My Brooklyn-Born Italians Demand Ricotta Cheesecake

As you know from many earlier posts, I am out numbered here on Glen Road by Brooklyn-born Italians.  There’s nothing wrong with that especially given my love of Italian food.  Most of the Italian cravings are taken care of by cooking from the Notorious B. I. G. (Brooklyn Italian Grandmother).  However, every so often, I am asked to cook something that the troops used to get in Brooklyn.  A good example came when I was asked if I could make “franks on club” meaning you take a hot dog and grill it, then you slice it length wise and serve it on a club roll.  This was served up in a favorite Brooklyn diner and, just so you know, I have yet to attempt this culinary delight.  Another recent request that I did sign up for was to make a cheesecake.  Not regular cheesecake made with cream cheese, but Italian style, using fresh ricotta cheese.  To be honest, I have made the ricotta cheesecake twice before the most recent request and, although it tasted good, it was not a pretty cheesecake because it had cracks on the top.  So this time I signed up to make another one and decided to try to find a way to prevent the severe cracked top that I had experienced with cheesecakes from my past.

There are a lot of ways via the internet to prevent cracking.  From one post that said to spackle up the cracks with some softened ricotta to another post that said to take the cheesecake out of the oven every five minutes and vigorously shake it back and forth.  Honestly, I’m not buying these two solutions.  The one I eventually decided to try (with success!) was one that explained that cheesecake is made with lots of eggs.  In the cooking process, these eggs actually expand which is why the cake rises.  However, when taken out of the oven to a much cooler temperature, the eggs constrict so rapidly that the cheesecake cracks.  The trick to a smooth-topped cheesecake is to cool the cake off in a much slower fashion so that the eggs don’t constrict too quickly and cause cracking.  This solution starts by reducing the cooking time written in the recipe by fifteen minutes.  When the revised cooking time is complete, you simply turn off the oven and do not open the oven door.  Leave the cake in the oven for one more hour so that it continues to cook, but also slowly cools as the oven loses heat.  Let me tell you…it worked!  So here’s my recipe, modified to use my new non-cracking trick with the oven.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • Unsalted butter, room temperature, for pan
  • 1/4 cup sugar, plus more for pan
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese, pureed in a food processor until smooth
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Generously butter and sugar a 9-inch springform pan.  In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg yolks, flour, half the sugar (6 tablespoons) and salt until combined; set aside.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on low-speed until foamy.  With the mixer on high-speed, gradually add the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar, beating until whites are stiff and glossy, 3 to 4 minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, fold a third of the egg-white mixture into the ricotta mixture until combined.  Gently fold in the remaining egg-white mixture until just combined.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake until the center is firm and the top is a deep golden brown.  To avoid cracking, bake 45 minutes and then turn oven off with cheesecake still inside the oven (do not open oven door).  Leave cheesecake in the oven another 1 hour to continue cooking and to slowly cool down.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.  Take a paring knife and run it around edge of cake and the cake pan to avoid sticking.  Place another wire rack on top of the pan and invert cake onto the rack to remove from pan.  Reinvert cake and cool completely, top side up.  Cake should be eaten the same day it is baked, however, it can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

2011’s Top 11 – Decided By You

JoJo the Yorkie and I curled up yesterday to pick the top 11 stories that we posted during 2011 here on Acorns On Glen.  Some of us curled up a little too much.  Can you see where JoJo starts and the faux fur blanket ends?  We started this blog in February as a way for us to realize and then give thanks for all the great things that happen in our lives.  You just can’t take life for granted and this blog is a great way for us to reflect and cherish the fact that we have great family, great friends and now a whole group of great people that visit Acorns On Glen on a frequent basis.  We’ve been blown away by the number of people that stop by and read our posts.  Thanks to all of you who have welcomed us into your lives this year.  The posts that have been visited the most are varied, but the majority of the top 11 seems to show that all of you, our readers, like good food and how to cook it.  Here are 2011’s top 11 posts:

1.  Funky Italian Stuffed Peppers

Our Notorius B.I.G. (Brooklyn Italian Grandmother) heads the list with her great recipe for cubanelle peppers.

2.  South Carolina’s Unbelievable Angel Oak

You liked our sight-seeing trip down in Charleston, South Carolina.

3.  Time For Tuberous Begonias

The story about the begonia tubers I’ve had for years is our most viewed gardening post.

4.  Lots Of Bling – Christie’s Important Jewels

You like jewelry, eh?  Yes you do, big stones with lots of sparkle is what you like.

5.  The Man Behind The Curtain

My bio….you like me, you really like me.

6.  A Toadstool Birthday Tea

Our first guest blogger shows us how to throw a great birthday tea for the little ones.

7.  Luna Moth Or Not – You Be The Judge

A truly magnificent discovery that landed on the back side of our house and stayed for a few days so that we could marvel at it.

8.  A Field Trip To Le Farm Restaurant

Just like us, you enjoyed the cooking of Bill Taibe at his Westport, CT restaurant, Le Farm.

9.  Chocolate Caramel Tart With Fleur De Sel

Who can resist this sweet-salty flavor combination?  We can’t!

10.  Thinking Of My Citrus House Guests

Our little orange and lime trees impressed this year and even gave us a few pieces of fruit.

11.  Meatball Mania With Sauce

Finishing off just the way we started, another hit dish from Notorius B.I.G.

So here’s to everyone who has helped make Acorns On Glen a success.  We are truly humbled by the response, along with your words of encouragement, and can’t wait to share 2012 with you.  We want to wish everyone a Happy New Year (wish I could pass everyone a glass of champagne now) and may 2012 bring you great joy and happiness beyond your wildest imagination.

Christmas Cookie #2 – Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti (Or Hey You, Give Me Something To Dip Into My Coffee)

This is a batch of biscotti, which is technically not a cookie at all, but rather a biscuit.  However, it has always been part of my Christmas cookie baking timeline whenever the mood hits me to bake Christmas cookies.  Did you know that biscotti is the plural form of biscotto?   The word biscotto originates from the medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning twice-cooked/baked.  So there you have the secret of making a batch of biscotti.  You make two long loaves of dough, bake them, let them cool a little and then slice them and bake them again.  The second bake actually hardens them up a little so that they last a little while longer than a normal cookie does.  Their hardness also makes it a favorite for dipping into coffee or tea.

That’s another reason I make them.  The holidays at our house see a lot of coffee that is drank on a daily basis.  I find it amazing that the people who are older and have the weaker kidneys are usually the ones that ask for the most coffee to drink and a little something to nibble on while drinking.  I have not done a scientific test on this factoid as of yet, but I know it would fall out as a solid statement if I did.  For each cup poured, many times there is the question “What do you have to dip into this coffee?”   Many times they ask this by calling my name and, more than a few times, my name is forgotten and a simple “Hey you!” starts out the request.

The biscotti recipe I always make is filled with cranberries and pistachios.  When you look down at the sides of the biscotti, there are little flecks of red (the cranberries) and green (the pistachio nuts).  What screams holiday more than bursts of red and green?  Here’s how we make the biscotti in our house:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.  Place cranberries in a small bowl; add boiling water.  Let stand until plump, about 15 minutes.  Drain, and set aside.  Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed.  Beat in vanilla.  Add flour mixture, and mix on low-speed until combined.  Mix in cranberries and pistachios.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half.  Shape each piece into a 16-by-2-inch log, and transfer to prepared baking sheet, about 3 inches apart.  With the palm of your hand, flatten logs slightly.  Brush beaten egg over surface of the dough logs, and sprinkle generously with sugar.

Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until logs are slightly firm to touch, about 25 minutes.  Transfer logs on parchment paper to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 20 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Place logs on a cutting board.  Using a serrated knife, cut logs crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices.  Place a wire rack on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Arrange slices, cut sides down, on rack.  Bake until firm to touch, about 30 minutes.  Remove pan from oven; let biscotti cool completely on rack.  Biscotti should be kept in an airtight container.

You know you have turned out a great batch when all you hear during “coffee breaks” is the crunch, crunch, crunch of a group of folks gnawing on your cranberry-pistachio biscotti.  Thanks for reading about our second cookie made for the season.  There will be other posts about our Christmas baking through the big day on December 25.  We hope you will come back and “bake” with us.  We like the company!!  What is your favorite kind of Christmas cookie?

Fried Ricotta Cheese – Two Ways

This is the question-if you decide to fry ricotta cheese, do you make it a savory appetizer or a sweet dessert?  That was the decision we had in front of us and so we decided to do both in the same meal.  This means we started off our little dinner party with a savory fried ricotta dish and ended the meal with the same fried ricotta made into a sweet dessert.  Most people equate fried cheese to the fried mozzarella sticks you get in your typical bar or tavern fare.  However, our Italian recipe for fried ricotta, known as ricotta fritta, has a subtle texture and flavor that works better being turned into a first course or dessert than its more famous mozzarella cousin.  The creamy texture of the ricotta fritta also cannot be beat.  So here is our recipe for ricotta-two ways.

Ingredients:

  • 15 ounces fresh ricotta , drained overnight
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

Savory:

  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • Fresh basil leaves

Sweet:

  • 2 cups fruit jam or preserves (I used a jar of cherry preserves)
  • 1 cup whipped cream

Directions:

Put the drained ricotta in a bowl.

With an ice-cream scoop, scoop out tablespoon-sized balls of ricotta, and set them on a parchment-lined tray or sheet pan (you should have about twenty-four ricotta balls total).  Set the tray in the freezer, and chill the balls until firm, about 30 minutes.

Spread the flour on a small plate and the bread crumbs on a large plate. Whisk the eggs with a pinch of salt in a wide, shallow bowl.

Dredge the balls in the flour and gently flatten them into thick patties.  Coat the patties in egg, then dredge them until well coated in the bread crumbs, but not heavily so.  Return the breaded patties to the parchment-lined tray.

When you are ready to fry the patties, pour the vegetable oil in the skillet and set over medium heat.  The oil is ready when the tip of a patty sizzles on contact.  Drop the patties into the skillet in batches, so they are not crowded, and fry for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy.  Lift them from the skillet with a slotted spatula and drain briefly on paper towels.  Serve ricotta fritta while still hot.

For a savory appetizer or main course:  spoon a pool of hot marinara sauce onto each serving plate, set 3 fried patties in the sauce and scatter basil on top.

For a dessert dish:  top 3 patties with warmed preserves (or any fruit jam or poached fruit) and whipped cream.

In our little experiment, we found we liked the sweet version the best which is surprising because most of us at the dinner are not real dessert lovers.  Somehow the sweet taste of the preserves and cream played nicely off the creamy and tangy flavor of the fried ricotta.  Don’t get us wrong….there wasn’t any of the savory fried ricotta left over, so it must have been a crowd pleaser as well.  We’ll definitely be giving this versatile dish another go in our kitchen.  We hope you will too.  Do you have any cheese recipes that you use for dessert or for an appetizer that you would like to share?

Stuffed Artichokes In A Jiffy

This is a great way to make stuffed artichokes in a quick and dirty manner.  There is the traditional way, which involves clipping and trimming whole artichokes, stuffing them and then steaming them for a long period of time until they are tender and then there is this way.  I’ll admit that the traditional way is best, but when you are in a hurry, nothing impresses more than this quick stuffed artichoke treat.  I have modified this recipe from one that I found in an old Italian cookbook.  Remember, I’m not keen on lemon so I took the lemon juice amount down and I also brought the amount of breadcrumbs down as well.  Because we are in a hurry on this dish (remember?), I used store-bought seasoned breadcrumbs and not ones that I make myself.  GASP!…I can hear it now….forgive me food gods.  Since I am in the confessing mood, I also used bottled artichoke hearts from the Italian section of the supermarket instead of fresh artichokes.  THUD!….the foodies that didn’t quit reading after the breadcrumb disclosure are now picking themselves up off the floor.  I think this is a good recipe.  Again, there are days when you have all the time in the world to cook and there are days when you need something quick, yet homemade.  This is one of those dishes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon combined dried herbs such as thyme, oregano and savory or herbs sold as Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 30 ounces of bottled artichoke hearts, drained

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  In a medium bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, parsley, cheeses, dried herbs, salt and pepper.  Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and garlic.  Set aside.

Rub olive oil inside a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.  Lay the artichokes in a single layer in the baking dish.  Evenly distribute the crumb topping over the artichokes, pushing it down in between the hearts.  Drizzle the dressing all over the crumb topping.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Increase the temperature to 375 degrees, remove the foil and bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until the top is golden brown all over.

Simple, quick and really tasty.  This is a nice dish to take to the table when you are pressed for time.  In our quest to make all things Italian, this is a dish that gets high marks from even our harshest critics.  So the next time you are in the mood for stuffed artichokes and don’t have the time (or the patience) to make them the old-fashioned way, give this quick version a try.  What recipes do you have for artichokes that you make in your kitchen?

The “Mom, I’m Sick” Soup

This is a bowl of Italian Stracciatella soup.  A friend of ours that is Italian also calls it the “Mom, I’m Sick” soup as this was the way he was given the all important dose of chicken broth when he was sick as a child.  We like it because it is quick and easy to make when you feel like a bowl of soup for lunch or dinner.  The ingredients are really simple, but the flavor really packs a punch.  So when you’re feeling low or just in the mood for some good chicken soup, give this recipe a try.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups (32 ounces) chicken broth
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 ounces fresh spinach
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

Directions:

Heat the chicken broth to boiling in a medium-size saucepan.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs together and stir in the cheese, parsley, salt and pepper.

Slowly, in a steady stream, pour the egg mixture into the boiling broth.  Stir slightly.  Reduce the heat to medium and let cook for 1 minute.  Drop the spinach into the broth to wilt.

Stir in the garlic.  Serve immediately.

Nothing beats home-made chicken soup.  Believe this or not, but I’ve read that when you are sick, chicken soup really does help a person eating it get well again.  The chicken broth acts as an anti-inflammatory.  The soup keeps a check on inflammatory white blood cells (neutrophils).  Cold symptoms, such as coughs and congestion, are often caused by inflammation produced when neutrophils migrate to the bronchial tubes and accumulate there.  So Grandma did know best!!  What do you eat when you are not feeling great?

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words – Attack Of The Never Ending Tomatoes

This is a new cluster of heirloom cherry tomatoes growing in our garden.  See the morning dew on them?  With eight tomato plants in the garden, getting enough tomatoes has not really been a problem this Summer.  Better yet, they just keep producing.  How has your garden been growing this Summer?