Posted by: zhak39 | October 8, 2005


Twelve tablespoons of barely thawed sweet butter cut into 1/2 inch dice glisten in a bowl. The sifter poised over a hardwood kneading board holds two cups of flour and 1/2 tsp of salt. With a gentle rocking, the contents drift down making a mound, a slight depression in its center. I drop in the butter, 4 egg yolks, some sugar, splash in dry Marsala, and some lemon rind. The tips of my fingers become wet, sticky, and richly fragrant as I lightly work the ingredients and my mind drifts to my mother’s kitchen and a much younger version of these hands tentatively kneading a rich dough.

I never gave it a second thought at the time, but now I am amazed that my parents gave in to my culinary obsession. My mother’s shopping day was Tuesday and each Tuesday morning I presented her with a list before careening off to school. “I need cumin and achiote.” “Sultanas, Mom, not raisins.” “Pick me up some whole squid, please.”

The dough is smooth so I put it in the refridgerator covered with a tea towel then start pulling out the ingredients for the filling. The filling is a rich and aromatic blend. I start with 2 1/2 lbs of ricotta cheese sweetened with just a 1/2 c of sugar and smoothed with a splash of fresh vanilla. I grate an orange and two lemons then squeeze one of the lemons on top, picking out the seeds. I put in golden raisins then mix it all with my hands. The flavors blend and the aroma clings to my skin. I remember my grandmother dabbing vanilla on my wrist as a little girl. It was a trick she learned during the Depression when she couldn’t afford perfume.

I pull out 3/4 quarters of the pastry and roll it into a thick circle. Gently, I ease it into a buttered springform pan. The filling follows, not quite reaching the edge of the case. I sprinkle a handful of slivered almonds on top. I roll out the remaining dough and cut it into ropes. A stickler, I weave these pieces to make a lattice, over and under. I lightly brush the top with egg white.

After 40 minutes in the oven, the kitchen takes on the odor of a holiday. I think about looking down the table this night, the kids lined up on one side, my parents here for their annual winter visit at the far end. I peek in the oven to see how the filling has begun to swell through the bars of the lattice, the top not yet brown. I think about those things that I took for granted as a child and hope that my own children are growing in an atmosphere where they can take it for granted that their parents will do everything possible to provide for them.

Tonight when I put their guilty favorite, Crostata di Ricotta, in front of them and watch them smile and breathe deep I will hope that they know that this is my way of telling them thank you, thank you. I know in my mind we are just ordinary people, we’re just regular. But tonight this dish will say, you are so special, how I love you.


  1. Grazie, siete quello speciale! Molto amore.

  2. I am not certain how this literally translates but even to the combination of sounds I feel such a positive intention, so beautiful. I am humbled.

  3. What a vibrant, sensuous description of making this dish. I can believe that you asked your mom to bring home squid and achiote. You’ll have to fill me in on what achiote and Sultanas are, though!

  4. Achiote is the seed from anatto. It doesn’t have a huge flavor but imparts gorgeous color, reddish yellow to yellowish red (it’s warmer than orange). It’s nice in ‘sopa seca’ (Mexican dry soup) and in rice dishes.

    Sultanas are tiny seedless raisins from Tuscany.

    In pre-internet days, it was very difficult to find these specialty ingredients. After years of looking, my grandparents were able to bring me ‘orange flower water’ to make ‘pandolce,’ a Genoese sweet bread. They found it somewhere on Key West.

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