Last month I went to the farmer’s market and purchased several large pumpkins to decorate the front of our house with for the holiday season. Pumpkins, you may know, are edible and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. After Halloween and or Thanksgiving most pumpkins usually end up in the trash. A true Sicilian thinks twice about throwing any food in the garbage – it’s sacrilegious and goes against their nature. Looking at the beautiful specimens on my front porch, I was reluctant to toss them out. I thought about how many ways in which to cook them and it gave me the inspiration for making a Sicilian ricotta cheesecake with pumpkin. I guess you can say this recipe is an American twist on a Sicilian dessert. But one can only eat so much pumpkin and yes, I cringed as I tossed them in the trash.
Unlike most ricotta cheesecake recipes which are usually dense, this ricotta cheesecake is rich, creamy, and light. Traditional ricotta cheesecakes are made with a pasta frolla crust, but; you can substitute a graham cracker crust for the pasta frolla.
PUMPKIN RICOTTA CHEESECAKE
(Torta di Ricotta è Cucuzza/Torta di Ricotta è Zucca)
Difficulty Rating: Medium
Makes 12 servings.
FOR THE PASTA FROLLA DOUGH (OR YOUR FAVORITE GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST):
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon sweet Marsala wine or brandy
1 teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest (optional)
FOR THE CHEESECAKE:
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 pounds whole milk ricotta cheese, at room temperature 40 minutes
8 ounces marscapone, at room temperature 40 minutes
2 teaspoons grated orange zest (about 2 oranges)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pureed pumpkin
1/4 cup candied orange peel, minced (optional)
1/4 cup sultana raisins (optional)
Special Equipment Needed: 10-inch springform pan
MAKE THE PASTA FROLLA DOUGH: Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. In a mixer bowl fitted with a paddle attachment, cream 6 tablespoons butter with sugar on low speed for 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the flour mixture, eggs, wine, and zest; beat for 1 minute, until smooth. Gradually add in remaining flour mixture, and beat a few seconds until dough starts to come together. Using a rubber spatula, gather dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap, flatten top into a disk, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
MAKE THE CHEESECAKE BATTER: Combine 1/2 cup sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside. Beat ricotta, marscapone, sugar/flour mixture, orange zest, and vanilla in mixer bowl, at low speed, for 30 seconds. Add egg yolks one at a time until just combined. Be careful not overbeat or it may cause your cheesecake to fall. Add pumpkin, candied peel, and sultanas if using, and continue beating until just combined.
Beat egg whites with a mixer, in a medium bowl on high speed until foamy. Gradually add remaining sugar and beat until stiff peaks form, about 4 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold egg whites into the ricotta mixture.
ASSEMBLE THE CHEESECAKE: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place a pie pan filled two-thirds with water on the bottom of the oven. This will increase the moisture in the oven and keep the cheese cake from cracking. Grease springform pan with remaining butter.
Roll dough out on a well-floured surface into a 14 1/2-inch circle. Lift edge of dough and roll onto rolling pin and unroll it across the pan. Gently press the dough along the bottom and sides of the pan.
Trim excess dough along pan rim with kitchen shears or by rolling the rolling pin across the entire top of the pan.
Spoon in batter and level top with a spatula.
BAKE THE CHEESECAKE: Place pan in oven and bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Cheesecake will rise as its baking and sink a little as it cools off. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely in pan before refrigerating. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. Run a thin spatula around the rim and sides of the pan before removing the rim of the pan.