A ricotta pie is a sweet dish that can also be called a custard cheese pie or Italian cheesecake. This dish is commonly served during Easter celebrations held by Italian families. Ricotta pie recipes vary, but generally call for a custard-like ricotta filling inside a pastry crust. It can also have a graham cracker crust, similar to versions of cheesecake with which most people are familiar. Ricotta pie is usually homemade, but can also be bought at the store.
Since this pie is often in a shallow crust and has an open top decorated with nuts, it is sometimes called a ricotta tart. With some versions of ricotta pie, the filling is somewhat heavy and dense, like a custard, while other ricotta pie fillings are whipped until they are light and fluffy. Depending on the recipe, the ricotta filling can also be flavored with honey or vanilla and topped with slivered nuts and lemon zest. It can also be dusted with powdered sugar before it is sliced and served. At the store, this dish is easiest to acquire around Easter, when it is used as a sweet treat at many family celebrations.
The ricotta mixture is a combination of eggs, sugar, and ricotta that is salted to taste. Ricotta is generally thoroughly drained before it is used in the filling for ricotta pie. It is then spooned into a pie crust, usually topped with candied nuts, and baked until the eggs set. This type of pie is not supposed to be baked until the cheese browns, only until the eggs in the ricotta mixture solidify within the mixture. Like custard, meticulous cooks often bake this dish in a water bath to help it cook to a more even texture.
Ricotta is made from the whey that comes from the cheesemaking process. It is widely referred to as ricotta cheese, but is not technically a cheese because it contains almost no casein, the milk proteins that create true cheese. To make ricotta, the whey from cheesemaking is coagulated using heat and acid, then it is boiled and filtered with a cloth to remove the extra moisture and yield the familiar ricotta. Best known for its role in lasagna, ricotta is extremely common in Italian cooking. It can be used for a wide variety savory or sweet dishes, from white pizza to dessert ravioli.