Italy. Is it a cake or a pie? Some people think of it as a baked cheesecake similar to an American-style cheesecake but made of ricotta instead of cream cheese. In fact, torta di ricotta is more like a pie that is typically eaten during Easter. If there are any Italians reading this, please correct me if I am wrong.

Like most traditional recipes, there are many variations of torta di ricotta. The one I have chosen is a cross between a Neapolitan recipe (adapted from Caròla Fra
ncesconi's La Cucina Napoletan) and a Sicilian recipe that I scribbled down a while back when I was watching a travelling gourmet show on the telly. I made my own candied lemon peel a few days ago and I think that it is so much better than using store bought ones.

The result is a crispy pie-like crust, a moist, lemony filling and a cake-like base. While it is an easy recipe to follow, I have to warn you that the dough is quite sticky and difficult to handle. I had to put it back in the fridge each time I rolled it out. But the result, I assure you, is worth it.
Zesty Torta di Ricotta

For the Dough:
1 ½ cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
2 eggs
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest, finely grated
¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
5 tbsp butter, melted

For the Filling:
12 oz fresh ricotta, drained
1/2 - 2/3 cup sugar
Finely grated zest of half an orange
2 egg yolks
3 oz candied lemon peels (see recipe below)*, finely minced
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

*or any candied citrus fruits like orange or grapefruit

1: Prepare the dough

Lightly whisk together eggs, lemon zest, juice and vanilla in a bowl. Sift flour, sugar and baking powder into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour egg mixture into centre of the flour mixture. Gradually incorporate egg mixture into flour using a palate knife
until mixture is dry and crumbly. Gradually add melted butter until a soft, wet and smooth dough is formed. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface, flatten dough, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm.

2: In the meantime prepare the filling
Combine the drained ricotta with sugar, lemon juice, orange peel and vanilla. Whip the mixture with a fork until it is smooth and creamy. Use more or less sugar, depending on your preference. Lightly beat the yolks and work them into the mixture a bit at a time, and finally stir in the minced candied lemon peels.

3: Assembling the pie
Butter and flour three 4 ½ inch flan tins (or a 9 inch flan tin). Place
3/4 of the dough onto a lightly floured surface, place a sheet of plastic wrap over it and roll it to fit the three flan tins. It will be very sticky and fragile, so take care and sprinkle some flour over it or put it pack in the fridge if it gets too difficult to handle. Gently fold dough over rolling pin, then fit into each flan tin, letting a bit of dough hang over the edges. Spoon in the filling, spreading it evenly over the dough. Fold pastry edges over the ricotta filling. Roll out the remaining dough and cut into strips and arrange it in a lattice pattern over the filling.

4: Bake
Bake it in a moderate oven for about 45-50 mins or till golden. Let it cool and dust it with powdered/icing sugar.

Leftover ricotta filling?
Depending on the size of your flan tins, you may find that you have extra ricotta filling. Stir through some chopped bitter-sweet choc in the filling and pour it into a buttered ramekin. Bake it till it is golden (about 30 mins).

Candied Lemon Peels
(adapted from here)

3 organic lemons
½ cup water
½ cup sugar

Using a vegetable peeler, carefully remove the rind. Try to avoid the pith.

Put peel in saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil, drain and rinse briefly under cold water. Blanch in same manner 2 more times. After third blanching, drain peels and rinse under cold water. Check that you should be able to see some colour through any pith. Otherwise, remove as much pith as possible. Set aside.

In the saucepan, bring to boil the water and sugar. Return the peels to the saucepan and simmer over low heat for about an hour. Drain peels and and immediately, without rinsing peel, transfer to large mixing bowl.

After fruit has candied, place about ½ cup sugar in bottom of a large mixing bowl. Add drained peels and toss to coat well. Shaking to remove excess sugar and arrange in layer on a cookie tray and place in a warm oven for 30 minutes to dry.

Remove from oven and leave at room temperature to finish drying. Peel will continue to become firmer and chewier over several days. When peel reaches desired texture, store in airtight container until ready to use.

This will be my contribution to the blogging event "Fresh Produce of the Month - Lemon" organised by Marta of An Italian in the US.


Susan said...

Beautiful and not nearly as rich as the New York, ultra-creamy style. This is probably my favorite, but don't quote me. : ) Thanks for the candied lemon peel recipe, Nora. It's very hard to get store-bought peel without artificial color and preservatives.

Aimée said...

Ooh, Ah. Looks yummy!!

Eva said...

I never had the Italian version of a baked cheesecake - isn't it great that no matter how many different cheesecakes you've tried, there's always a new one just round the corner...;-)

Anh said...

Nora, great minds think alike!!! I was thinking of baking a ricotta cheesecake, too, until I found a package of cream cheese in my fridge. So, I baked something instead! Your cheesecake is so beautiful... I love ricotta cheese - it's such a lovely product, which can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes!

Cynthia said...

The result is stunning Nora and thanks for that lemon peel recipe.

Patricia Scarpin said...

Nora, I think this recipe is a winner - there's something similar here in the region I live, which is packed with Italian descendants. I absolutely love ricotta, so the more great recipes with it the better.

I would love to give this a try sometime - I wonder if I'd be skilled enough to make the candied peels, though.

Kristen said...

That pie looks great, but those lemon! Yummy!

Janet said...

That looks absolutely delish... I wish we lived closer so I could come over and try some!! Your little flan dishes are cute!

Kelly-Jane said...

Your torta looks yummy :) and I love that you candied your own lemon peel, it looks beautiful!

Nora B. said...

Susan, it is certainly a nice change to the NY style cheesecake. I would like to try making this again but in a large flan tin because the smaller flan tins I used were cute, but did n;t have nearly enough ricotta filling as I would like. I am still chewing on some leftover peels :-)

Aimée, thanks. even my partner approved of it!

Eva, i think you would enjoy this torta because of the ricotta & lemons. Did you see that I used the little cute flan dishes you gave me? Thanks again - love them.

Anh, indeed! And do you realise how many times I've looked at your blog and you've written about something I was thinking of making? :-)

Cynthia, thanks. I am going to try making orange peels next time. But they take longer.

Patricia, as a daring baker, I am sure that you are skilled enough! Starting with lemon peels is probably the best since it's faster to make than orange or grapefruit peel because you don't really have to spend time removeing extra pith, but the lemon peel is thinner so it is quicker to candy.

Kristen, thank you.

Janet, i do wish we lived closer! You always seem to have something delicious cooking. p/s: the cute flan dishes were a housewarming gift from Eva (Sweet Sins). I like cute, mini, small dishes. :-)

Kelly-Jane, candied lemon peels were yummy. I wish I made more!

Paz said...

This looks perfect! Perfectly delicious!


Truffle said...

This was such an informative post and they look absolutely beautiful. I'm desperate for a piece!

Little Foodie said...

Those Tortas look pretty perfect and thank you for sharing the candied lemon peel recipe. One to add to the collection! Amanda

chemcookit said...

Dear Nora,
this torta looks really good! I think what you're referring to is 'Pastiera Napoletana', which is in fact a typical Eastern dessert from Naple, with a filling quite similar to what you have here. It's actually one of my favorite desserts from Naple's wonderful cuisine.
The only difference with what you have here is the dough, which is pasta frolla in the original version, and doesn't have baking powder (it's a 'tart', I would say, in English). If you want a recipe of pasta frolla, look at my 'crostata di frutta' recipes (I was actually going to post more crostata recipes soon).
Also, if you're interested, I found this website all about Pastiera Napoletana, which amazingly enough has an English version:
Thanks for the candied lemon peel recipe too, and for taking part to my newborn event! I love your blog. :)

Nora B. said...

Thanks, Paz.

Truffle, they were so cute in the mini flan moulds. Almost to cute to eat... but you know I did...every last crumb :-)

Your welcome, Amanda!

Marta, thanks for all that useful and interesting information. I have to take a closer look at your recipes. I love your blog too because you have all these wonderful Italian recipes in English.