For most of us, pizza means just one thing: a round disk of dough topped with tomato, mozzarella and other goodies and baked in a hot oven. But ‘pizza’ really just means pie, and can refer also to Italian cheesecake, typically made with ricotta and eggs, flavored with sugar and other things, called pizza dolce di ricotta. Angelina made a simple, crustless version of this iconic dish, and while her exact recipe seems to have been lost, I’ve been able to recapture the taste of her dish through some trial and error. Here the basic recipe:
For a small pie to serve 4-6 people
500g (1 lb.) ricotta cheese
150g (3/4 cup) sugar, or more to taste
Zest of a small lemon, finely grated
A good pour of sweet anise liqueur (anisette or sambuca)
Mix all the ingredients together until they form a smooth and uniform whole. Pour into a greased pie pan and bake at 180°C/350°F for about 45 minutes, or until completely set and golden brown on top.
Allow to cool before serving. (The pie will deflate a bit as it cools, which is perfectly normal.)
Angelina would sometimes add bits of semi-sweet chocolate to the mixture and it is also very common to add bits of canditi (citron)—one or the other but not both. Some recipes call for a bit of cinnamon and/or vanilla extract, which (to my memory) Angelina never did.
The ricotta-to-egg ration in the recipes you can find around the internet vary wildly. Obviously, the more egg, the more ‘custard-y’ the resulting pie. Conversely, the less egg, the more ‘cheese-y’ the pie will taste. I find that a 1 egg per 100 gram ratio—besides being easy to remember—gives a fine, balanced result. Likewise, you can add more or less liqueur to suit your taste.
Some recipes also call for a crust of pasta frolla, or pastry dough, but Angelina never made her pizza dolce that way.
Those of you who know Neapolitan cuisine will no doubt realize that pizza dolce is essentially a vastly simplified version of the classic pastiera napoletana, the traditional ricotta cheese cake made in Naples and environs around Easter time. (I made one for Easter this year, but sadly forgot to photograph it, so I didn’t blog about it…) But although some Italian-Americans do associate Italian cheesecake with Easter, in our family it was enjoyed year round. After all, it’s so easy to make, there’s just no reason not to!