Ricotta and cherry jam crostata (crostata di ricotta e visciole)

By • May 20, 2014 10 Comments

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Author Notes: This is a wonderfully simple, crowd pleasing crostata. Cherry jam (preferably made with wild sour cherries) spread over a base of soft, crumbly, almost cake-like crust, and covered with a lightly-sweetened ricotta filling. A lattice top usually garnishes the crostata, but it's just as pretty without.

It's one of the consistent dessert items on Roman trattoria menus, yet the tradition itself was born in the Roman Ghetto. The traditional Roman Jewish ricotta and jam crostata made famous by the bakery Boccione, in via del Portico d'Ottavia, right in the heart of the Ghetto, is unique in the world. The recipe, a secret, is fiercely guarded and notoriously difficult to replicate.

The Boccione crostata's unique features include a rounded and a burnt-until-blackened top sans crust. It's not necessarily pretty, but the bitterness of the burnt top contrasts with the sweetness of the jam (quite like in a crème brulee) to create a balanced tart, much sought-after by those in the know of where to find Rome's best pastries.

They say this ricotta crostata is an ancient recipe and at one time was a way for Jewish vendors to sell – illegally – cheese, by hiding it under a pie crust. The older recipes included honey and candied fruit but over the last couple of centuries this ricotta crostata has become a more common dessert found all over the city of Rome.

Instead of jam, you could also use plump, fresh pitted sour cherries. A common variation on this crostata is chocolate chips stirred through the ricotta in place of the jam.

Traditionally sheep's milk ricotta is used and is preferable for its rich flavour and usually firmer texture. If using cow's milk ricotta and you find it's quite “wet” rather than firm, pour it into a sieve lined with a few layers of muslin (or a clean linen tea towel), set it over a bowl and let it drain overnight.

The recipe was inspired by an Italian cookbook on Roman cuisine called La Cucina di Roma e del Lazio and the pastry crust is adapted from one of Pellegrino Artusi's recipes for “pasta frolla” in his 1891 cookbook, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. It works wonderfully: soft, crumbly and should be cooked so it's on the blond side and remains soft and cake-like.
Emiko

Serves 8

For the pastry crust:

  • 2 cups (250 grams) of flour
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) of fine sugar
  • 1 stick (½ cup or 125 grams) of cold butter, diced
  • 1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon

For the filling:

  • 9 ounces (250 grams) sour cherry jam
  • 1 pound (500 grams) firm ricotta (preferably sheep's milk)
  • 1 whole egg plus 2 yolks
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) fine sugar
  1. For the pastry crust, combine the flour and sugar in a bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour until the mixture appears crumbly (alternatively, pulse together in a food processor). Add the lemon zest, the egg and yolk and combine until the pastry just comes together into a smooth ball. Rest the pastry in the fridge for 30 minutes or overnight.
  2. In the meantime, prepare the ricotta filling by beating the ricotta, eggs and sugar until smooth and creamy.
  3. When the dough has rested, take about two-thirds of the dough and, on a floured surface, roll this to about 1/8 inch thickness to cover a 26cm or 10 inch pie dish. Trim the edges.
  4. Spread the jam over the pastry dough. Pour the ricotta mixture over this and smooth out the surface.
  5. With the remaining third of the pastry dough, roll on a well floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into strips about ½ inch wide, if you want a lattice top. Layer the strips in a criss-cross pattern over the top and secure the ends on the edges of the pastry with a dab of water or the leftover egg white. If doing this without a top, save this dough for another use in the freezer.
  6. Bake the crostata at 350ºF for 25 minutes or until lightly golden and the centre of the crostata feels springy.
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Comments (10) Questions (0)

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25 days ago tammany

Emiko (or anyone else!) - a quick question about Italian and American flour. I spend much of the summer in Italy visiting relatives and I would love to bake more but when I try to bake recipes I know from the US or UK (like this one which I do love!) they never quite work because the flour is different and thus all measurements are off. Or rather, I don't know which flour to buy to approximate either "all-purpose" or "cake" flour. I've looked on line at protein content etc but never quite gotten it right. What would you suggest? (And bear in mind: I'm in a small town. If the tiny Conad doesn't have it, it ain't to be had. Grazie mille!

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24 days ago Emiko

If you're in Italy (so am I -- so all my recipes are Italian ones!), this recipe works just fine as is with farina 00. If in Australia (don't know about the US but I wonder if it is closer to what we use in Australia), I use all-purpose flour in place of 00. Hope that helps! P.S. The only time I use specialty flours (cake flour, manitoba, etc) is in baking pastries like cornetti or pasta sfoglia. It's difficult to convert cake flour (low protein) into Italian equivalents because they use a completely different system (not about protein content but the grain size! So different brands differ from each other in protein content). But I use manitoba when I need a higher protein flour like for making cornetti that need to be elastic -- or even better, half manitoba, half 00.

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24 days ago tammany

Dear Emiko, Thanks so much! I am in Italy (Liguria to be precise). I will definitely forge ahead with 00. I became leery of substitutions when I once tried to make a galette recipe (from David Lebovitz) that has always been foolproof for me in North America using all-purpose flour. In Italy I used 00 and got a goopy mess instead of a nice short dough. But perhaps something else went amiss - who knows! (The butter? Watery-er? Me? ) I'll try again. The peaches demand it:)

BTW, thanks a million for the pasta sfoglia recipe (in the torta pasqualina) I adore torta di verdure but always had trouble replicating the dough. Now I don't!! (In Italy, I just buy torta di verdure at the pastaficio because they make such a great version!)

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4 months ago ghainskom

Made this yesterday. It's a nice twist on a cheesecake, especially when using self made jam like I did.

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5 months ago Gourmel

This sounds great! Do you think I could prepare it the night before serving?

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5 months ago Emiko

Absolutely - keep it in the fridge overnight and bring it out about an hour before serving so it's room temperature/not too chilled.

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5 months ago Gourmel

Thanks for your response! I actually decided to just make the dough last night and will bake the whole thing tonight, but the dough seems too crumbly to actually roll out and will need to be pressed directly into the pie dish. Did I do something wrong?

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5 months ago Emiko

Oh yes sounds like something has gone wrong! You can add a little bit of water until it comes together or if you feel it's VERY dry, add an egg yolk.

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5 months ago Gourmel

Hmm, ok thanks!

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5 months ago Emiko

Oh or the rest of the egg white (sorry left that out). Don't worry, it's a very forgiving dough! Just let it rest before rolling out (about 30 mins).