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There aren’t too many desserts that are not high in calories and fat. Also something you can make that is fast and pretty. Ricotta truffles are easy to make and you can use a variety of coatings according to your taste. It takes very little time and the only requirement is that they must be refrigerated until you serve them.
I like to make them with coconut, pure dark and milk cocoa powder and crushed pistachios. But other coatings such as chopped dates, any kind of chopped nuts or chocolate shavings in any of the different flavors available. It all depends on how many calories you want to add. They are pretty, flavorful and you don’t have to know how to bake to make this dessert. In fact people will ask you what they are made of because you can’t tell that it is Ricotta.
A friend of mine introduced me to these at a lovely Italian dinner in Milano. I’ve also used low fat Ricotta when we have been on a diet using only dark chocolate as a coating and a sweetener, and they can also be served to a diabetic.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 30 balls
1 cup confectionary sugar
1 cup good quality cocoa powder (no sugar added)
1 7 oz. package shredded sweet coconut
1 lb. of whole milk ricotta
Mix equal amounts of ricotta and powdered sugar and place the mixture in the refrigerator until it hardens to the point of being able to roll into a ball.
Roll out into small balls the size of chocolate truffles. Roll 50% of them in the cocoa powder and 50% of them in the grated coconut. Keep them refrigerated until you are ready to serve them.
It is possible to prepare them in the morning and serve in the evening. However, they will only stay a few days in the refrigerator and are never as good as when eaten the same day.
Ricotta torta is a much lighter cheese cake then the traditional NY cheese cake. It has less fat content then cream cheese and like most Italian desserts is far less sweet. This is a large cake and only has 3/4 cup of sugar. Fruit, such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, honey or jam glazes not only add color but additional sweetness. We don’t usually add anything as it has a lovely lemon flavor.
Ricotta is made from sheep’s, goat, buffalo or cows milk whey, it containes a little less fat and is less dense as well. Ricotta is used in both dessert and savory recipes in Italy. Torta Di Pasqua Al Formaggio is an Easter speciality.
Torta Di Pasqua Al Formaggio
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour or until done @ 350º F
Yield: 12 Servings
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups solid vegetable shortening
1 egg, mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water
Additional cold water to mix the dough, if needed
2 pounds whole milk ricotta
3/4 cup sugar
1 lemon, zest only
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Other things needed
1 9” x 13” baking dish
Mix the dough ingredients and roll the dough into a 9” x 13” rectangle. Reserve 1/4th of the dough to make lattice strips to go on the top of the torta. This step is optional. Place it in a baking dish, fitting it so that it covers the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the edges so that are the same size as your baking dish.
Cut the strips about 1” wide the width of the baking dish with a fluted cookie cutter. Lay one set of strips about 4” apart on the diagonal over the filling. Make another set of strips layering them over the first layer in the opposite direction. Cut the edges so that they fit against the sides of the pan.
Mix all the ingredients for the filling beating in one egg at a time.
Pour the mixture into the shell and place it in a 350º F oven for 1 hour or until done. Stick a toothpick into the middle; it should come out clean. Let it cool and place it in the refrigerator.
Cut the torta into squares. Serve fresh strawberries, or other toppings of your choice served on the side. You can also make a berry syrup, pureeing berries in your blender. Strain the berries to remove all the seeds. Add a few teaspoons of liquor and sugar to taste depending on how sweet the berries are. The syrup can be poured on the bottom of the plate; place the slice of cake on top and drizzle the syrup over the top.
Traditional Italian food of Easter typically includes: capretto o agnello al forno (roast lamb), carcioffi fritti (fried artichokes), pizza rustica (a pie stuffed with ricotta, sausage and hard boiled eggs), la colomba di Pasqua (a dove-shaped sweet bread). Taralli, cassatelli, biscotti di pignoli, pena di Pasqua (sweet bread with hard-boiled, pastel colored eggs baked in the center), and torta di ricotta (Ricotta cheese cake) are prepared in every Italian home.
Chocolate Easter eggs are a special treat for children in Italy. The “uovo di pasqua” – a large decorative chocolate egg that comes with a gift inside are beautifully wrapped in elaborate and colorful decorative foils weighing from a few ounces to about 18 pounds. Stores are filled with “uovo di pasqua” creating a psychedelic and festive atmosphere. In past times, parents would take the gifts to their cioccolataio (chocolate maker) and it would be placed inside the chocolate egg.
The taralli is a treasure from Apuglia and are eaten any time of the day. Simple yet delicious recipes are created with eggs and flour. Fennel seed, black pepper, red pepper flakes and wine added and formed into oval or round shapes. In southern Italy, taralli come in many sizes and flavors. These are typically referred to in Neapolitan dialect as “scaldetelli” little boiled things. Many, but not all taralli are dipped in boiling water before being baked creating a nice sheen on the outside. Some are baked and brushed with egg wash. Taralli are biscuits or snack food, but can also make an appearance as a dessert after a meal is over and dunked into wine. In our family they are the star of the Easter desserts along with the Ricotta Torta and Torta di riso. They are traditional desserts that make each and every day special and holidays a delight for everybody. The Italians have a saying “no matter what the argument it can be resolved over a glass of wine and handful of taralli”.
The Easter egg taralli (as I call them) are only made at Easter and have no other flavoring. Typically, taralli are not frosted, but there is a version called “Charmel” that are lightly frosted with a confectionary glaze and sprinkled with tiny colorful sprinkles. Egg taralli are hard, but as light as clouds. Our recipe for egg taralli are boiled and then baked turning a warm caramel color. I make large quantities of them and serve them in an Italian hand painted bowl from Apuglia. Taralli dunked in “Vino Santo”, a sweet Italian white wine coming from the Tuscany is like floating in air. Very appropriate for Easter!
Easter Egg Taralli
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 20 minutes at 400ºF or until light brown
Yield: 5 Dozen
7 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons oil
Add the salt to the flour in a large bowl. Mix the egg and oil into the flour and form a ball. This step can be done in a mixer. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until it is smooth. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel. Let it rest in a warm place for an hour.
Roll out pieces of dough into 6” x 1” cylinders. Take each piece of dough and bring the ends together to form a doughnut shape. Press the ends together with your thumb.
Fill a large saucepan with water and let it to come to a boil. Drop them one at a time into the boiling water. When they rise to the top, remove them to a dry board or kitchen towel. Make a cut along the outside edge of the doughnut. This allows them to rise.
Place them on a cookie sheet and bake them in a 400ºF oven until they are a light golden brown. The taralli will be hard on the outside, but light and airy on the inside. They are not sweet, but more like a biscuit. They will store in an airtight container for weeks.
Serve them with “Vino Santo”, a white sweet wine from the Tuscany.
For me there just isn’t any other pasta that is as good as old fashion ricotta ravioli. My grandmother was the expert in our family and thank goodness she loved to teach us all how to cook. I often wonder when I read stories by chefs or others who write blogs about food how it is that everyone mentions their grandmother as being their inspiration. Whatever happened to their mothers? My mother was a great cook also and we loved making cookies and ravioli with her. It was a family affair in the kitchen as we only made them for holidays. Today I make them very often and with different filling. I love when my children and grandchildren join in and I can continue the roll of the grandmother who inspires them to cook. I have put all these recipes on a CD for them to carry on the traditions and heritage that I treasure.
We always have some Italian dishes during our holidays. Whether it is Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve or Easter there is always ravioli on our table as a first dish. We set up an assembly line with all of us pitching in to make hundreds of them before Thanksgiving so that we could have them for Christmas also. They freeze very well, but don’t ever defrost them before cooking them. Put them into a large amount of salted boiling water directly from the freezer.
My grandmother made them very big, not like the little ones you find today in many restaurants. These are “the old country” ravioli and I love them. She had a small white sideboard with a roll top and made all of her cookies and pasta on this little pull out counter.
Use whatever tomato sauce recipe you like the best. Hers was always a meat-based recipe cooked for hours.
Prep Time: Dough 10 minutes, filling 20 minutes, 40 minutes forming the ravioli’s
Cook Time: 10-15 minutes and test them
Yield: 35 Ravioli
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Warm water to mix
2 lb. whole milk ricotta
1 teaspoon or more of salt
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper to taste (slightly over salt)
Add finely chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese and the eggs to the ricotta, taste before adding salt. Slightly over salt the filling. Set the filling aside.
Place the flour on a board and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and salt with a little water as needed. Use a fork and beat into the well the flour a little at a time. Form the dough into a ball and knead until it is smooth and shiny. Let it stand for at least 15 minutes to rest. If you are using a pasta machine to roll out the dough, keep the dough dry by adding less water. When using a pasta machine, roll the dough in the different slots until you come to the second to the last slot. This consistency is the desired thickness. As you roll the dough through the different slots, it will also knead the dough. If you are using a rolling pin, roll the dough out so that it is thin enough but not so thin that it would break. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle, (large enough to fold over the filling) in an envelope style.
Place a tablespoon of filling along the middle of the dough. Fold the dough over the filling forming the envelope. Press down on the edges and also along the sections forming the squares. Be sure to cup the filling with your hands so that you remove as much of the air inside the envelope. Cut into squares (whatever size you wish). Prick the edges with a folk to keep them from opening while cooking.
The ravioli can be frozen at this point on a platter, and then removed when completely frozen to freezer bags. They can be cooked fresh in the same way as stated below.
Take them directly out of the freezer and place them in boiling salted water. When the water comes to a boil again, turn the heat down and let them cook at a light boil. They will float to the top when they are done. Test one to be sure they are done before removing them from the water. Remove them very carefully so that they don’t break. It is best to let them stand for a few minutes to let the water drain out completely.
Note: Other fillings such as spinach, squash, meat, or fish such as lobster or crab fillings can be used with the basic dough recipe.
Note: They can be served with a tomato sauce or butter and sage.
Note: If serving for a first dish, serve 3 ravioli. If serving for a main dish about 5 to 8 is a good size serving.
My father’s family came from the town of Vieste, Foggia Italy. The Region is Puglia (Apulia, Apulien) in the southeast of Italy. It is located on the tip or spur of the boot-shaped peninsula called Gargano.
It is surrounded by the Adriatic Sea, a unique landscape of naturalistic beauty and known as a melting pot of foreign populations. The characteristic Apulian architecture of the 11th–13th centuries reflects Greek, Arab, Norman, and Pisan influences.
Olives, olive oil and both mountain and sea typical food products are mainly produced in this region. As you can imagine fish is an important part of their diet and a large variety of recipes using fish, vegetables and also cheese can be enjoyed in many of the small restaurants throughout the region. The myth that cheese and fish are never prepared together is exactly that, a myth. Italy produces cheese such as ricotta, mascarpone and mozzarella di bufala, which are very light in flavor and are easily combined with fish.
I have visited Vieste many times learning a little about my heritage and the recipe below was given to me by a chef in Vieste at a private cooking program we took on one of our visits. I have translated it and hope you enjoy it.
Ricotta, Zucchini, Eggplant & Scampi
Ricotta, zucchini, melanzane & salsa di scampi
Chef Marco, Vieste (Foggia), Italy
Prep Time: 20 (part of which is done during the cooking of the pasta)
Cook Time: About 15 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of a pan)
2 cloves sliced garlic
1 small zucchini, deseeded
1 small eggplant, deseeded
4 oz. arugula
9 leaves of sage
1 jigger of brandy
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups of cream
8 oz. ricotta
20 medium shrimp, cleaned (the original recipe calls for scampi, which have harder shells, but are difficult to find in the US).
Salt to taste
1 lb. pasta fresh or store bought, such as rigatoni
Remove the shells and vein of the shrimp and set them aside.
Cube the unpeeled zucchini and eggplant and sauté them until they are just cooked but not too soft, about 4-6 minutes.
In a saucepan sauté the oil and garlic for a minute. Add the shrimp, sage and cook for a minute, then add the brandy and flambé it until all the alcohol has evaporated. The flames will burn out when that happens. Be sure to remove the bottle away from the stove when you are doing this step. Add in the arugula, wine and sage at this point and allow the arugula to cook for a few minutes until it is limp. Put in the ricotta until it is well mixed into the sauce and add in the cream. Taste for salt.
If the sauce seems to be too thick, add in some of the pasta water and mix. You may have to do this again, if the sauce is ready before the pasta is cooked.
Boil salted water and cook the pasta until it is al dente. Add the sautéed zucchini and eggplant to the sauce. Drain and mix the pasta into the sauce, allowing it to finish cooking. Toss it thoroughly coating each piece of pasta.