Tag Archives: ricotta

Ricotta rough puff pastry and sbriciolata di millefoglie

Butter and ricotta

It’s probably fair to say that Italian cuisine isn’t most famous for its desserts and puddings. Sure, tiramisu has an internation reputation, but generally the desserts aren’t really up there with Italy’s other great, world-dominating culinary exports (you know, pizza, pasta, that kind of thing).

Italian pastries, biscuits and cakes are great, but they’re not typically desserts. Pastries like cornetti (the sweet Italian equivalent of a croissant) and maritozzi con la panna (sweet cream buns) are typically eaten for breakfast. Cakes and enriched breads are often used to celebrate feast days (like panettone at Christmas, colomba or pizza cresciuta at Easter). And biscuits, such as the famed hard biscotti di Prato / cantuccini (and similar) and ciambelline al vino, are generally eaten with a glass of strong digestivo liquor after dinner.

The Roman pasticcerie we frequented would sell small pastries and cakes – described with the French name mignon (dainty). These could be bought by weight on trays, neatly wrapped and used as gifts when visiting friends or family. I never quite got my head around what time of day they’d be consumed, but the one time we did an English afternoon tea party for friends in Rome, many of the Italians were very confused to be faced by sweet baked goods, dolci, mid-afternoon.

Deconstructured mille-feuille
Having said all that, one Italian dessert, very much offered by restaurants in Rome after you’d eaten your primo and/or secondo piatto (pasta and meat/fish courses), was sbriciolata di millefoglie. I have very affectionate memories of eating it at Trattoria da Bucatino in Testaccio.

The name sbriciolata di millefoglie means something like “crumbled up mille-feuille” – that is, a kind of rough, deconstructed take on the Italian version (millefoglie) or the French mille-feuille, that pastry whose name means “thousand leaves” in both languages and refers to the layering of puff pastry with a filling of cream or custard, specifically thick pastry custard, crema pasticcera in Italian, or crème pâtissière1 in French. (Note, in Italian, custard is just called crema, while cream is panna.) So a sbriciolata di millefoglie could simply be described as a bowl of custard with broken puff pastry on top.

And yet it’s so good. I made a weird onme a while back after I’d made frappe. Italians would say non si fa (it’s just not done), but I had some broken frappe, and fancied some custard, and the result was good. I then thought I should try it again with a proper, non-deep-fried pastry, puff,  or at least a rough puff, pastry.

So I did. Then Fran’s camera broke and I didn’t get any photos of the finished desert. Plus, well, we had lots of guests over the bank holiday weekend so scrabbling around with cameras and crude attempts at food styling might have been a bit antisocial and broken the flow of the very important business of eating. (And boy did we eat a lot.)

For the custard just find yourself a recipe for crème pâtissière or similar thick custard. Dan Lepard has a good one called Extra thick vanilla cream custard in ‘Short and Sweet’, or you could use something like this. (I may revisit this at some point and find a more specifically Italian custard recipe.)

For the pastry, I used a lovely Italian pasta sfoglia2 veloce – quick rough puff pastry – made with butter and ricotta.

Butter and ricotta 2

250g plain (all-purpose) flour
250g ricotta
125g butter, coarsely grated
1/2 t salt

Mash together

1. In a bowl, mash together the ricotta and grated butter with a fork. You could also do this with a zizzer – aka hand blende. But don’t overdo it, as you don’t want to heat up the mixture too much.

Add flour
2. Add the flour and salt and keep mashing together, hen bring together a dough with your hands.

Form dough
3. Wrap the dough in plastic and leave to rest for a few hours, or even overnight.

Roll out
4. Roll out the dough to form a rectangle about 20 by 35cm (or 8 by 14 inches for you 19th century types) and give it a letter fold, that is folding up one third, then folding the other third down over the top.

Fold
5. Roll out and repeat the folding process. Repeat this once more. Try to strech the corners a bit to neaten up the rectangles if you like, but it’s not essential – this is rough form of pastry lamination after all.

Fold again
6. Wrap in plastic and rest again, for at least half an hour.

Cut out and prick
7. Roll out the dough to few milimetres thick and cut into required shapes. I just wanted crumbled scraps for my sbriciolata so didn’t do them very reguarly, but if you were doing, say, Italian-style millefoglie, cut them into regular rectangles about 4 by 10cm.

Baked
8. Prick with a form then bake in an oven preheated to 200C for about 15 minutes, until nicely browned. You want the pastry crisp

To assemble a sbriciolata di millefoglie, fill individual bowls with the thick custard, or do one large family bowl. Break up your pieces of pastry roughly, and sprinkle the pieces onto the custard. Before serving, dust with icing (powdered) sugar.

 

 

 

 

1 Can I just say, it’s pronounced “crem pa-teess-i-air” ([patisjɛːʁ]), not “crem pa-teess-er-ree” ([pɑtisʁi]) as so many people seem to say on Great British Bake Off etc. A “pa-teess-er-ree” is a pâtisserie, the shop where you buy the sweet pastries and cakes that may or may not be made with crème pâtissière.
2 So while millefoglia means “thousand leaves”, with foglia the Italian for leaf (feuille in French), sfoglia is the Italian for a leaf or layer of filo or puff pastry. Foglio, meanwhile, means sheet or leaf of paper, or indeed the English folio. It all relates to or is derived from from the Latin folium (plural folia), leaf.

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Ricotta and cinnamon pizza

Cinnamon and ricotta pizza

Ricotta. Generally, I don’t know what to do with this classic Italian “recooked” whey cheese. I’ve used it in cheesecakes before, and it is delicious eaten for breakfast with a drizzle of honey. But the sheer scale of its presence in Rome, where fresh stuff arrives by the tonne every day, indicates it’s used very widely indeed.

Shops like the likeable Antica Caciara in Trastevere have an entire window dedicated to baskets of the stuff. Farmers markets’ also tend to have several stalls selling bucketloads of the stuff. Since our farmers’ market was shifted out of Testaccio, and as it’s August and most of Rome’s markets are closed anyway, we’ve been frequenting our new Punta Vendita Aziendale (direct-from-farm shop) near Ponte Testaccio. (Actually, it’s three outlets in one venue. See Info, below). They have a lot too, and on a couple of occasions when we’ve been stocking up on other goodies, they’ve given us some. It’s all about the freshness with Roman ricotta, so I suppose they just don’t want it hanging about – and they want to encourage our loyalty.

So what else do people do with the stuff? Well, I’m slowly discovering.

Fresh ricotta

It’s used in a few classic, simple pasta dishes, but to be honest, I don’t much like them; even with excellent quality ricotta such dishes seem oddly bitter to me. There’s a kind of cappuccino di ricotta according to ‘Cucina Romana’ by Sara Manuelli1, but I’ve never seen that. Manuelli also gives a recipe for ricotta condita that just involves the cheese, egg, sugar, cocoa and some booze. It sounds like a kind of trifle or tiramisu, but without any sponge. Other versions, such as in Oretta Zanini di Vita’s ‘The Food of Rome and Lazio’2 use finely ground coffee instead of cocoa.

When I got the cookbook ‘La cucina di Roma e del Lazio’3, one thing that caught my eye straight away was the budino di ricotta (ricotta pudding, or ricotta cake), which they make in a handsome ring form. So I gave it a go. It seemed simple – just ricotta, sugar, lemon zest, a little booze and some eggs, some separated, with the whites whisked to give the pudding some lightness.

Ingredients for ricotta and cinnamon pizza. Ricotta, sugar, cinnamon, dough. Basta.

It all seemed to go well. Until I turned it out of the tin. It deflated a bit. Okay, fine. But then I ate some. Really not my bag. I’m sorry to say I found it oddly nauseating, just unpleasantly whey-y, so I won’t be repeating the recipe here. I should have known really, as I’d made a baked ricotta pudding before, using ‘Cooking Apicius’ – recipes based on a collection from the late classical period4. That one involved lots of bay leaves and at first bite was amazing, but at second bite was exotically disgusting.

So I was back to square one with my slightly vexed question of what to do with ricotta.

Ricotta and cinnamon pizza, before baking

And then Azienda Agricola Fratelli Nesta, one of the abovementioned three outlets, went and gave us another couple of etti5 of ricotta.

Luckily, ‘La Cucina di Roma e del Lazio’ has several other ricotta-based recipes. One of which is so absurdly simple I had to give it a try. It’s a sweet pizza, and would you know, I had some spare pizza dough.

According to authors Marie Teresa di Marco and Marie Cécile Ferré this is a “super-simple sweet that you can often find in the bakeries of Tuscia”. Tuscia is the historical region of the Etruscans (the Tusci in Latin), a large area of central and western Italy that now corresponds with most of Tuscany, northern Lazio and parts of Umbria. The recipe in is specifically called “Pizza ricotta e cannella di Tarquinia”. Tarquinia is an ancient Etruscan town near Viterbo, north of Rome.

I can’t find any mention of a ricotta and cinnamon pizza from Tarquinia or Tuscia,  or anywhere for that matter, online, but then, Italy hasn’t poured all of its vast and varied (food) culture onto the internet. So I’ll just give the two Maries the benefit of the doubt.

Anyway, I’m not going to mess about trying to put it in grams or whatever as it really is simple and flexible. It’s all about the “qb”, the quanta basta, the “how much is enough”. That is, the right amount according to your intuition and inclination.

You just need to make some basic white bread or pizza dough; I won’t give a recipe here, as there are numerous recipes in other sources. Just find one that suits you. I’d recommend one with a nice long fermentation.

Ricotta and cinnamon pizza

The ricotta and cinnamon pizza recipe isn’t even a recipe per se, it just says:

Bread dough
Ricotta
Sugar and cinnamon
Extra virgin olive oil

Then mentions the bakeries of Tuscia, where “the bread dough often comes in a thin form, covered with ricotta, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, then drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. You bake it in a hot oven for about 20 minutes.”

And you know what? It’s delicious. I especially like the way the oily, sugary mix caramellises on the crust. Sure, it’s an example of those Medieval flavour mixes of sweet, spice and savoury that us Brits don’t use so much these days and, sure, perhaps it’s slightly confusing quite when you might want to eat it. Is it a main course, is it a dessert, is it for afternoon tea, or even a breakfast snack? But frankly, it’s so simple and satisfying, you can eat it whenever you want. I scoffed most of mine at 5.15pm as the hangry hour was approaching.

Info
Punta Vendita Aziendale (direct-from-farm shop), Via Bernadino Passeri 8, 00154 Rome.
Open Tues, Wed, Fri and Sat 8.00-19.00,  Sun 8.00-14.00

Footnotes and stuff
1 ‘Cucina Romana’ by Sara Manuelli appears to be out of print. The copy I’m referring to was published in 2005 by Conran Octopus, ISBN 1 84091 407 6.
2 ‘The Food of Rome and Lazio’ by Oretta Zanini di Vita also appears to be out of print. The book I’m referring to is translatedby Maureen B Fant, and is listed on her website. First published 1993 by Alphabyte di Maureen Brown SAS, ISBN 88 86128 02 9. I’m not sure, but it may have been reprinted in 2003 by the University of California Press as ‘Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds: Recipes and Lore from Rome and Lazio’.
3 ‘La cucina di Roma e del Lazio’ (“The cooking/cuisine of Rome and Lazio”) by Marie Teresa di Marco and Marie Cécile Ferré is, so far, only available in Italian. Published 2012 by Guido Tommasi Editore-Datanova, ISBN 978 88 96621 844.
4 ‘Cooking Apicius: Roman Recipes for Today’ by Sally Grainger. More information here from the publisher, Prospect Books, along with a PDF download with ” the preliminary matter, the introduction, the list of recipes and the opening historical discussion of Cooking Apicius”.
5 An etto (plural: etti), or ettogrammo is a commonly used measure in Italy, especially for buying market produce. It’s a hectogram/hectogramme – that is 100g, 0.1kg, or about 3 and a half ounces.

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Pastiera from Naples

slice of pastiera

So here’s another Italian sweet I need to learn how to make, as it’s my kind of thing: a light tart containing sweetened ricotta and cooked whole grains. It’s pastiera, which comes  from Naples. In fact, this one literally came from Naples – we just spent a weekend in that seething, decaying metropolis. We stayed in the centro storico, and walking one of the decumanus streets – the ancient Roman east-west thoroughfares – we spied a bakery that basically just sold pastiera, its windows full of these fab tins.

It might be a bit cutesy, and aimed in large part at tourists, old biddies etc, but Italy does have do a nice line in old-style packaging, notably for shop-bought biscuits. The biscuits might be made in an anonymous factory, but some 19th century style design on the tin makes the product strangely appealing. In this case, the tin seems to be saying “Eat pastiera while you still can – before Vesuvius blows its top again and buries us all like in Pompei, 79AD”. Well, perhaps.

Pastiera tin cu

In this case, the tarts were all made by hand in the small bakery. It was on via Benedetto Croce, near the crossroads with via San Sebastiano. The tart cost a stupid amount, considering it would only cost a few euros to buy the ingredients, but hey, the whole experience was nice. They even had a “Periodic table of the dessert” on the wall of the shop. Said niceness really counted considering our day had been a tad stressful – Naples fulfilling its remit as deeply dodgy when we encountered some pickpockets so flagrant it was almost comical on the bus. (I’ll laugh one day, but I’m still smarting slighting from my naivity and not realising that the guy I was pushing away from my dad’s pockets probably had a colleague stealthing my pocket, and getting my phone. Luckily it was a crappy old phone. And probably covered in bacteria, as such things are. I hope the thief and his fence get sick from it.)

pastiera in its tin

So, yes, anyway. Pastiera –  watching the recipe demonstration here on giallozafferano it looks like a pretty basic construction, featuring ricotta, sugar, eggs, cooked grain and candied fruits. I should try my own version at some stage as I’ve been experimenting with making peel – in this case, candying the last of the alcohol soaked kumquat zest I used in my lemon kumquat cake.

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Mocha ricotta marble cake

Marble cake 2 slices

I don’t drink coffee. There, I said it. I live in Italy, but I don’t like the national drink/quotidian drug. It’s a slight problem for me, as really, the caffè (café) is all about the caffè (coffee), right down to sharing the same word. Having said that, I don’t mind a little bit of coffee flavoured cake-action. I think it’s a fond memory of my grandmother’s coffee-walnut cakes, which I’d happily eat as a small child, while never actually developing a taste for the actual drink.

Oddly, though, I do like really bitter ch ocolate, and other bitter flavours. People have told me this is silly, as the bitterness of a serious dark chocolate is not unlike the bitterness of a good coffee. (My favourite chocolate at the moment is 73 percent cacao with cacao bean nibs.) Although I realise I miss out on a major factor in the Italian socio-cultural dynamic, in many ways it’s good I never developed a taste for it: I’m a fairly twitchy person and a bad sleeper at the best of times. A caffeine habit wouldn’t help.

Anyway. One of my Christmas presents was Short & Sweet, a collection of baking recipes by Dan Lepard, some of which from his ever-reliable column in The Guardian. I had some butter than was threatening to go rancid, so I had to bake something, subito! (Which is Italian for “immediately”, even though in English we use the Italian word pronto – meaning “ready” – to mean “immediately”. How did that switcheroo happen?) It was unsalted, and I suspect they hadn’t washed the buttermilk off the fat sufficiently well.

uniced 2

Browsing the book, I found his Coffee and ricotta marble cake. There’s something eminently satisfying about the mottled crumb of a marble cake, plus coffee and ricotta are quintessentially Italian. We have some wonderful fresh ricotta available to us here. At the farmers’ market in the Ex-Mattatoio in Testaccio (open 9am to early evening Sat, 9am to around 2pm Sun), you can get sheep, cow or goat milk ricotta. Possibly even buffalo ricotta, as you can get buffalo mozzarella (bufala) – the best type, ahead of cow’s milk mozzarella, which is distinguished by being called fiore di latte, “milk flower”.

Dan L’s recipe divides the mixture, and mixes one with strong coffee, the other with marsala or rum. Given my attitude to coffee, I wasn’t entirely convinced by this, especially as I didn’t think it’d make the sponge distinctly dark enough, so I made a coffee/cocoa mix instead. Hence it’s a mocha ricotta marble cake. Which, frankly, has a lovely ring to it too. I knocked back the sugar in his recipe too as quite so much didn’t seem necessary.

Recipe
10g ground coffee
10g cocoa powder
25g boiling water
125g unsalted butter
175g caster sugar
200g plain flour
150g ricotta
3 medium eggs (about 50g each)
2 teaspoons baking powder
25g marsala or rum

1. Preheat the oven 180C.
2. Grease and line a deep loaf time, around 18cm long.
3. Pour the boiling water onto the coffee and cocoa powder.
4. Cream together the sugar and butter.
5. Add about 50g of the flour to the sugar and butter mixture and beat in.
6. Sieve together the remaining 150g flour with the baking powder.
7. Beat the ricotta into the sugar and butter mixture.
8. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
9. Gently beat the remaining flour/BP into the mix.
10. Divide the mixture in two. You don’t have to weigh it unless you’re especially pedantic.
11. Mix the mocha liquid into one half, the marsala into the other.
12. Put alternating spoonfuls of the mixtures in the tin, smooth down the surface with wet knuckles, and run a skewer or spoon handle through the mixtures to create some marbling. .
13. Bake for around 50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
14. Cool in the tin for around 20 minutes, then remove and cool on a rack.

To serve
You can serve it dusted with icing sugar or drizzled with a smooth basic water icing made with around 50g icing sugar and cold water. Add the water in tiny amounts and blend until you have a slightly runny consistency.

I did my icing  with a small paper piping bag. They’re nifty little items. This video shows you how to make them, but I would say divide the initial triangle into two smaller triangles as you only need a small bag for such a small amount of icing. Also, for small bags (I’m talking about the length of a finger), you don’t need a nozzle either, just snip the very end off to make a whole of around 2mm and it’ll be perfect for drizzling.

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