02 December 2009

Italian Cooking In The Grand Tradition

My friend, Jim, had me over to cook with him a few weeks ago. He is quite the Renaissance man, a woodworker, furniture maker, restorer, artist, musician, singer and darn good cook.

He has a behemoth of a stove that came from an old hotel that once graced Shirley.

He is working to restore it to its original form, but in the meantime, it cooks like a dream. As we were talking about food, he told me one of his favorite cookbooks was Italian Cooking In The Grand Tradition by Jo Bettoja and Anna Maria Cornetto. The authors had been successful models on the runways of Paris, but I guess they just got hungry, so they opened a cooking school. He told me to take a look at his dogeared copy and I was hooked. As I am always in search of fruitcake recipes, this grand old Italian Christmas cake caught my eye.

Crostata di Ricotta
Christmas Cheesecake

For the pasta frolla (pie pastry)
2 1/2 cups flour
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, cut into pieces
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon

For the filling:
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup citron, cut into slivers
3/4 cup coarsely chopped almonds
1/2 cup dark raisins, soaked in a good-quality rum to cover

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch flan tin with removable sides.
2. Put the pastry ingredients into the large bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix the pastry just until it masses around the paddle, 2 or 3 minutes. If using a food processor, take the butter directly from the refrigerator. Put all ingredients into work bowl and process just until mixed.
3. Cut off 1/3 of the pastry and set aside. Lightly flour a marble or wooden surface and roll out the large piece of dough into a circle slightly larger than the flan tin; drape it over the rolling pin and unfold onto the tin. Pressing lightly with the fingers, fit the pastry into the tin. Cut off the excess of the pastry and add to the pastry you set aside. Set the tin aside.
4. Prepare the filling. Put the ricotta through a food mill and add the sugar, mixing with a wooden spoon. Add the remaining ingredients, including the rum in which the raisins have soaked, then pour the ricotta filling into the prepared shell.
5. Roll out the reserved pastry on a lightly floured wooden board and cut it into strips 1 inch wide. Lattice the strips on top of the pie. Bake for 40 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes before turning out. Serve warm or tepid.

See, I promised you not all those horrible fruitcakes are the same. Go ahead, tell everyone at the table there is fruitcake for dessert. When you bring this to the table watch how their little crestfallen faces light up. You will be the hit of Christmas.

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