Ricotta Cheesecake

Last week I was asked to bring a dessert to our staff picnic lunch, so I chose to make an Italian ricotta cheesecake. This recipe was adapted from a cookbook I borrowed from my parents’ collection – “The Spirited Taste of Italy” by Saul Krieg (1975). Many of the recipes in this cookbook include specific Italian wines or liquors as ingredients.

Typical U.S. cheesecake fillings are made with cream cheese, sometimes a little sour cream, and eggs.  This cheesecake was made with ricotta cheese and egg, and bound together with a bit of flour in the batter. The filling also included citrus zest, wine-soaked currants and chocolate chips, creating a flavor combination reminiscent of cannoli filling. The resulting texture was smooth, but different from a typical cheesecake. If made with a low-fat ricotta cheese, this can actually be a fairly low-fat recipe – as desserts go!

Ricotta Cheesecake
1/3 c. currants (or raisins)
1 Tbsp. red wine
1 c. shortbread or almond cookie crumbs
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 lb. ricotta cheese
zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
1/2 c. sugar
4 egg yolks
2 egg whites
1/4 c. mini chocolate chips, plus some for garnish
maraschino cherries for garnish

Mix the currants and wine in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and then set aside to cool. The currants will plump as they soak up the wine.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9-inch springform pan by spraying with cooking spray. Then spread the cookie crumbs evenly around the bottom of the pan, and sprinkle evenly with 2 Tbsp. sugar. This will form a subtle bottom crust as it bakes and soaks up some moisture from the cheesecake filling.

Press the ricotta cheese through a sieve in order to press out any lumps. Blend in the sugar and citrus zest. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the flour by sifting it onto the cheese/egg mixture a little at a time and mixing it in. Stir in the raisins and wine, and 1/4 c. mini chocolate chips.

Beat the egg whites until stiff, and gently fold into the cheese mixture. Pour this batter over top of the prepared cookie crumbs and spread gently and evenly around the pan. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until cake appears set. Let cool before you remove it from the pan, and serve at room temperature garnished with maraschino cherries and additional chocolate chips.

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