Tag Archives: ricotta

The Italian Pantry: Ricotta and Mozzarella

Ricotta and mozzarella are staples not in the Italian pantry but in the Italian refrigerator! But they are essential items, so I had to acknowledge them. These days, it is very hard to find quality ricotta and mozzarella. What you find in the average grocery store just doesn’t cut it. Ricotta should be thicker and creamy. It should be made from whole milk and not have gums. Mozzarella should be made from whole milk too. Ricotta that is done the old-fashioned way comes in these tins, like the one pictured below. If you can’t get it from an Italian grocer, then I would opt for one that doesn’t have gums.

What is it used for? What isn’t it used for? The obvious answer is lasagna, maybe. Ricotta is also served with pasta like fusilli or rigatoni. We also use ricotta in the stuffing for ravioli, manicotti and stuffed shells. We use it as part of the filling for calzones or in the Neapolitan savory pie, pizza chiena. It is also used in desserts like in the cannoli filling, in the filling for St. Joseph’s Day sfinci/sfinge, in the Neapolitan pastiera, or in ricotta cheesecake. Mozzarella is also used to make baked macaroni like ziti or lasagna. It’s an ingredient in the pizza chiena. Sometimes we eat mozzarella fresh with some tomato and basil. Or have it in the summer tomato salad. Or just eat it on its own, or as part of an antipasto platter.

–Dina Di Maio

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Little Italy Isn’t Dead: Alleva Dairy, America’s Oldest Cheese Shop

Periodically, there’s an article about how Little Italy is dead or dying. Yes, it’s more of a tourist destination and less of a neighborhood where Italian people live. There are still some Italians there, and there are Italian-American-owned businesses there. A recent article in the New York Times made me want to write a series on Little Italy Isn’t Dead and feature some of the businesses there.

Alleva Dairy

In 1892, Francesco and Pina Alleva from Benevento, Italy, (not far from Naples) opened the first cheese shop in the United States. Alleva Dairy is known for its fabulous mozzarella and ricotta and its sandwiches. The Alleva family sold the business in 2014 to the late John “Cha Cha” Ciarcia and his wife, Karen King. Actor Tony Danza is also a co-owner of the store.

 

Gluten-Free Italian Easter Pie, Pizza Chiena/Pizza Rustica

pizza chiena, pizza rustica

Gluten-Free Pizza Chiena or Pizza Rustica, or Savory Italian Easter Pie

Pizza chiena or pizza rustica is a savory Neapolitan pie served at Easter time.  My family is from the area surrounding Naples and they called it pizza chiena, pronounced like pizzagaina, or pizzagain, as they pronounce the hard ch sound as a hard g in Neapolitan dialect and the last vowel is often left off.

pizza chiena, pizza rustica

Gluten-Free Pizza Chiena

For the crust:

5 cups gluten-free flour, not sifted

5 teaspoons xantham gum

3/4 cup shortening

4 eggs

warm water

olive oil

Put your flour on your work surface.  Dot with shortening and incorporate until it becomes somewhat crumbly (won’t be as crumbly as gluten flour would be).

Make a well and add eggs, incorporating them.  Add enough warm water until you have a workable dough.  Knead for about 5 minutes.  Put a little olive oil in a bowl.  Add the dough ball.

Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rest for about a half hour.

For the filling:

People use different ingredients in the filling.  It usually always has ricotta, eggs, grated cheese and salami.  From there, it varies.  You can also use gluten-free soppressata, capocollo, mortadella, or Italian sausage.  We only used soppressata, capocollo and salami.  One of my grandmas used provolone.  Also, some provolone can be sharp and you don’t want it to be too dominant a flavor.  Some people lump all the ingredients in there, some people chunk it, some people dice it very small, some people layer it.  It’s all your preference. 

1 lb. ricotta (Use a good brand with no added gums or thickeners.)

1 lb. basket cheese (If you can’t get this where you are, you can just use another pound of ricotta.  Or you can let one pound of ricotta sit in a colander or in cheesecloth the night before to drain out water.)

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1 cup gluten-free salami, diced or not (You can use any of the above listed meats, as long as they are gluten-free.)

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1 cup gluten-free prosciutto, diced or not

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8 eggs

1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

1 cup fresh mozzarella, diced

black pepper to taste

egg yolk for egg wash

In a bowl, mix all ingredients.  Just stir it all together.  No mixer needed.

Grease and gluten-free flour a 10-inch springform pan or a 13×9 rectangular pan or a large cake pan or pie dish (depends on how much filling you have).

Cut off 2/3 of dough.  Roll it out into a circle and line springform pan.

Fill with filling.

Roll out remaining dough into a circle.  Top pie with it.  I used an Italy-shaped cookie cutter to decorate the top.  You can use any shape you like or no shape at all.  Brush with egg wash.

Bake at 375 degrees for 1/2 hour.  Lower heat to 350 for 1 more hour.  Let cool for a few hours.  Refrigerate.  We eat this at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator.

–Dina Di Maio

Pizza Chiena or Pizza Rustica

Pizza Chiena or Pizza Rustica, or Savory Italian Easter Pie

pizza chiena, pizza rustica

Pizza chiena or pizza rustica is a savory Neapolitan pie served at Easter time.  My family is from the area surrounding Naples and they called it pizza chiena, pronounced like pizzagaina, or pizzagain, as they pronounce the hard ch sound as a hard g in Neapolitan dialect and the last vowel is often left off.

pizza chiena, pizza rustica

Pizza Chiena

For the crust:

Some people use pizza dough for the crust.  You can get it from a pizzeria or make it yourself.  There are many different ways to make the crust.  You can experiment and see what you like.  Some people use lard, butter or oil instead of the shortening.  Some people don’t use eggs.  Some people use yeast.  Some people add pepper or salt.  The dish itself is pretty salty with the meats and cheeses, so I would opt for no extra salt.

5 cups flour, not sifted

3/4 cup shortening

4 eggs

warm water

olive oil

Put your flour on your work surface.  Dot with shortening and incorporate until it becomes crumbly.

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Make a well and add eggs, incorporating them.  Add enough warm water until you have a workable dough.  Knead for about 5 minutes.  Put a little olive oil in a bowl.  Add the dough ball.

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Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rest for about a half hour.

For the filling:

People use different ingredients in the filling.  It usually always has ricotta, eggs, grated cheese and salami.  From there, it varies.  You can also use soppressata, capocollo, mortadella, Italian sausage or provolone.  We only used soppressata, capocollo and salami.  One of my grandmas used provolone.  Also, some provolone can be sharp and you don’t want it to be too dominant a flavor.  Some people lump all the ingredients in there, some people chunk it, some people dice it very small, some people layer it.  It’s all your preference.  My two grandmas did it differently.  This is kind of a combination of both of theirs.

1 lb. ricotta (Use a good brand with no added gums or thickeners.)

1 lb. basket cheese (If you can’t get this where you are, you can just use another pound of ricotta.  Or you can let one pound of ricotta sit in a colander or in cheesecloth the night before to drain out water.)

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1 cup salami, diced

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1 cup prosciutto, diced

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8 eggs

1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

1 cup fresh mozzarella, diced

black pepper to taste

egg yolk for egg wash

In a bowl, mix all ingredients.  Just stir it all together.  No mixer needed.  I like it a little chunky.

Grease and flour a 10-inch springform pan or a 13×9 rectangular pan or a large cake pan or pie dish (depends on how much filling you have).

Cut off 2/3 of dough.  Roll it out into a circle and line springform pan.

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Fill with filling.

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Roll out remaining dough into a circle.  Top pie with it.  Brush with egg wash.

Bake at 375 degrees for 1/2 hour.  Lower heat to 350 for 1 more hour.  Let cool for a few hours.  Refrigerate.  We eat this at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator.

Pastiera, Pizza Grano or Easter Wheat Pie

Pastiera, Pizza Grano or Easter Wheat Pie

pastiera, pizza grano, Easter wheat pie, wheat pie

The pastiera, or pizza grano is also known in English as a wheat pie.  It’s a traditional Neapolitan dessert pie made at Easter time.  In the past, some people made these at home and other people bought them at Italian bakeries.  Unless you live near an Italian bakery, you will probably not be able to find one.  These pies have wheat but depending on where they are made, they can also have rice.  Part of my family is from the Benevento area of Italy, and they make the pie with rice.  I made an Italian Easter rice pie last year.

pastiera, pizza grano, wheat pie

Pastiera, Pizza Grano or Easter Wheat Pie

For the crust:

2 cups sifted flour

1 cup granulated sugar

pinch salt

1 stick butter, room temperature

2 eggs

Combine flour, sugar and salt.  On your work surface, make a well in the flour.  Add the eggs.

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Dot the butter around and mix all together.  Work the dough until you have a dough that doesn’t stick (you may need to add more flour).

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Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 can/jar cooked wheat (You will find this at an Italian market.  Or you can buy wheat berries and cook them yourself.)

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon sugar

5 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 lb. ricotta (Try to buy a good brand that doesn’t have added gums or thickeners.)

1 tablespoon orange blossom water (This is not orange extract.  You will find this at Italian markets.  If you can’t find it, you can use vanilla instead.)

8 oz. chopped citron (This is hard to find.  Some grocery stores carry it.  Italian markets have it too.  It depends on where you live.  The higher percentage of Italians, the more likely you are to find it.)

In a pot, add the milk, wheat, butter and 1 T sugar.  Bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes until it’s a thick custard.  Transfer it to a bowl and allow it to cool.

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By hand or with a mixer, mix the eggs, sugar, ricotta and orange blossom water until well combined.  Mix in the cooled wheat custard.  Stir in the citron.

Grease and flour a 9- or 10-inch springform pan.  (You can also use a pie plate or cake pan.)

Take out your dough.  Cut off 1/3 of it to save to make strips for the top.  Roll the dough out into a circle and put into springform pan.

Pour the filling into the crust.  Roll out the other piece of dough and cut strips to make a crisscross design on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for about an 1 hour (not less but maybe a little more).

Panettone Ricotta Pudding or Zuccotto di Panettone

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What do you do with the extra panettone you got for Christmas?  How about this panettone ricotta pudding, or zuccotto di panettone from Gennaro Contaldo of Two Greedy Italians.  It makes an impressive dessert!

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Pizza Chiena

I made pizza chiena, or pizza rustica, for Easter this morning.  These are savory Italian Easter pies that I’ve written about before.  This pie is one of those recipes that everyone has a variation of.  Some people put provolone or other types of Italian meats in it too.  It varies a lot.  I put what I like in it.

I made a meatless version for the vegetarians. I used frozen pie crusts for this one. No reason, other than that’s what I had on hand. I had originally planned to make my own pie crust, but in the interests of time because I’ve had a lot going on, I used premade crust.

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For the meat version, I used a refrigerated pie crust.

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Pizza Chiena

5 eggs, beaten

1 lb. ricotta (I use Calabro brand.)

4 oz. shredded mozzarella

1/3 cup grated pecorino romano

1 cup diced salami

2 oz. diced prosciutto

salt and pepper

Mix everything together and put in prepared pie dish.  Add top crust.  Bake 350 for 1 hour.  Serve room temperature or cold.  (This pie should be kept refrigerated when not serving.)

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