Ricotta Tart (Torta di ricotta)
Ricotta is made in part from whey, a by-product of cheese making. Because of this, it is not considered a true cheese, but instead a latticino, or dairy product. While cow’s milk ricotta is the most common, and ricotta made from water buffalo’s milk and goat’s milk is found as well, rich, creamy ricotta romana, made from sheep’s milk, is particularly prized by Roman cooks. It is a popular filling for such sweets as sfogliatelle (filled flaky pastry) and cannoli, and for tarts, such as this recipe adapted from a dessert made by Enrico Licata, the talented pastry chef at Ristorante La Piazzetta, just off Via Cavour.
- For the Filling:
- 3 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese, preferably fresh
- 3⁄4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp. Strega or Sambuca liqueur or light rum
- 11⁄2 oz bittersweet chocolate, shaved with a knife
- For the Pastry Dough:
- 3⁄4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 3⁄4-inch pieces
- 13⁄4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 2 Tbs.honey
- 1⁄8 tsp. vanilla extract (essence)
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- Pinch of salt
- 3 large egg yolks, plus 1 more yolk for brushing, lightly beaten
- 3 cups cake flour, sifted
- 1 tsp. baking powder
If the ricotta is very fresh and still throwing off clear liquid, spoon it into a colander or a piece of cheesecloth and suspend over a bowl. Cover it and leave it to drain in the refrigerator until it is quite dry, which can take up to 24 hours. (If using commercial ricotta, skip this step.)
To make the pastry dough, in a bowl, combine the butter, confectioners’ sugar, honey, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt. Using your fingers, quickly work the ingredients together just until mixed. Using a wooden spoon, quickly work in the 3 egg yolks. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture. As soon as the ingredients come together, pat into a rough mass. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours or for up to 24 hours.
Have ready an 11-inch pie pan or tart pan with a removable bottom. Work the dough briefly to form a smooth mass, then divide into 2 pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Form each piece into a disk, and refrigerate the smaller disk. Place the larger disk on a lightly floured work surface, and roll out into a round about 121⁄2 inches in diameter and 1⁄4 inch thick. If the dough becomes too soft, return it to the refrigerator to chill until firm. Drape the round over the rolling pin and carefully ease it into the pan, gently pressing it into the bottom and up the sides. Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut around the inside edge of the pan bottom, leaving just a circle of pastry in the bottom and freeing the dough on the sides. Gather the removed strip of dough, pat into a ball, and then roll back and forth against the floured work surface to create a rope 1⁄2–3⁄4 inch in diameter and 35 inches long (the circumference of the pan). Lay this rope around the inside edge of the pan, resting it on the pastry bottom. (The rope is used to form a shallow, decorative reinforced edge to the tart.) Using the tines of a fork, press against the rope to make a ridged pattern, and prick the bottom crust in several places. Cover and refrigerate.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. To make the filling, put the ricotta in a bowl and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon to soften. Add the granulated sugar, beat well to combine, and then let the mixture rest for 5 minutes. Stir in the liqueur and chocolate. Spoon the filling into the pastry-lined pan and spread it evenly. Remove the smaller disk from the refrigerator and divide the dough into 10 balls. Using the same technique you used for the rolling the rope for the edge of the tart, roll each ball into a rope 1⁄4–1⁄2 inch wide and 11 inches long. Lay 5 ropes across the filling. Lay the remaining 5 ropes across the first ropes to create a lattice pattern. Cut off any excess dough and discard it. Brush the ropes with the remaining beaten egg yolk.
Bake the tart until the crust is a deep golden brown and the filling is set, 40–45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Cut into wedges and serve at room temperature.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Rome, by Maureen B. Fant (Oxmoor House, 2005).