Tag Archives: Easter

The One Everyone Has Been Waiting For: Pizza Ricotta

There are few recipes that generate so much passion in my family as pizza ricotta or ricotta pie.  It’s probably because it’s just so incredibly tasty and that it brings back so many memories.  I’ve also had lots of requests to share this recipe,  so for all of you who have been waiting, here it is!

The recipe for pizza ricotta comes directly from my mother, who was born in Salemi, Sicily and who had gotten the recipe from her mother, who had gotten it from her mother, and so on.  It’s an authentic, simple and tasty dessert, which is traditionally made at Easter.  In fact, we filmed this episode at Easter this year (we’re just publishing it now!), and had it as part of our Easter feast.

Most Italian desserts with sweetened ricotta come from Sicily, and including cassata, cannoli, cassadedis (which we’ll be sharing with you soon!) and of course, pizza ricotta.  Sweetened ricotta is a symbol of celebration, and is something to be shared with family on special occasions.  I remember being surrounded by family and friends on special occassions where different desserts containing sweetened ricotta were served.  I hope that you find yourself in a similar situation, cooking this recipe, sharing it with family and friends, and creating lots of wonderful memories!

Preparing the Crust

You will be making enough crust for 8 or 9 inch pie.  You should use a springform pan, which is ideal for keeping the form of the pie (this is the same type of pan we used in Episode 7- Pizza Gaina).

The ingredients you will need for the crust include: 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of shortening, 2 egg yolks, a pinch of salt, 1/4 cup of milk, and 1 teaspoon of lemon extract.

Start off by mixing the flour, shortening and baking powder in a large bowl.  Next, mix the egg yolks and sugar in a separate bowl, getting a good, “pasty” consistency.  Take the egg yolk and sugar mixture and mix it with the flour mixture.  Add a dash of salt, and then a teaspoon of lemon extract.  Typically, citrus is used in combination with sweetened ricotta desserts in Sicily.  You can also use lemon zest in the filling (or other fruits, such as candied orange), but this is something I don’t do.  The lemon extract in the crust gives a nice hint of citrus.

Mix the pie crust to a solid, smooth consistency.  Once you have that nice consistency, break the dough into two even sections.  Put one section aside, and take the other section and roll it out with your hands then with a rolling pin.  Be sure to use flour on the rolling surface to ensure it does not stick.  Once you have it flattened out, carefully bring it to your pie plate, and place on the bottom.  You will need to mold the pie crust evenly along the sides of the plate with your hands.  Make sure there are no bare spots on the bottom or sides.  Once you’ve done this, put the pie crust aside while you prepare the filling.

Making the Pie Filling

Now you’re ready to make the rich pie filling (no finger dipping as you go along!). The ingredients you will need include: 2 pounds of high quality, whole milk ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and 2 egg whites (you can use the whites from the yolks used in the pie crust).

Put the ricotta cheese in a large bowl.  Add the sugar and vanilla.  Use an electric mixer to mix everything together.  Once consistent, place aside.

Using the electric mixer again (cleaning it of course!), mix the egg whites.  Beat the egg whites until they are a nice, fluffy consistency.  Take the fluffy egg whites and fold them into the ricotta cheese mix.  Use a spatula to fold in the egg whites and make it a smooth consistency.

Next, take the filling and fill your bottom pie crust with it.  Smooth out the top of the pie filling.

Topping it Off

Take the other section of pie crust dough, and roll it out the same way you did the bottom pie crust.  Once it’s rolled out, carefully place it on top of the pie filling. Mold the top pie crust to the pan, making sure you seal it with the bottom pie crust.

You’ll want the pie to have a nice “shine”, so brush on a egg wash on the top pie crust (you could also use a milk instead of egg).  Slice 2-3 small cuts on the top of the pie, which will make sure it can air out.  Now you’re ready to put it in the oven!

Bake & Serve!

Put the pie in your pre-heated oven at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes.  Check it while it is cooking.  The pie will rise and the crust will crack slightly on top.  When you take the pie out, it will “deflate”, which is a normal part of the cooling process.  Let the pie cool for at least 1-2 hours before removing the side of the springform pan and serving.  In fact, I like to serve it slightly chilled, so placing it in your refrigerator for a short time before serving is recommended.  You can optionally serve it with a side of fruit or with some confectionary sugar on top, but I like to serve it as is.

I hope you enjoy this great recipe.  Give it a try, and let me know how it comes out!

Another Easter Classic: Pizza Gaina

Easter is a busy time of year in my kitchen, and this year has proven to be no exception.  I’m helping to prepare the Easter meal with my daughter-in-law this year.  While she’s making the main meal, I’ve got artichoke and asparagus frittatas ready to go, steamed artichokes, lasagna, broccoli rabe, a ricotta pie (which I’ll share with you in the next episode) and of course the Italian Easter cookies we shared with you earlier today.  In addition, we’ve also got pizza gaina, which is what we’ll be sharing with you in this episode.

Pizza gaina is a delicious, indulgent dish, used to celebrate the end of Lent and the high holiday of Easter.  It’s typically made on Good Friday and eaten on Easter Saturday or Easter Sunday to break the Lenten fast.  It’s indulgent because it includes several meats, which in the old days is something people avoided eating during certain times at Lent.

Pizza gaina is made throughout Italy, especially in southern Italy, and takes on different forms and names depending upon where you’re from.   It’s also known as pizza rustica and Italian ham pie (although other meats besides ham are in there).  No matter what it’s name, you’re going to love this recipe.

This is my sister-in-law, Elaine Angelo’s recipe, because it’s something that she has perfected over the years.  I actually haven’t made the dish that often, which is why we had Elaine join the show to show us how it’s done.  As always, please share your comments and thoughts– we’d love to know how it came out if you gave it a try!

My sister-in-law, Elaine Angelo, showing off her finished product.

The ingredients you’ll need for the crust are: 4 cups of flour, 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, 1 stick of butter, 3 eggs and a half a cup of milk.  For the filling you will need 1 lb of ricotta cheese, 1 pound of fresh cheese, 1/2 cup of grated pecorino romano cheese, 8-10 large eggs, 1/2 pound of prosciutto (cut up), 1/2 pound of boiled or baked hame (cut up), and 1/2 pound of sliced or cut up pepperoni.  You can substitute or add other meats, such as capicola, sausage or other meats.  This is definitely a meat-lovers dish (sorry, no vegetarian option available!).

Preparing the Crust

The crust on pizza gaina is a savory one.  Start off by putting the stick of butter in a large bowl, mixing in the sugar.  Use a mixer to make sure it’s mixed well.  Add the pepper, and then slowly mix in the eggs.  Finally, gradually mix in the flour and milk, bringing the crust to a nice consistency.  Finish off by kneading the dough with your hands into a nice large ball.  Break the ball into 2 pieces: one for the bottom crust and one for the top crust.

Take the first ball and roll it out with a rolling pin on a cooking board.  Roll it out to about a quarter inch thick.  You will be using a 9 inch pie pan, so make sure you have enough to cover the bottom of the pan.  Transfer the crust over to the pan.  Next, pinch the crust up the side of the pan, making sure it covers all the edges of the pan.  Use extra crust from the ball if you need to fill in any gaps. Once completed, set aside.

Making the Filling

Get a large bowl and add the 1 pound of fresh cheese.  Fresh cheese is an Italian cheese, which you can normally find at the grocery store in the Easter time of year.  If you have trouble finding it, you can substitute farmer’s cheese (or basket cheese).

Mix up the fresh cheese, and then add the ricotta cheese.  Mix the two together with a mixer, and then add in the percorino romano cheese.  Next, gradually mix in the 8-10 eggs.  Once mixed thoroughly, add the prosciutto, ham, and pepperroni (or other meats).  Use a wooden spoon to mix the meats in.  Once mixed, pour the filling into the pie shell.  Smooth out the filling on top with the spoon.

Adding the Crust Top

Take the other ball of dough, and roll it out in the same way as the crust bottom.  Transfer the rolled out dough to the top of the pie, fully covering the filling.  Use your hands to mold the pie top to meet the pie bottom, ensuring it sealed (if it’s not sealed, you will have the cheeses ooze out of the sides, which is not something you want).  Use a fork to press the seams down.  Once completed, cut a couple of small “breathing” slices on top through the crust.

Place in the oven for 50 minutes at 375 degrees.

Once it’s done, let it cool down.  You will be serving it cold, so put it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Pizza gaina is straightforward and bit of work, but worth every bite.  I hope you enjoy it.  I just wanted to offer a big thank you to my sister-in-law Elaine for sharing her recipe and walking us through this episode.  We look forward to having her back in future episodes!

Happy Easter to everyone!

Buona Pasqua! Italian Easter Cookies

The Easter season is one filled with rich traditions, including many types of foods.  Food plays a particularly important role on Easter Sunday since that is a day of great celebration and when Lenten fasts are over, allowing for the partaking in all the foods which were given up over Lent.  It’s a celebration of life, with food playing a central role (my type of holiday!).

My family developed many great recipes for Easter time over the years, a couple of which I hope to share with you in time for this year’s holiday, starting with the first dessert we’ve made on the Cooking with Mama Lombardo Show: traditional Italian cookies.  Italian cookies come in all sorts of flavors and varieties, but the recipe I’m sharing with you today is for plain cookies.  This is a recipe that comes from my mother and one that I’ve been cooking for years.  I call them Easter cookies since I shape them into a Easter baskets, with a hard boiled Easter egg in the pocket.  My kids loved these cookies growing up (and still do), and I’m sure yours will as well.  These cookies will make for a special gift for all friends and family members.   They’re great to include in an Easter basket with other traditional Easter sweets or on their own.  My family likes to eat these as part of Easter morning breakfast, dunking them into coffee or with espresso.  However, you can enjoy them anytime!

You can also use this cookie dough recipe to use in any shaped cookie you’d like. For instance, I use this same cookie dough recipe to make small round cookies, s-shaped cookies, and other shapes.  I encourage you to use this recipe to try other shaped cookies anytime of year.

We have a special guest this episode: my sister-in-law, Elaine Angelo.  Elaine is a great Italian cook in her own right, having learned the same style of cooking as me over the years of being married into the family.  In fact, Elaine pioneered some of her own recipes which I we’ll be sharing with you in the future (stay tuned for the next episode where Elaine shares one of these recipes: pizza gaina). Elaine makes the Italian Easter cookies, making a similar basket shape, which she shares with us in this episode.

This cookie recipe is authentic, tasty and fun, just like all the recipes on our show. It will take you about 1 hour to do everything, including making the dough, shaping the cookies, baking, letting the cookies cool and frosting the cookies.  The ingredients you’ll need are: 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of vegetable oil, 6 large eggs (not hard boiled and for using for preparing the dough), 6 hard boiled white eggs (for cooking in the basket, not for mixing in the dough), 2 tablespoons of baking power, 1 tablespoon of vanilla, and 6 cups of flour.  For frosting the cookies (optional, but recommended), you’ll need: 1 cup of confectionary sugar, and a 1/4-1/2 cup of milk, 1 teaspoon of lemon extract and sprinkle toppings.  This recipe makes about 6 Easter basket cookies, depending upon how big you make the cookies.  We share two variations of Easter basket cookies: the larger one that Elaine makes and demonstrates in the video and the smaller one that I make and demonstrate.  The same cookie dough is used for both cookies.

Making the Cookie Dough

Start off by mixing the sugar and vegetable oil in a large bowl using a mixer.  Once you achieve a nice consistency, add the baking powder and mix.  Next, gradually add in the eggs, making sure they mix in consistently.  Add the vanilla.  Then finally, slowly add in the flour.  Add the flour in a little at a time, allowing for the dough to thicken.  You don’t want the dough to thicken too quickly which is why you should add it in slowly, making sure you achieve a good consistency (this may take less than the 6 cups of flour).  Finish the mixing process by hand.  You should have a big, consistent ball of dough at the end.

Making the Cookies

We’ve got two variations of Easter baskets you can make: large or small.  These directions are for the smaller baskets that I make (for the larger ones Elaine makes, roughly double the amount of dough.  See the video for more details). Break the dough into 4-5 smaller balls of dough.  Each ball should make one Easter basket cookie.  Take one ball, break it in half and roll it out with a rolling pin.  Try to get it about a 1/4 inch thick or so– not too thick or too thin.  This will serve as the base of the Easter basket cookie. Next, get a hard-boiled white egg and place it on the dough, about a little less than halfway down.

Take a small handful of dough, roll it out length wise into about a 1/2 inch thick string that is about 4-5 inches long.  Take the string of dough and place it along the top of the base of the basket in an upside “U” shape.  This will be the handle to the basket.

Finally, take the rest of the dough, roll it out flat (same thickness as before), and place it halfway over the hard boiled egg.  This is the base of the basket.  You can use small pieces of dough to make decorations on the basket, but I usually keep it plain.  Once completed, carefully transfer the whole cookie basket onto a flat cookie sheet.

Bake the cookies in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.  You may require less or more cooking time depending upon the thickness of the cookies and your oven.  You’ll know the cookies are done when they have a slight golden color on top.

Frosting the Cookies

Once the cookies are cooled off, you can frost them.  Place your confectionary sugar into a small bowl and add the milk and lemon extract.  You’re looking to achieve a thick consistency (but not too thick), which you can brush onto the cookies.  Get a brush, dip it into the frosting, and brush on a thin coat onto the cookies.  Once fully coated, sprinkle the cookies with the sprinkles.

Buona Pasqua!

I hope you enjoy these cookies.  I want to wish you and your family a Happy Easter holiday season.  Buona Pasqua!