This cool dessert is silky-sweet ricotta flavored with espresso coffee and spices. The cheese is packed into a pie dish, chilled, and then unmolded onto a cake plate. Serve it the way they do at the hill-country trattoria on the Tuscan-Romagna border called Croce Daniele—cut into wedges and streaked with a warm espresso chocolate sauce.
Croce Daniele Trattoria sits on a mountainside with barely any identification. It looks like what it is—a farmhouse where a local family started serving meals years ago and later added more space for a larger dining room. It takes a miracle to find the house, but locals and people from Brisighella and Faenza down on the plain have no trouble. The kitchen is gradually passing from mother to son-in-law, whose passion makes the elderly woman proud. He travels around the area gathering recipes from the old women and men. As with so many places like Croce Daniele, there is no menu. What comes into the kitchen from nearby farms determines what is put before you in the dining room.
Cook to Cook: Find high-quality ricotta in Italian groceries and specialty food stores, or use the Polly-O brand. Sound ricotta is made with milk, vinegar, or another form of acid and salt—never with gelatin or other additives.
Wine Suggestion: Sambuca liqueur
1. Line an 8-inch pie pan with plastic wrap. Combine the gelatin and cold water in a small saucepan. Let stand 5 minutes. Add the espresso and cinnamon. Stir over medium heat to dissolve the gelatin. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla
2. Puree the ricotta in a food processor, or press it through a fine sieve. Turn it into a medium bowl and stir in the espresso mixture, sugar, chocolate, and cream. Mix well. Spread in the pie pan, tapping to settle. Cover and chill 8 to 24 hours.
3. To make the sauce, combine the espresso powder with the hot water in a small saucepan. Stir to dissolve. Blend in the cocoa, chocolate, and 1/3 cup sugar. Stir over low heat until the chocolate melts. Add the half-and-half, and heat until an instant-read thermometer reads 100 degrees. The sauce should be the consistency of thin cream. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla. Taste for sweetness, adding more sugar to taste. The sauce holds well, covered, for an hour or two. Stir as you rewarm it over medium heat before serving.
4. Serve the ricotta cream cool, not cold, sliced into wedges. Drizzle each portion with 2 tablespoons of the warm sauce.
From The Italian Country Table: Home Cooking from Italy's Farmhouse Kitchens by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. Copyright 1999 by Lynne Rossetto Kasper.
Andrea Reusing is the creator of the restaurant Lantern in Chapel Hill, N.C., and author of the book Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes. In this installment of The Key 3, she shares with Lynne Rossetto Kasper the techniques behind three of her favorite recipes: Turnip Soup, Overnight Braised Short Ribs and Tomato Salad.