Pumpkin Ricotta Cheesecake

A light pumpkin ricotta cheesecake full of fall spice.
A light pumpkin ricotta cheesecake full of fall spice.

Want a light dessert for your holiday table?

I love this ricotta cheesecake with pumpkin as an end to a fall meal. It’s a nice change from the heavier New York cheesecake.

Pumpkin ricotta cheesecake is easy to make. It doesn’t have a pastry crust so you can have it in the oven in 10 minutes and out in 90.

I’m not a purist so I don’t care if the cheesecake cracks on top. Looks rustic, right? Ask Martha Stewart if you want to get rid of the cracks.

Add a dollop of whipped cream and you have a wonderful end to a wonderful holiday meal.

Creamy, airy, rich pumpkin flavor with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg lingering in the background. The nutty crust that forms around the edge is my favorite bite. Make this one of your fall favorites.

The cheesecake is even better if you make it the day before so it has a chance to set-up nicely in the refrigerator. One less thing to worry about on the big day. Just bring it back to room temperature before serving.

Thanksgiving is coming. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss Thursday’s episode, a quick spinach & prosciutto stuffed boneless turkey breast.

Then watch me make roasted garlic & olive oil mashed potatoes.

Make all 3 of these recipes and you have a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner for your guests to enjoy without a lot of sweat & tears.

Happy Thanksgiving! Buon appetito!

Pumpkin Ricotta Cheesecake
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 3 cups whole-milk ricotta
  • 1 cup plus mascarpone
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup unbleached flour
  • 5 large eggs
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt, divided
  • 1 cup canned pure pumpkin purée
  • ¼ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Butter and flour a 9-inch spring form baking pan and set the pan aside.
  3. In a mixer beat eggs, white sugar, and ½ teaspoon sea salt at high speed until foamy and sugar is fully dissolved.
  4. Add the ricotta, mascarpone and flour to the bowl and mix well until the mixture is fluffy.
  5. Scrape out the ricotta into a large bowl.
  6. Put the pumpkin, brown sugar, cream, ¼ teaspoon sea salt and spices in the mixer bowl and on medium speed mix until smooth.
  7. Add the heavy cream and on low speed incorporate it into the pumpkin mixture.
  8. Add the pumpkin mixture to the bowl with the ricotta and mix well until the pumpkin is fully incorporated into the ricotta.
  9. Pour the mixture into the spring pan. Tap the pan to remove any air bubbles and smooth the top with a spatula.
  10. Bake until the sides are set and lightly golden but the center is still slightly jiggly, about 90 minutes.
  11. Set the cake on a wire rack and let it cool completely. Remove the cake from the spring pan and place it on a serving dish.
  12. Serve at room temperature.

 

Father’s Day Cookies: St. Joseph’s Pants (Cavazune)

St. Joseph's Pants, Cavazune
St. Joseph’s Pants, Cavazune with a ceci, walnut, raisin, honey & orange zest filling

Father’s Day is next Sunday, June 15. I’ve been thinking about my Dad with love and gratitude. Though he passed long ago he is still with me.

Dad immigrated to America early in the last century. He did not have an easy life but he prevailed.

He was a very smart and honest man. He spoke several languages. He taught himself to play a mean mandolin. He wanted to be a lawyer but ended up being a butcher in Newark’s First Ward.

While my Dad’s ambitions were never fully realized he ensured that his children achieved their dreams. His oldest daughter was the first in the family to attend college. Both daughters became teachers. His oldest son earned a mechanical engineering degree and served as an Air Force pilot. I became the lawyer he wanted to be.

My Dad loved and supported us all.  He joyfully celebrated our every success. In his later years “Pops,” as his grandkids called him, was most fulfilled when his 11 grandchildren surrounded him. I cherish the memories of our 3-generation family gatherings around his table. Many of the dishes I cook today are from those happy days long ago.

In Italy Father’s Day is celebrated on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, who helped raise Jesus. I’m blending the Italian and American holidays together.

Cavazune, or St. Joseph’s Pants, are a traditional filled cookie made for St. Joseph’s Day all over Italy. Ron, a fan, asked that I make cavazune. His family hails from Balzano in northern Italy about 2 1/2 hours northwest of Venice. Ron tells me they made huge batches of these cookies for their St. Joseph’s Day celebration to share with family and friends. Mille grazie for your suggestion Ron.

There are many variations of this cookie throughout Italia. Ron shared a description of his family’s cookie. I used his memories as the basis for this recipe.

The cookie is filled with a mince of ceci (chickpeas or garbanzo), raisins and walnuts sweetened with honey and balsamic then fried. Mosto cotto, a sweet, thick cooked wine is traditionally used. I didn’t have any so I substituted a thick, sweet balsamic vinegar. If you have mosto cotto in your pantry use that instead.

These cookies are light as air. The delicate crispy wrapper holds a sweet ceci paste flecked with crunchy walnut bits and raisins all sweetened with California Wildflower honey. The spices and orange zest linger on my tongue after the last bite reminding me to have another one.

Happy Father’s Day! Buon appetito!

Father's Day St. Joseph's Pants (Cavazune)
 
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Author:
Serves: 30 cookies
Ingredients
Pastry Dough
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ⅛ cup water
Pastry Filling
  • 1 can of chickpeas (19 oz.)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • ½ cup ground walnuts
  • ½ cup raisins
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Canola or your favorite vegetable oil for deep frying
Instructions
Dough
  1. Put all the ingredients except the water in the bowl of a food processor and process adding the water a little at a time until a dough ball forms.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a board and knead briefly. The dough will be on the stiff side. If the dough is too wet add more flour.
  3. Shape the dough into a ball and wrap it in clear plastic and let the dough rest at room temperature for about an hour.
Filling
  1. Chop the walnuts or process them in a food processor and set aside.
  2. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and put them in a pot covered with water. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes to soften the chickpeas.
  3. Drain the chickpeas and set them aside to cool. Put them in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they are to create a smooth mash.
  4. In a large bowl combine the chickpeas, walnuts, raisins, honey, cinnamon, orange zest and balsamic and set the filling aside.
  5. Cut the rested dough into six pieces.
  6. Roll each out to a thin rectangle about 12 inches by 6 inches or pass each piece through pasta machine ending with the smallest setting.
  7. Cut the rolled out dough in 3 inch circles.
  8. Put about a teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle, wet the edge with water and fold over the dough to form a half-moon.
  9. Press the sides of each pastry pocket with a fork to seal them. Set them aside on a kitchen towel.
  10. Put the canola oil in a pot to a depth of 3 inches. Heat the oil to 375 degrees.
  11. Fry the cavazune in the hot oil until they are golden on both sides.
  12. Cool.
  13. Sprinkle with confectionery sugar and serve at room temperature.

 

Limoncello: Sunshine in a Glass

The lemons in Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast are huge
The lemons in Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast are huge

When some people have a lemon they make lemonade. When I have lemons I make limoncello, the famous liqueur from Sorrento on the Bay of Naples.

Limoncello is sunshine in a bottle. One sip and I overflow with memories of Sorrento, Capri and the Amalfi Coast, bright sunshine, an azure sea and the scent of lemons.

It’s a wonderful digestivo and a refreshing end to a meal. A little Limoncello spilled over vanilla gelato for dessert maybe?

Save some money and make limoncello for yourself. Watch me make limoncello in this first installment of intimate moments with Gianni, sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes not.

I like my limoncello on the dry side. If you like it sweeter add another half or full cup of sugar to this recipe.

Cin-Cin!

Limoncello: Sunshine in a Glass
 
Mottled yellow-green lemon peel soaked in grain alcohol and sweetened with simple syrup is a refreshing end to any meal.
Author:
Recipe type: Liqueur
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • 12 organic lemons
  • 1 quart grain alcohol (substitute vodka if you must)
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar (more if you want a sweeter liqueur)
Instructions
  1. Wash and dry the lemons.
  2. Peel the lemons so that you just get the yellow zest and not the bitter white pith.
  3. Put the zests in a large jar with a tight-fitting lid, add the alcohol and let sit in a dark place. Shake the jar a few times each day.
  4. After 2-4 days the zests will look like pale parchment and have given up their oils. Strain the liquid and discard the spent zests.
  5. Make the simple syrup. Put the water and sugar in a pot and heat it over a medium flame, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is clear.
  6. When the simple syrup is cool stir it into the alcohol.
  7. Pour the limoncello into bottles and close them tightly. Store the limoncello in the freezer or dark place. It's good to drink immediately but the flavor will be smoother after about a week.
  8. Serve in small glasses right out of the freezer or at room temperature.

 

 

Bow Ties? Wandi? Cenci?–A Sweet Crackly Holiday Recipe

Bow Ties? Wandi? Cenci? Bugia? Delicate fried sweet ribbons
Bow Ties? Wandi? Cenci? Bugia? Delicate fried sweet ribbons

I love these delicate fried dough ribbons that show up on the table at the end of the meal this time of year.

I have 2 problems with them though. I don’t know what to call them and once I start eating them I can’t stop.

We called them bow ties or cenci (rags) in Jersey, wandi (gloves) in Rhode Island and bugia (liar’s knot) here in San Francisco. My favorite name is chiacchiere (to chatter) for the noise they make frying in the hot oil.

Call them what you want just make them for your table. I’m making extra so I can bring a plate of bow ties along when I visit friends this holiday season.

The simple dough is made in a food processor, kneaded briefly by hand and then rolled out with a rolling pin or put through a pasta machine to achieve a thin dough. I cut the ribbons with my ravioli cutter. Tie the ribbons in a bow and fry them quickly in hot oil until they are golden. Dust the bow ties with lots of powdered sugar all over.

The nutty bow ties shatter with each bite, light as air and just sweet enough for the end of a big meal with an espresso.

Be careful eating these crispy puffs so you don’t get powdered sugar all over your holiday outfit.

Some put honey I bow ties. I don’t. I reserve the honey for Struffoli, Holiday Honey Balls. These sweet nuggets are another staple at a Neapolitan Christmas table.

Buon appetito! Buon Natale! Happy Holidays to all.

Crispy Bow Ties, Wandi, Cenci Holiday Cookie Recipe
 
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Fry up a batch of these light, crispy holiday cookies for your table or to bring as a gift when visiting friends and family this year,
Author:
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 20
Ingredients
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • lots of powdered sugar for dusting
Instructions
  1. Put the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to aerate the dry ingredients.
  2. With the machine running add the eggs
  3. The dough is ready when it balls around the blade.
  4. Turn out the dough to a lightly floured board and knead until a soft dough forms and it doesn't stick to the work surface .
  5. Wrap the dough in plastic film and let it sit for about 15 minutes.
  6. Unwrap the dough and cut the ball into thirds.
  7. Work with one-third at a time and keep the others wrapped in plastic.
  8. With a rolling pin roll out the dough to about a 1/16th inch thickness or use a pasta machine to get the right thickness. I roll it through to the thinnest setting for crispy ribbons.
  9. Using a fluted pasta wheel cut the dough into 1-inch strips and cut the strips into 7-inch lengths.
  10. Pull the strips gently until they're about 9-inches long and tie the strip into a loose bow and set aside on parchment paper or a floured kitchen towel. (You want thin strips so the bows turn out light and crackly when you bite into one. If you don't want to make bows just put a small slit in the ribbon.)
  11. Put a couple of inches of oil in a deep pot and heat the oil to 375 degrees.
  12. Drop in a few bow ties at a time, turning them so that they are golden all over.
  13. Put the bows on paper towel to drain.
  14. When ready to serve sprinkle the bow ties with lots of powdered sugar. (Don't be skimpy with the powdered sugar dusting. There's not much sugar in the dough so the dusting adds most of the sweetness to the bows.)
  15. This recipe will yield about 5 dozen bow ties. (Keep them in an airtight container and they will last for days. Don't dust with powdered sugar until you're ready to serve some.)

 

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

The dessert of Italian Father's Day.

Once a year, that’s it. No, I’m not talking about sex.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe should only be made on St. Joseph’s feast day, March 19, also Father’s Day in Italia. This is when I make mine. It’s tradition.

Traditions fade though. Now you can get this popular pastry all year round in many Italian-American communities and even at pasticcerie (pastry shops) in Napoli where it was invented in 1840 by Don Pasquale Pintauro. His pasticceria in Naples is still open.

But tradition is alive in North Beach. Victoria Pastry (Stockton/Vallejo) only makes Zeppole di San Giuseppe on March 19. If you want to make sure you get some order ahead. I did for years but now I make my own.

Victoria makes a smaller, simpler Tuscan version. My Zeppole di San Giuseppe are the ones you will find in Napoli and at Ferrara’s in NYC’s Little Italy.

BTW, pasticciera, the thick boiled custard cream filling is a versatile concoction that can be used in dozens of other recipes, even gelato!

Makes 12 Zeppole di San Giuseppe

Dough

  • 1 cup water
  • 6 tablespoons butter cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1-cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 4 eggs

Cooking Directions

  1. Put the water, butter, sugar and salt in a large sauce pan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and stir a few times.
  2. As the water begins to boil and the butter is melted take the pan off the flame.
  3. Add the flour and stir vigorously until the mixture forms a dough.
  4. Put the pan over medium-low heat and stir until the mixture is smooth and glossy and begins to form a film on the bottom of the pan about 3 minutes.
  5. Take the pot off the flame and break the eggs one at a time and quickly beat each egg until the egg is fully incorporated into the dough and then add the next egg. Work quickly you don’t want to scramble the eggs.
  6. Return the pot to the flame and stir vigorously until the dough forms a smooth, thick paste 30-45 seconds.

Frying

  1. Cut parchment paper into 12 4-inch squares.
  2. Put the dough in a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch star tip (#6) and pipe a 3-inch circle of dough on the parchment paper. Fill in with smaller concentric circles so that you have a solid filled-in circle.
  3. Put about a 1/2 inch of canola or peanut oil in a 8 or 10-inch skillet and over a high or high-medium heat bring the oil to 375 degrees. Check the temperature to ensure it stays at 375.
  4. Fry the zeppole a few at a time with the parchment side facing up.
  5. As the zeppole begins to fry, use tongs to gently peel off the parchment.
  6. Fry the zeppole slowly. The first side should take about a minute to turn a light golden color.
  7. Turn the zeppole over and fry the second side until it is golden brown, about 2 minutes.
  8. Turn over to the first side and finish frying until this side gets golden brown, about a minute. You want to make sure that the zeppole is cooked all the way through but don’t let either side get too dark.
  9. Drain the zeppole well on paper towel and let cool before filling with the pasticciera. The zeppole should be light, puffed up and airy.

Baking

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease it and pipe out the 3-inch zeppole as described above.
  3. Bake until lightly golden about 15 minutes.
  4. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until the zeppole are medium golden brown, puffed up and light when picked up.
  5. Transfer to a cooling rack.

If you don’t want to use a pastry bag, use a heaping tablespoon of dough for either the frying or baking method instead of piping the circles.

Pasticciera (Boiled Custard Cream)

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 quart milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

Cooking Directions

  1. Mix the flour and 1/2 cup sugar in a big bowl. Whisk in the eggs until the mixture is smooth and is quite thick.
  2. In a large saucepan mix the milk, the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and the salt. Scald over medium heat stirring frequently so it doesn’t scorch or form a film.
  3. When a ring of small bubbles forms around the edge of the pan  remove it from the heat.
  4. Whisk 1 cup of the hot milk a little at a time into the flour and egg mixture. You’re tempering the mixture so whisk vigorously. You don’t want to scramble the eggs.
  5. Whisk in a second cup of hot milk into the flour and egg mixture and then return the tempered mixture to the pan with the hot milk whisking constantly.
  6. Slowly over medium-low heat and whisking constantly cook the mixture until it thickens, about 4 minutes. Take it off the heat when you see the first boil bubble.
  7. Set up another large bowl with a fine strainer and pass the pasticciera through the strainer using a spatula to push it through the mesh.
  8. Mix in the vanilla well.

To Assemble the Zeppole di San Giuseppe

Additional Ingredient

  • For decoration Amarena cherries (sour cherries in syrup from Campania)
  1. Put the pasticciera in a pastry bag.
  2. Pipe the cream into the zeppole. Use the tip to break the surface of the zeppole so you get some cream inside the zeppole. Finish with a small rosette on the top.
  3. Top the rosette with an amarena cherry and a bit of its syrup.
  4. You can dust the top with confectioner sugar if you like.

The fried zeppole di San Giuseppe should be eaten soon after they are made. The baked zeppole will hold up longer. If you make the zeppole shells in advance you can crisp either the fried or baked shell by putting them in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes before filling them.

If you don’t want to use the pastry bag, cut the zeppole shell in half and spoon in some of the pasticciera.