This delicious Italian cheesecake is the perfect dish for entertaining.
650 g (1 lb 7 oz) cow’s or sheep’s milk ricotta
butter, for greasing
flour, for dusting
300 g (10½ oz) sugar
zest of 1 lemon
icing (confectioners’) sugar, for dusting
The day before, or a few hours before you are planning to bake, put the ricotta in a fine-meshed sieve, or a colander lined with baking paper, and leave to drain.
Grease a deep, 20–22 cm (8–8¾ inch) springform cake tin and line with buttered baking paper. Lightly dust the inside of the tin with flour and tip out the excess. This will give the cake a fine crust.
Once the ricotta is well drained, push it through a sieve, or blend in a food processor until smooth. Spoon into a large mixing bowl.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
Using an electric stand mixer or food processor, whisk together the eggs, sugar and lemon zest, until the mixture triples in volume.
Pour one-third of the egg mixture over the ricotta and lightly mix with a wire whisk to loosen the texture. Once the ricotta looks creamy, gently fold in the remaining egg mixture with a spoon, being careful not to knock the air out. The texture should be liquid and airy.
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 160°C (320°F) and bake for another 30–35 minutes. The cake is ready when it is just firm to the touch, but still has a slight wobble.
Turn the oven off, open the door and leave the cake to settle for 20 minutes.
Wait at least a few hours before lightly dusting with icing sugar and serving, or keep in the fridge overnight and serve the next day.
Authors Note: History has it that in the 16th century, while Jewish communities in northern Italy would sprinkle baked cheese sandwiches with sugar and cinnamon, Roman Jews used ricotta to make large sweet pancake-style sweets, which they called casciola, from the Roman dialect word for cheese, cascio (now cacio). As the dish evolved, so did the name, and it became la cassola — a baked cheesecake of sorts.
I was given this recipe by Carla Tomasi, who is an extraordinarily talented baker and cookery teacher. She says that like all baked cheesecakes, la cassola would benefit from a day of resting — especially if using cow’s milk ricotta instead of the traditional sheep’s milk ricotta, as it is wetter. So, if time allows, bake it the day before and let it sit overnight.
Edited extract from I Heart Rome by Maria Pasquale, published by Smith Street Books, $49.99