My Grandfather's Ricotta Cheesecake

I have never felt comfortable sharing my grandfather's ricotta cheesecake recipe as it has been a work in progress. My recollection of his recipe is slightly different than my mother’s and unfortunately it did not make it to my grandmother’s recipe box. We will have lengthy conversations about what type of pan or pot he may have used and the exact technique when whipping the egg whites and folding them into the ricotta mixture; my mother remembers the egg yolks being whipped separately—I don’t. What we do agree on is how long it took my grandfather to fold the egg whites into the ricotta mixture; it was like watching a symphony with four movements: fold to the right, fold to the left, fold up and then fold down and continue until the mixture crescendos into a light consistency. And, if you open the oven, before 1 hour, while it is slowly cooking at 325°, my grandfather would scream. Back in those days his industrial oven did not have a convenient window to peek through, he innately knew at one hour to check the cheesecake. My grandfather would pick up homemade whole milk ricotta from the cheesemongers of the Arthur Avenue Retail Market; I remember how thick and creamy the consistency was. If you want to try your hand at making spring whole milk ricotta you can read my column, What’s in Season, for Edible East End. I used raw spring milk from Chris Wines’s Jersey cows of Ty Llwyd Farm in Riverhead, truly a wholesome treat. 

This recipe for ricotta cheesecake is a work in progress and is worth the effort as it is truly delicious. In the meantime, I practice and pray that my grandfather comes to me in my dreams and explains in detail the exact way to make it.

Ricotta Cheesecake Recipe

ingredients

  • 3 pounds of whole milk ricotta
  • 9 large eggs, separated
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup of flour
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • Pinch of sea salt

directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°; set rack in middle of oven.
  2. Butter and flour a 9 x 3-inch springform pan and tap out excess flour. Place on a baking sheet.
  3. Separate the eggs; yolks in one bowl and whites in another.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta and zest; whisk until smooth. Add the sugar, egg yolks, pinch of sea salt and vanilla; gently mix until combined.
  5. Put egg whites in a stand mixer and beat on high until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the ricotta mixture. 
  6. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 2 hours. Check the cheesecake at 1 hour—it should be a light golden color. Make sure the edges of the cheesecake do not burn; if edges are getting to dark, cover with tinfoil. The center should be fairly firm and jiggle ever so slightly in  the middle. 
  7. Cool cheesecake completely on a wire rack; room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled and set, about 3 hours.

     

Homemade Gnocchi Reveals Signs of an Early Spring

Saturday, February 2nd was Ground Hog Day and according to Punxsutawney Phil, America’s most famous groundhog, it is going to be an early spring. Coincidentally, I drove to the North Fork of Long Island on the same day to gather my ingredients for my homemade gnocchi and experienced my own signs of early spring.

Ground Hog Day at Briermere Farms

A very happy customer who asked for a fork so he could eat his pie in the car. A man after my own heart.

The temperature was a frigid 26 degrees but that did not stop the hoards of people lining up outside of Briermere Farms to get their pies and vegetables. After being closed for 1 month, Briemere Farms opened February 1st—a sure sign spring had arrived. I grabbed a butternut squash and a few baked treats and headed on my way to Ty Llwyd Farms to get a dozen eggs, raw milk and kale for my gnocchi recipe. 

David and Liz Wines, owners of Ty Llwyd Farm with their basket of farm fresh eggs.

On arrival, David and Liz Wines, owners of the farm, just emerged from the chicken coop with a fresh basket of eggs. I overheard Liz state to a customer, “Sorry, we do not have any eggs, these are reserved for people who ordered a day in advance.” The customer and I at the same time said, “What!” I was desperate, “All I need is 1 egg, I can forgo the dozen, please!” The customer pleaded, “I drove 40 miles to get eggs for my daughter and if I return empty handed it will not be a good day.” 

Liz broke down and says, “I will give you both 6 eggs each, that is all I can spare.” I could not believe we were negotiating egg rations in the winter. How could this be?

Naively I said, “You must have raw milk.” To my dismay, they were out of this as well. “We have had a busy winter, you may want to reserve your milk and eggs in the future,” Liz says.

Thankfully, they had a hearty bunch of kale for my pesto and I remembered I made ricotta cheese from their raw milk that I had frozen.

As I drove home, I felt partially defeated, yet inspired that people are rallying around the farms in the wintertime.

Robin is a sure sign of an early spring

These swans are early this year in East Quogue, NY on the Shinnecock Bay. Possibly preparing their nests for an early spring.

There was no need for a Ground Hog to determine if spring was coming early this year on the East End. If you plan on visiting Ty Llwyd Farm of Briermere Farms you may want to reserve your items ahead of time or get there at the crack of dawn. 

Butternut Squash Ricotta Gnocchi with Kale Walnut Pesto

I have fond memories of my grandmother making homemade pasta. She would make different types; from her tuttaes (tortelli Piacentini), which were ravioli's from her hometown of Piacenza, Italy, to potato and ricotta gnocchi, which are Italian dumplings.

My grandmother's homemade pasta: tuttaes (tortelli Piacentini), which were ravioli's from her hometown of Piacenza, Italy.

Over the years, I have mastered a few of her pasta specialties especially her potato gnocchi. For some reason, I never learned how to make her ricotta gnocchi. The potato version are so delicious, why would I even bother? I now regret not learning her recipe; however, I recently took the leap into creating these pillows of love. I will be honest, my first hand at making these dumplings was a fail, and the worst part; I served them to friends who seemed to like them. The gnocchi were tough and floury. What would my grandmother think? The next day I persevered; adjusting my recipe that resulted in a perfect ricotta gnocchi. Let's just say I owe my friends a taste of this version, as they were not belly bombers but ethereally light.

Ingredients

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1 cup of whole-milk ricotta, drained
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 2/3 cup of all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 3/4 cup of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons of kosher salt 
  • 1 teaspoon of white pepper
  • Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 375°.
    2. Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. and place cut side down on a baking sheet. Roast the squash until tender, about 1 hour.
    3. Once cooled scoop out the squash, discarding the skin and puree until smooth in a food processor.
    4. Transfer the squash to a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until liquid evaporates and puree thickens.
    5. Once squash cools place into a cheese cloth and squeeze out the remaining liquid. Then chill in refrigerator. This should equal out to 2 cups of puree.
    6. Place ricotta in a cheese cloth and squeeze out the liquid, then chill in refrigerator.
      It is very important that the butternut squash and ricotta are removed of their liquid the best you can. This keeps you having to add more flour to your dough which will cause the gnocchi to be floury and tough. Here is the recipe for homemade ricotta. Of course you can use store bought.
    7. In a large bowl, lightly fold the butternut squash, ricotta, parmesan, egg, nutmeg, white pepper and 2 teaspoons of salt with a spatula. Gradually and gently fold in 1 2/3 cups of flour, a 1/3 at a time, taking care not to overwork the dough. In the bowl lightly flour the dough and cover the bowl with a dishtowel, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
      The dough needs a gentle touch, so be patient. If you over mix you will wind up with a tough dough.
    8. To form the gnocchi: Flour your hands and the work surface lightly. Tear off a piece of dough about the size of your fist, returning the remaining dough to the refrigerator while you work. 
      There are many ways to shape your gnocchi. 
    9. Using a gentle back-and-forth motion, roll out the piece of dough into a rope about the thickness of your fore finger and cut the rope into 1-inch pieces. Then proceed on: a) using the 1-inch pieces as is, b) using a floured gnocchi board or a fork, lightly press with your thumb and roll the gnocchi to form ridges, c) roll the dough lightly between your palms to make a chestnut size ball or d) use wooden cookie molds to create beautifully designed gnocchi. Be sure to flour the cookie molds and press lightly into the board.
    10. Transfer gnocchi to a lightly floured baking sheet and chill the gnocchi in the refrigerator while you boil a large pot of well salted water.
      You can freeze the gnocchi for later use by placing the baking sheet with the gnocchi in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer to a ziploc freezer bag for easy storage.
    11. Add the gnocchi in batches, and cook until they float to the surface and then remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon. Drain off any excess water and reserve the pasta water to thin out your pesto if needed.

    House on the Hill: Walnut Cookie Mold

    Kale Walnut Pesto

    You can make pesto with any type of  leafy green. The classic pesto we are all familiar with and adore is made with basil and pine nuts. Basil is a summertime herb here in the Northeast so in honor of the winter months I decided to make a nutrient rich, super green pesto made from kale and walnuts.

    Ingredients

  • 3 cups of kale, chopped
  • 3/4 cup raw walnuts, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Directions

    1. Heat a frying pan over medium-heat. Add the walnuts and gently shake the pan until they are toasted. About 3 minutes. Remove walnuts from heat and let cool.
    2. Place the garlic clove in a food processor and pulse until it is finely chopped. Add kale, 1/2 cup of the toasted walnuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano and pulse until chopped.
    3. With the food processor running add the olive oil in a steady stream. 
    4. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.
    5. Taste the pesto before you add any salt. The cheese naturally is salty. Then add some black pepper to your liking.
    6. Use the remainder 1/4 cup toasted walnuts for garnish.

    Note: The pesto should be completed before you make the gnocchi. If you want to thin out the pesto, place a dollop of the pesto in a large bowl, with the gnocchi and 2 tablespoons of the pasta water and fold gently.

    Here is hoping for an early spring.

    Hooked on Striped Bass

    As a child I grew up fishing out east on Long Island. My fondest memories are fishing with "Pops";  catching our own fish, crabs or “feet” for clams, all of which was in our “backyard.”  As some of you know we recently went fishing for Striped Bass and we were not "stripped" of our bait that morning. We went to a specific spot in the Shinnecock Inlet and I caught myself a 40 inch Striper. We were only out for 1 hour and within that time we caught 2 Striped Bass. I could not wait to create a meal for my family from this beautiful fish which graced our hooks.

    Striped Bass with pepperoncini and sweet piquanté peppers

    Striped Bass is flaky and meaty and its texture lies between cod and swordfish. Stripers are versatile and can hold up to frying, baking, poaching whatever suits your fancy. If you like spicey, sweet with a touch of tang you will love this dish.

    ingredients

    • Striped Bass 
      2-3lbs large fish filets
    • 2 tbsp capers
    • 1 cup Pepperoncini and it's juice
    • 1 cup sweet piquanté peppers (peppadew) and it's juice
    • 1.5 cups white wine
    • 1/2 cup of olive oil for frying
    • 1 cup of flour for dredging
    • 2 eggs mixed for coating the fish
    • Salt/pepper
    • 1 lemon juiced
    • 6 cloves of garlic

    directions

    1. Put 1/2 cup olive oil in a deep frying pan and have on medium heat.
    2. Dip the Fish in the eggs, then dredge in the flour which is seasoned with salt and pepper.
    3. Fry the fish on both sides until it is golden brown. Have garlic cloves in pot as you are frying. Be sure not to burn them. Do not cook the fish all the way through and place the fish on a plate for later.
    4. Deglaze the pan briefly with the 8 cloves of garlic, white wine, lemon, pepperoncini and piquanté juice and capers for approximately 1 minute.
    5. Place the fish filets back in the pan and place the Pepperoncini and piquanté peppers on top of fish. Add Salt to taste if needed.
    6. Cover and let simmer for about 5 minutes.

    Serves 4 people family style.

    note: the white wine used was a Sauvignon Blanc from Palmers Vineyards and the eggs were from Ty Llwyd Farm. Striped Bass was from the Shinnecock Inlet and caught by me with "Pops".

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