You can tell an Italian cheesecake by its ricotta, the Boot Country cousin to cottage cheese.
Ricotta, which means "recooked," is not technically a cheese, but more of a byproduct of cheese.
In Italy, it is made entirely from whey, the watery liquid that separates from the curds during cheese-making. In the United States, a combination of whey and skim or whole milk is generally used.
In texture, ricotta is thick and slightly grainy, although much smoother than cottage cheese, which is made from curds. It is chalky white and has a slightly sweet taste.
Ricotta is used in many pasta dishes -- lasagna and manicotti, for example -- and it also lends itself well to such deserts as cassata, cannoli and, of course, cheesecake.
Italian ricotta cheesecake is a less dense, lower-fat dessert than the cream-cheese-heavy "New York-style" ones more often served here, even in Italian restaurants.
This recipe makes two cheesecakes. Freeze one or halve the recipe.
One caution: Don't "enrich" the cheesecake by increasing the amount of egg yolk recommended. It will affect the texture. If you are halving the recipe and don't want to toss half a yolk, just use one.
Makes 2 pies.
1 1/2 pounds (24 ounces) part-skim ricotta
8 ounces mascarpone (or cream cheese)
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 9-inch prepared crumb pie crusts
prepared chocolate sauce (optional)
Cream the cheeses together; add egg yolks, sugar, cognac and vanilla. Pour into prepared pie crusts and drizzle with chocolate sauce, if desired. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
Note: Amaretto, frangelica or other liqueurs may be substituted for the cognac. For a plain cheesecake, use only the vanilla. Chopped pecans or other nuts may be added.
Universal Press Syndicate