Ricotta Cheesecake

While we don’t usually think of cheesecake as being Italian, it has been an important part of the sweet endings to many Italian meals for centuries. And, as it goes with all things Italian, there are as many versions of torta di ricotta as there are regions in Italy. The variations from region to region are very subtle though. In Sicily, for example, citrus peel –– lemon and orange –– is an important part of this sweet treat. In the Emilia-Romagna region it might be that pine nuts are added. Raisins soaked in rum might be a part of a torta di ricotta in Rome.

The beauty of a ricotta cheesecake is that it is so simple to make. A fine tasting ricotta cheesecake can be put together with but six ingredients, and that recipe follows. Or, it can be more complex when made with a special pastry crust (or a light crust made from bread crumbs, graham crackers or amaretti cookies that have been finely ground). But when it comes to Italian cheesecake, simple is better.

The important trend in Italian restaurants right now is known as “a mano” or handmade, so give your hand a try at making this delectable cheesecake. Your customers will give you a round of applause after one bite (and cheesecake delivers well too).

Easy Ricotta Cheesecake
Yield: About 8 portions

2 pounds ricotta (drained of excess water)
1½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
10 large eggs
Confectioners’ sugar

• Butter and lightly flour a 10-inch spring form pan. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

• Combine the ricotta, sugar and orange zest and whip to a smooth consistency. Add the vanilla extract. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating each into the batter to blend until the batter is smooth and free of lumps.

• Pour the mixture into the spring form pan. Bounce the pan gently on the work surface to smooth out the batter. Place the pan on a sheet pan and put it on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes; time will vary relative to type of oven (deck, convection). If the top is browning too fast, cover the pan with aluminum foil.

• Test to see if it is done by sticking a piece of spaghetti or a toothpick into the center of the cake. If the spaghetti comes out clean, the cake is done.

• Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake to rest, with the door ajar, for another 25 minutes (this step allows it to settle).

• Take the cheesecake out of the oven and bring to room temperature. Sprinkle generously with the confectioner’s sugar. Serve in slices, on a chilled plate dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Serve with a lemon sauce swirl (combine lemon juice with confectioner’s sugar and water to a pouring consistency) on the plate (optional).

Variations: Add golden raisins that have been plumped in hot water and drained. Add honey (about 2 tablespoons to the batter) if you want a sweeter cheesecake.