The ingenuity of Italian cuisine never ceases to amaze, especially when it comes to dolce – the wonderful world of sweets. Whenever Easter begins to draw near, I start to think about one of my favorite Italian treats; the classic Ricotta Pie. The first bite of ricotta pie is unforgettable. It lands in the mouth, melts over the tongue, and creates a symphony, the textures of sweet citrus, milky ricotta, and flaky pie crust linger on the tastebuds and provide deep comfort much like a blanket of velvet. The basic ingredients are ricotta, eggs, citrus zest, vanilla, and sugar to usher in the spring.
A staple at Easter, now Ricotta pie can be found year-round in many Italian and Italian-American bakeries. The variations on this classic treat are endless, for example, with or without a lattice topping, lemon and orange zest, candied fruit, with other interesting additions including hazelnut extract, chocolate chips, or Italian liqueur such as Strega, Luxardo, or limoncello. The liqueur is completely optional. This ricotta pie recipe is delicious either way.
I love my own variation below because of the mouth-feel of candied peel and how the Strega complements the citrus. (did I just use the term mouth-feel!?) Many times, I don’t have the patience to make a lattice top, so for fun, I cut some of the candied peel into julienne strips and used them to garnish the pie. Also, I had some extra dough with which I made a little flower to decorate the top of the pie. Have fun and let your imagination go wild. Oh, and buona Pasqua!
- 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 6 tbsp butter (chilled)
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 tbsp ice-cold water
- 1 lb ricotta
- 2 large eggs - separated into whites and yolks
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup candied lemon and orange peel, very finely chopped (use store-bought or make your own. See instructions below.)
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
- 1 tbsp Strega
To make your own candied peel
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- peel from 1 orange
- peel from 1 lemon
Make it Yourself Candied Peel
- Using a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, cut the peel from the orange and lemon. It is okay if you get a bit of the white pith; the cooking process will remove any bitterness. Fill a small saucepan with 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Add the orange and lemon peel and let simmer for one minute. Remove peel, drain water and repeat with fresh water. Finally, remove and drain the peel. The purpose of these steps is to blanch and soften the peel. Next, in a small saucepan, add ½ cup sugar and ½ cup water and heat to dissolve. Add blanched peel and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes to reduce the sugar syrup. Remove from heat and spoon peel out and set aside to cool.
- Pour the flour into a large bowl and stir in salt. Cut the butter into small chunks and add to flour. Using your fingers or a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the butter into the flour until it is in pea-sized pieces. Add ice-cold water and stir with a fork just until the dough comes together into a ball.Turn the ball of dough onto a lightly floured board and with a rolling pin, roll out into a 10-inch circle. Add a dusting of flour as needed if the dough sticks to the rolling pin or to the board. Fold the circle in half and carefully lift it onto the pie pan. Unfold the dough so that it covers the pie pan. Curl under the extra dough around the edges so that it forms a border to keep in the filling. It's okay if the edges aren't equal; just trim with a knife. Set aside.
- Place the ricotta in a sieve to drain off any extra liquid. Pour the drained ricotta into a mixing bowl and add the sugar. Mix well
- Add egg yolks, candied peel, vanilla extract, Strega, heavy cream and stir well.
- In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold egg whites into ricotta mixture until incorporated. The goal is to mix the whites into the batter and retain as much fluff and air as possible. This will add lightness to the pie.
- Spoon the filling into the pie crust. Place on the center rack of the oven and cook for 50 minutes at 350 °F until filling is set. Test by slipping a knife into the center. If the knife comes out clean, you are good to go. If not, give the pie another 5 minutes and test again. Every oven is different, so bake accordingly.
- Cool the pie on a wire rack for an hour before serving. The ricotta pie will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days, but it is best served on the day it is baked.
Want more Easter ideas! Try: