As we are facing an impending snowpocalypse here in the Northeast, I thought now would be a good time to share a sweet treat. To get you through the days ahead, all you need are pantry basics and the star of the show: ricotta.
Mmmm, ricotta. A staple in stuffed pastas, vegetable dishes, cannoli, cassata and other sweet cakes, ricotta comes predominantly from three very different regions of Italy: Piedmont (northwest), Rome (central), and Sicily (south). Ricotta from Piedmont is creamy and somewhat similar to mascarpone; this kind of ricotta can only be found in Italy and is not imported. Roman ricotta is typically made from ewe’s milk and Sicilian ricotta is from sheep or goat’s milk, with the best found in the mountain town of Piana degli Albanesi. The ricotta sold here in the States is most similar to Roman ricotta, though the tubs found in grocery stores are usually made from cow’s milk and have nowhere near the rich flavor of a true Italian ricotta (Del Conte 2013: 350). Unfortunately, I find myself using the tub stuff out of sheer laziness (ricotta is probably the simplest and fastest cheese to make yourself: heat milk + add acid + drain = done!) but I hope to change that soon.
I purchased a 32 ounce tub of ricotta for ravioli and found myself with plenty left over. Not sure what to do with it, I decided to abandon savory and go sweet, but not too sweet. That’s the beauty of ricotta; it mellows out cloying sweetness and adds airiness and flavor.
I took inspiration from the ricotta walnut muffin I had at Pan’e Dolcetti, Chef John’s ricotta pie, and ricotta cheesecake from Epicurious’s Italy issue but ended up going with olive oil ricotta cake from Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. If you don’t know Smitten Kitchen, check it out and see how long it takes for you to give in and buy her awesome cookbook.
This recipe was super-duper easy and can be whipped up sans electric mixer (yes, the old fashioned way!) in under fifteen minutes. It was light and not too sweet, which made me feel less bad when I had two pieces in one day. I know some people are put off by the idea of olive oil in a cake but a mild olive oil really works here and cuts down on butter, or in some recipes, eliminates it altogether.
The cake lacked a little oomph, probably because I didn’t make Deb’s concord grape coulis to go with it. Instead I brushed the top of our cake with simple syrup leftover from candied orange peel-making but it was still in need of some help in the way of a topping or a filling. I’m thinking of doing an orange icing next time a la one of my favorite cakes, Real Simple’s mandarin olive oil cake. What would you top olive oil ricotta cake with?
Olive Oil Ricotta Cake
Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman (see full recipe for concord grape coulis)
Makes one 9-inch cake; serves 8-12
butter, oil, or nonstick cooking spray for pan
1 cup full-fat or fresh ricotta
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest*
2 large eggs
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
11/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
confectioners’ sugar for dusting or flavored simple syrup to coat
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan (springform pan works best) with parchment paper and coat the paper and pan sides with butter, oil, or cooking spray.
Whisk ricotta, olive oil, sugar, and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking to combine after each addition. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together and add to the wet ingredients. Stir until just combined.
Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 30 minutes. The top of the cake should be golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Set on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the cake from the pan by running a knife around the sides, unclasp sides, and flip onto a cooling rack.
Wait until completely cooled, then dust cake with confectioner’s sugar or brush with flavored simple syrup for a light glaze.
*If you’re like me and like your sweets with an extra citrus-y zing, up the lemon zest from 1/2 teaspoon to a full teaspoon.