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Crostata di ricotta

Servings: 6-8
Crostata di ricotta
(Italian Christmas Cheesecake)

The Romans make a similar cheesecake of Jewish origin, substituting the same amount of chocolate for the citron. The rest of the recipe is the same. There is a small, very old shop in the Roman ghetto that sells this crostata in pieces, along with castagnaccio, made with chestnut flour, raisins, pine nuts, and fennel seeds; the pizza made with polenta, pine nuts, raisins, and sugar; plus all the usual Roman pastries. The Roman Jews consider themselves the real descendants of antique Roman cooking, and to a great extent it is true-their recipes seem to have remained "purer" and closer to the original methods.

For The Pasta Frolla (pie pastry):
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, cut into pieces
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon

For The Filling:
1 pound (or 15 oz. container) 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 good-quality rum to cover

For Pasta Frolla (pie crust):
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Butter and flour a 9-inch (23-cm) tart pan with removable bottom or a 9-inch springform pan with removable sides.

In a food processor, process flour and sugar. Add butter, and pulse several times. Add eggs one at a time, process until just mixed in. Add grated lemon zest and pulse a few times. Remove pastry from processor, and shape pastry into a disc and wrap in plastic. Chill in refrigerator for 30-60 minutes.

Remove pastry from refrigerator, and bring to room temperatue, about 10 minutes. Cut off one-third of the pastry and set aside. Lightly flour a marble or wooden surface and roll out the larger piece of dough into a circle slightly larger than the tart pan or (springform pan, if using); drape it over the rolling pin and unfold onto the pan. Pressing lightly with the fingers, fit the pastry into the pan. Cut off the excess and add to the pastry set aside. Set pan aside.

Prepare The Filling:
Put the ricotta through a food mill and add the sugar, mixing roughly with a wooden spoon. Add all the other ingredients, including the rum in which the raisins have soaked, then pour the ricotta filling into the prepared shell.

Roll out the reserved pastry on a lightly floured wooden or marble surface and cut into strips 1 inch (5 cm) wide. Lattice the strips on top of the pie. Bake for 40 minutes, or until slightly browned. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes before turning out. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Italian Cooking in the Grand Tradition
Jo Bettoja and Anna Maria Cornetto
The Dial Press

Date: November 11, 2002