For Easter dessert I always crave a ricotta pie from Modern Pastry in Boston’s North End. Alas, I don’t have one reserved this year. The craving hit me last minute so I hadn’t planned a trip into town, hadn’t even thought of placing an order at the busy bakery. In these last few days before Easter Sunday, anyone without a reserved pie (like me) will be out of luck. The lines at Modern Pastry will be long, every last pie and pastry spoken for.
For many Italian Americans, Easter and sweet ricotta desserts go together hand in hand. Italians more prepared than I sate their appetites for the sweetened cheese with either a straightforward ricotta pie or the once-a-year sweet Easter Pie, a more complex variation made with wheatberries and ricotta.
I confess, ordering this particular pie at the bakery would have been a splurge anyway, for I always have ricotta at home. Nice quality ricotta, too: made from whole milk, fresh and creamy but not bland, possessing a slightly dry and crumbly consistency rather than the disappointing wetter kind. I don’t have to let it strain long to make it dry enough for baking in a crust.
Between Easter’s soup and meat and vegetable courses, though, I already have a lot of heavy and rich foods on the menu. If I decide to use the fresh ricotta for dessert, making something with it that is lighter and less rich might be a better choice.
I looked through a few of my favorite cookbooks and found the answer finally in Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer. Her gorgeous book contains a recipe for lemony ricotta hot cakes, and the hot cakes gave me the idea for ricotta fritters.
I adapted the hotcake recipe a bit to come up with a fried version of the pancake. Before you assume fritters might be large, doughy, and heavy, let me assure you these fritters are petite and delicate and light as air. They are sweet but not too sweet, and perfumed with both vanilla and lemon zest. Invest in a good fry thermometer and your fried foods will have the crispest deep brown crust, a perfectly cooked interior, and no excess oil. For a light bite at the end of a full meal, serve a few on a plate with chocolate and lemon sauces for dipping.
Ricotta Fritters with Two Sauces
1 quart vegetable or canola oil for frying
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese, drained in cheesecloth over a bowl overnight if wet
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Optional: ½ cup diced apple, pear, or dried apricots
Prepare a good thickness of paper towels and/or brown paper for draining your hot fritters and set aside.
Start preheating vegetable or canola oil in a large (14”) skillet. Test temperature with a candy/deep fry thermometer. Oil is ready for frying at 360-370 degrees.
As oil preheats, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon or orange zest in a medium size mixing bowl and set dry ingredients aside.
Break two eggs into another medium size mixing bowl. Beat eggs lightly and add to them the ricotta cheese, sugar, and vanilla. Combine with a whisk until mixture is smooth. Add dry ingredients to the egg and cheese mixture. Using a rubber scraper, gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet. Blend only until the flour has been incorporated, and do not overmix.
(Note: if you choose to add in any optional fruit, fold it into the batter during the last few seconds of mixing and mix only until evenly distributed.)
Check oil temperature with the thermometer. For frying, the oil should reach between 360 and 370 degrees. When oil is ready, drop batter by tablespoons or a small ice cream scoop (about 1½ Tbsp.) into the skillet. Make up to 6 fritters at a time, taking care not to overcrowd the skillet, thus lowering the oil’s temperature.
Cook one side until golden, then turn the fritter using a slotted spoon to brown the other side. Continue to turn during cooking to fry evenly. Fritters take about 3-4 minutes to cook.
Remove finished fritters from oil using the slotted spoon and transfer them to the paper to drain. Repeat the frying/draining process with the next 6 fritters at a time until batter is gone.
When fritters are done, still warm and draining on the paper, sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar through a sieve or sifter. Serve immediately on dessert plates, either plain or with lemon, raspberry, or chocolate sauces for dipping. Fresh berries make a nice accompaniment.
Makes 16-24 fritters
4 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate chips (such as Callebaut or Ghirardelli)
½ cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. softened unsalted butter
½ tsp. vanilla extract
Scald cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar. Before cream boils, remove it from the heat and stir in the chocolate, butter, and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Let cool slightly then give one more vigorous stir. Transfer to a small bowl. Serve warm. (May be cooled and reheated in a double boiler before serving.)
½ cup sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained of pulp and seeds
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
Whisk sugar and lemon juice together in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the cream. Then whisk in the eggs and yolks. Whisk well. Pour this mixture into a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium heat, continuing to whisk constantly. The curd will begin to thicken after a few minutes (3-5 minutes). Remove from heat immediately before overcooking and push through a strainer with a rubber scraper into a small bowl.
Cover the surface of the curd with a sheet of plastic wrap and set to cool slightly. Serve lukewarm.