When I was little, I remember being labeled as a “good eater.” “Oh, my girls eat anything,” my mom would say about my sister and me. And it was true — sweet potatoes, avocado, shrimp, parmesan cheese — our taste buds were wise beyond their years. I remember feeling even a little sorry for the kids who were “picky eaters,” whose culinary horizons didn’t stretch beyond chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and Kraft Easy Mac. That being said, I did have my limits — there were of course foods that my fairly complex palate wouldn’t go near. Ricotta cheese was one of them.
I decided very early on that I despised finding a layer of the stuff hidden in my lasagna or within the seemingly innocent pocket of ravioli or manicotti. I didn’t like its texture, its consistency, or its sneaky tendency to conceal itself in my pasta. I avoided eating ricotta cheese for years, convinced that it was one of the few foods I would never grow to like.
So why am I sharing a recipe for ricotta pie, you may ask? This recipe was the one that changed my mind about ricotta.
“Torta di ricotta” is a dessert traditionally made for Easter in Italy. My mom makes it for this holiday, without fail. For years I had automatically passed on this final sweet course, given its main ingredient — and prepared my own chocolate soufflés and strawberry layer cakes, eager to have a dessert I liked on the table. But one year, I decided to give it a try, convinced by my father who offered me a bite of the slice he had taken. (“Oh just try it! You’ll like it!”) I took a tiny bite. It was sweet and perfectly smooth, reminiscent of a cheesecake, but lighter and sweeter, all wrapped up in a delicate crispy pasta frolla. One bite sufficed to elicit immediate regret on my part for never having tried it before.
The nicest thing about this recipe is that it belonged to my maternal grandmother. I never had the chance to meet her, but I know she spoke Italian with a lovely northern accent, was petite like me, and was an incredible cook. This pie is proof of that. Her recipe isn’t completely traditional — the typical ricotta pie has candied fruit. However, my grandmother decided to add chocolate chips and cherries, perhaps to make the pie a bit more appealing to her three children.
In case you’re wondering, when I moved to Italy my relationship with ricotta changed. It is lovely in a cannoli, spread on toast with honey, or used as a main ingredient in a torta salata. We are friends now.
Note on making this dessert:
Unlike any layer cake or cheesecake you will ever make, all you have to do is whisk together the ingredients in one bowl and pour it in to the pie crust. If you want to save time, you could also buy a pre-made pie crust rather than make your own.
Ingredients for crust:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt (pinch of salt)
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Ingredients for filling:
1 1/2 lb ricotta cheese
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup of sugar
3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1/2 jar maraschino cherries, drained and chopped
2 tbsp powdered sugar
To make the crust: Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor until just combined. Add the butter and process it in to the flour mixture until small pieces form. In a bowl whisk together the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, and add to the flour mixture slowly, while the food processor is running. Turn the dough out on to a work surface and knead it a little bit to form a ball. Divide the dough in to two pieces, flatten it in to disks, and place it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Later, take the dough out of the fridge and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Place the pie crust into your lightly greased deep dish pie plate or a nine inch spring form pan. Roll out your extra pie crust, only cutting strips to make a lattice shape (this is optional, but looks really nice.)
Put the ricotta in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and sugar, and then add to the ricotta. Mix everything together until well blended. Add the vanilla and stir again. Add the chocolate chips and cherries, and blend. Pour the ricotta mixture in to the pastry crust. Using the leftover pastry dough, cut lattice strips and place them over the ricotta (optional). Bake in the preheated oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the pie filling is set and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the pie comes out clean. Let cool and then sprinkle powdered sugar over the top. Serves 8-10 people.