Crostata di ricotta e cioccolato

You know the drill: we're almost at the end of the month, meaning it's time for another round of Cucina Conversations! This month our theme is Pasqua, or Easter, which is already this Sunday (!!!) If you're like me, you've not yet 100% decided on your menu, in which case we're here to help. A few Easter-appropriate Italian recipes below, courtesy of my fellow Cucina Conversations bloggers:

Daniela of La Dani Gourmet will be sharing her recipe for torta di riso massese, a classic Italian Easter sweet;

Carmen of The Heirloom Chronicles will be making cassatelle, a Sicilian sweet made with ricotta and lemon;

Lisa aka Italian Kiwi will be making torta pasqualina, a savory pie made with spinach, ricotta, and eggs;


Flavia of Flavia's Flavors will be making crescia al formaggio, a savory, cheese-y bread from the region of Le Marche;


Marialuisa of Marmellata di Cipolle will be making abbacchio alla scottadito e erbe amare, or roast lamb with bitter greens;

Last but not least, Rosemarie over at Turin Mamma will be preparing salame del papa, or chocolate "salami" made with lots of chocolate and crushed biscuits.


So! When it comes to typical Easter desserts in Italy, you've got more than a few to choose from; there's colomba, for starters, or a dove-shaped sweet bread studded with almonds and sugar; there's pastiera from Naples, or a super rich pie made with cinnamon-y ricotta and grains, plus the elaborate, over-the-top cassata from Sicily. In my own Italo-American family, my paternal (Calabrian) grandmother has always made cuzzupe around Easter, pastries that consist of a lemon-tinged crumbly dough wrapped and twisted, wreath-like, around a hard boiled egg, then baked. On my mother's side of the family, the traditional Easter dessert has always been my maternal grandmother's torta di ricotta, a ricotta pie studded with chocolate chips and maraschino cherries. 

Now -- I know how important family traditions are, especially when it comes to food, but as a kid, for the most part, Easter was never a very exciting holiday for me, dessert-wise. There was nothing wrong with the sweets from both sides of the family, of course, but they just weren't my thing; while torta di ricotta is a dessert I can now appreciate a more as an adult, I hated ricotta when I was younger, and maraschino cherries seemed to be more suited for ice cream sundaes than pies (the full story here). While my paternal grandmother, and excellent cook and baker, prepared beautiful cuzzupe, they were never my favorite, either; I tended to end up eating a bit of the pastry and leaving the egg intact (after all these years, I'm actually still not sure if you're supposed to actually eat the egg?! and in any case, hard-boiled eggs remain among those foods I Never Learned to Like). As far as Easter desserts were concerned, I always preferred to stick to Cadbury Mini Eggs and/or Creme Eggs, thank you very much. 

I'm happy to report that now that I'm a little older I'm also a little wiser (at least when it comes to food) and my more mature taste buds paired with my penchant for baking means that my ideal Italian-Easter dessert is no longer a bag of milk chocolate eggs. While I still highly respect the culinary traditions of my grandmothers, I've branched out a little on my own, done some recipe developing and testing, and have found my own perfect Easter sweet in the form of this crostata di ricotta e cioccolato, or a ricotta and chocolate chip pie, which I like to describe as cheesecake, but cheesecake that has studied abroad in Italy. It strays from my grandmother's version, teaming up ricotta with mascarpone, which makes the filling super flavorful, not to mention super rich and smooth (a few egg yolks don't hurt the richness-factor here, either). Cheeses aside, the filling is sweet but not overwhelmingly so, vanilla-scented, and best of all, packed to the brim with bittersweet chocolate, the whole thing wrapped up and crisscrossed with crisp, golden brown pasta frolla (pastry crust). Not to pat myself on the back or anything here, but this was superb, and my friend-colleagues who were so kind as to taste-test seemed to agree -- I got a text message with the words "WHATTA CAKE!" and another "Buonissima!!!" after delivering pieces to their respective offices. And then, there was what wasn't said -- another friend ate two pieces, one after the other, in happy, content near silence, which was broken after only the last crumbs had disappeared. Bottom line: I'll be making this on Sunday and then next Easter and the one after that, and the one after that, and I think I just might have just found my own traditional Pasqua dessert.

A couple of notes: The pasta frolla (pie crust) can be made in advance (even up to 3 or so days before). Leave it at room temperature for a bit until it is soft enough to roll out. That being said, you can use a prepared pie crust in a pinch if you'd like, but the recipe for the one here is really nice. The variety of ricotta I used was a sheep's milk ricotta from my local cheese shop that was on the drier side. If you are using a variety of ricotta with a lot of moisture, I would recommend draining it (click here to learn how). I used mini chocolate chips here which I really liked -- they're more delicate than normal sized ones -- but feel free to use regular sized ones if you prefer. If you have time, try and leave your eggs and cheeses out for about an hour to bring them to room temperature (to ensure the smoothest filling). Finally, if you'd like, feel free to add some orange zest here if the chocolate/orange combination is your thing. 

CROSTATA DI RICOTTA E CIOCCOLATO

Ingredients for crust:
2 1/4 cups (300 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 100 grams) cold butter, cut in to small pieces
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients for filling:
1/2 pound (250 grams) mascarpone cheese
1/2 pound (250 grams) ricotta cheese
1 egg
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
A heaping 1/8 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (160 grams) semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

An egg, for egg wash

Directions:
Start with the crust. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Scatter the butter pieces over the top of the flour and using your fingertips, incorporate them into the dry ingredients until the whole mixture looks like (buttery) sand. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla extract. Add the egg mixture to the butter/dry ingredient mixture, and stir together with a wooden spoon until a dough begins to form. Use your hands to squeeze the dough a couple of times to bring it all together. Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured work surface and knead it a few times until smooth. Form a ball with the dough, flatten it into a disk, and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour.

In the meantime, making the filling. In a large bowl using electric beaters or in the bowl of a standing mixer, beat together all the filling ingredients except for the chocolate chips until fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl to get any excess batter, about 1 minute.
Last thing for the filling but obviously the most important -- stir in all those chocolate chips! Set the batter aside now and take the dough out from the fridge. 
Butter a 9-inch (23 cm) spring form pan, then line the outside with aluminum foil and set it aside. Place the disk of dough on a lightly floured work surface. Cut off about a quarter of the dough and set it aside. 
Roll the remaining dough disk out into a large (12 or so inch) circle. Transport the dough to your springform pan -- my trick is to roll the dough around my rolling pin and then unroll it over the springform pan, do as you'd like -- and then trim the excess dough using a sharp knife, leaving about 1-inch of dough. This is the dough that you will fold over the batter. Pour the batter for the filling into the pie crust, and then fold the remaining dough over to form a border.
Roll the remaining smaller piece of dough into a square, again on a lightly floured work surface. Using a sharp knife (or a pizza cutter, if you have one laying around) cut six equal strips out of the dough, long enough to reach the middle of the border of your dough (the dough will shrink a bit when it bakes so you want a little extra there). Place three strips over the pie horizontally, then another three vertically, criss crossing. Try to press the strips down in to the border of the dough a little if you can.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees celsius). Beat the egg for the egg wash in a small bowl and brush carefully over the strips of dough and the edges of the crust. 
Bake the crostata for 45-50 minutes, or until the filling is slightly puffed and set and the dough is golden brown. Let cool completely before eating, or let cool completely, refrigerate, and then eat. Serves 10ish.
































2 comments :

  1. How absolutely delicious! Chocolate and ricotta make a wonderful combination. I too will eat a slice of this rather than an Easter egg any day!

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  2. What a gorgeous crostata! I love the use of mini chocolate chips--more delicate in texture but still big on the chocolate flavor. Definitely trying this. And...we are two peas in a pod...I, too can't stand hard boiled eggs!

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