We’ve been out of the country for a while and one of the things I missed the most was my kitchen. I was working in Spain for several months, so it was not a matter of eating well; we ate the best bread, jamon, seafood and olives of my life and I am so grateful for those meals. But I did miss the time spent meditating on ingredients, the routines and repetitions of preparing food, and the health and well-being that comes from cooking for yourself. Our return coincided with Easter weekend and I was excited to get back into the kitchen.
For me, Easter is a perfect excuse to make a special Spring meal, highlighting ingredients that represent new life and a new season, like eggs, rice, green vegetables, and fresh bread. This year, I made hot cross buns from Nigella Lawson’s recipe for breakfast. And for supper, I made porchetta with herbs and orange, smashed baby potatoes, and a dandelion green salad with favas, Pecorino and an anchovy caper vinaigrette.
The best part of the meal was at the end: a transcendent orange ricotta cheesecake with toasted almonds. Since there is no cream cheese in this recipe, the pure, creamy flavor of fresh ricotta sets the stage for the tang of orange zest and the warm aroma of amaretto and toasted almonds. The whipped eggs give the cake a lot of lift and a pretty pale yellow hue. It’s worth it to seek out fresh ricotta and fresh eggs for this recipe.
This cake pairs well with after-dinner drinks, and had me craving Patxaran, a typical digestif from the Basque region of Spain made from sloe berries. While we were in Barcelona, my friend Julieta took us to a restaurant called Taktika Berrie where I had my favorite meal of the trip: the best croquetas, the best tortilla, the best ribeye I’ve ever had. At Taktika Berrie, we had a custard-like cheesecake with pine nuts for dessert, and drank Patxaran on ice. This cake has a similar vibe and I will try to make it with pine nuts next time.
The orange undertone of the cake also goes well with anisette, so I served it with strawberries soaked in Sambuca. I cannot describe how delicious these strawberries were. Syrupy sweet Sambuca. Super ripe strawberries. I’m sure you can imagine. Simply toss cut strawberries in a few tablespoons of Sambuca and let sit for 2 hours. You will not be disappointed.
Ricotta Cheesecake with Almond Crust
For the Crust
1/4 cup sliced almonds
5 ounces almond biscotti
2 tblsp granulated sugar
3 tblsp unsalted butter, melted
For the Filling and Topping
3 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
1/2 cup plus 2 tblsp granulated sugar
1 pound fresh ricotta (about 2 cups)
1 tblsp amaretto liquer
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tblsp confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 cup sliced almonds for topping
1. Make the crust: Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Spread the almonds for both the crust and the topping (1/4 cup + 1/3 cup) on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden, about 5 minutes. Let cool.
2. Crumble the biscotti into a food processor; add 1/4 cup toasted almonds and the granulated sugar and pulse until finely ground. Add the butter and pulse to combine. Press the mixture into the bottom of an 8 or 9-inch springform pan. Bake until set, about 12 minutes, then transfer to a rack and let cool completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.
3. Meanwhile, make the filling: Beat the egg yolks and 1/2 cup granulated sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on high speed until pale, about 2 minutes. Add the ricotta and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes more. Beat in the amaretto, vanilla and almond extracts, and the orange zest.
4. Put the egg whites and the remaining 2 tblsp granulated sugar in a separate bowl and beat with a mixer on medium-high speed until soft peaks form (do not overbeat). Using a rubber spatula, fold about one-third of the beaten egg whites into the ricotta mixture, then gently fold in the rest until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared crust. Bake until slightly puffed and lightly golden on top, about 1 hour, 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool, 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen, then remove the springform ring and let cool completely. Use a long spatula to loosen the cake from the bottom of the pan, and carefully transfer to a serving plate.
5. Combine the confectioners’ sugar and the cinnamon in a fine-mesh sieve and dust over the cheesecake. Scatter the remaining 1/3 cup toasted almonds on top and dust again. Serve at room temperature.