(Original Post Date: August 2, 2010)
When I was in grad school at UCLA, there was this little Italian restaurant that I used to love to go to… Giovanni’s Trattoria. It was located in a small strip mall on Venice Blvd. and run by two brothers who were originally from Italy. Their food was always fresh, and really delicious… but what kept me going back was the dessert – especially the torta della nonna.
Translated, torta della nonna literally means, “Grandmother’s cake”. One of the brothers (Giovanni’s brother, I think), told me (many years ago) that their recipe came directly from their very own grandmother. Of course, he wouldn’t give it to me, because it was a secret recipe. (!!!*!@??!!!!!!$%!)
The memory of that wonderful Tuscan cheesecake has haunted me over the years… but I think I finally hit on the right combination of ingredients. Doing several online searches, I found that there seem to be two versions of this cheesecake: a cream-based cake, or a ricotta-based cake. Remembering back to Giovanni’s torta della nonna… I remembered a more “floury” cake with ricotta, so I tried to make mine more in that style.
Torta della Nonna:
- 2 c. flour
- 3 T. unsalted butter
- 3 T. olive oil
- 1 egg + 2 egg yolks
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- 2 eggs + 2 egg whites
- 15 oz. package ricotta
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 1/4 c. flour
- zest of 1 lemon
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 c. pine nuts (+ 1/4 c. extra pine nuts for decorating the top)
1. Place all crust ingredients into the work bowl of a food processor.
2. Pulse to combine until the dough comes together. (It will look like coarse crumbs)
3. Using your hands, knead the dough until it becomes a smooth ball. Allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, zest and juice the lemon.
5. Prepare the filling: combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, eggs, egg whites, flour, sugar, and ricotta.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
7. Divide the dough into thirds. Take two of the portions of dough, and roll out one large crust between sheets of waxed paper (this will become the bottom crust). Be careful, because this dough is very fragile… it helps to flour the surfaces of the dough before rolling. Using the same technique, also roll out the smaller ball of dough (to form the top crust).
8. Peel the top layer of waxed paper off the large crust, and place a 9 inch pie pan or cake pan inverted on top of the dough. Slide your hand under the dough, and flip the entire thing over so that the crust is now inside the pan. Peel off the waxed paper, and ease the dough into the pan, allowing the edges to overhang.
9. Pour the filling into the crust. Peel the top layer of waxed paper off the top crust, and flip it over on top of the filling. Peel the remaining waxed paper off the top. Using a knife, trim the edges of crust from around the pan.
10. Using a fork, crimp the edges of the crust together, pushing the crust slightly downward. Brush the top of the crust with a little bit of water, and sprinkle 1/4 cup of pine nuts over the top. You can also sprinkle some large crystal decorating sugar over the top.
11. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. The cake will be slightly jiggly when removed. Set aside to cool for 1 hour.
12. Place a rack on top of the cake. Flip the cake over to de-pan so that the cake is now upside-down.
13. Place a plate on top of the cake, and flip over again so the cake is now right-side up.
14. Serve warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate any leftovers.