Although for many cheesecake isn’t often associated with Italian cooking, it has been a staple since Roman times.  Cato the Elder, in 160 BCE includes two cheesecake recipes that were used for religious rituals.  The main difference between what we would consider typical New York American cheesecake and Italian cheesecake is that in Italy, cheesecake is made with ricotta rather than cream cheese.  It is also a bit lighter and dryer, more cakelike and less cloying. This recipe combines milk with the ricotta so that the effect is a wonderful creamy texture.  I also discovered that Italians do not add any fruit topping to their cheesecakes, though they sometimes add candied citron to the filling. Giuliano wasn’t pleased when I suggested adding strawberries to his ricotta cake recipe that I recently made to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday. My father-in-law liked the cake so much he kept going back for more.  Later I saw him picking at the cake plate making sure that he had gotten every crumb.  I did serve strawberries with the cake, but none of the Italians ate them.  In truth, the cake didn’t need them. It was rich and creamy enough on its own.

Cheesecake is always a welcome dish at potlucks.  It is also perfect for a mother’s day buffet.  It has a homey quality that is great for family & friends get togethers.  Most recently we were invited to a birthday celebration of twins who are friends of our daughters.  It was a big gathering because they were also celebrating their Bat Mitzvah, and the mother was worried about running out of food as more people were saying they would attend than she had thought.  She reached out to friends, including us, and asked us to make “something”.  We knew this cheesecake would be celebratory as well as comforting to all.  I must admit, I thought that there would be enough leftovers from my mother-in-law’s birthday cake but much to my chagrin (though I was also quite flattered) my father-in-law had not left much to bring anywhere and I had to make a whole new cake.  This ricotta cheesecake is airy and smooth and doesn’t make one feel heavy.  At the party, it was the first dessert to go –next time I’ll have to make more.

A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.  ~Tenneva Jordan

On this mother’s day, she can have her cake and eat it too. Remembering all the fabulous mother’s out there.  Thank you

Italian Ricotta Cheesecake

From How to Cook Italian by Giuliano Hazan

Serves 8-10 people

For the pastry crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling the crust

1/2 cup sugar

8 tablespoon (one stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 large egg yolks

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Pinch of salt

1.  Preheat the oven to 350° on the regular bake setting.

2. Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and run the processor until mixed well together.  If the mixture is too dry, add some cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture forms a smooth dough when you roll it between your fingers.

3.  Transfer the dough to a counter and form into a smooth ball.  Remove the bottom of a 2” deep and 9” in diameter tart pan or a 9” springform pan, and put it in the center of your work counter.  Sprinkle a little flour around the edges and place the dough in the middle of the tart pan bottom.  Flatten the dough a bit with your hands, then use a rolling pin to roll it out to a thickness of about 1/8”.  Loosen the edges that extend past the tart pan bottom with a pastry scraper then use the scraper to lift the tart pan bottom and the dough.  Carefully lower into the ring of the tart pan or springform pan.  Patch any tears or holes making sure the dough comes all the way up the sides and cut off any excess dough.  Lightly press a sheet of aluminum foil over the dough and cover with pie weights or dried beans.  Put the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.  Remove the foil and weights and return the crust to the oven until very lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

For the filling:

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup all purpose flour

3 tablespoons 10X confectioner’s sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups whole milk

2 cups (1 pound) whole milk ricotta

2 tablespoons chopped candied citron

4.  While the pie crust is baking, make the ricotta filling.  Whip the egg, egg yolk, and granulated sugar in an electric mixer on high speed until the mixture is smooth and pale yellow.  Add the flour, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla and mix until homogeneous.  Slowly pour in the milk whisking on medium-low speed.  Add the ricotta and mix thoroughly.  Stir in the candied citron by hand with a rubber spatula.

5.  Preheat the oven to 375° on the regular bake setting.

6.  Pour the ricotta filling into the pie crust and bake until the filling has firmed up and begun to brown on top, about an hour and 15 minutes.  Test by jiggling the pan gently.  Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight before serving.  Serve chilled.

Note:  The pie will keep in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.