June and July are really hectic months in my family, what with school ending and the weather getting warmer (time to put up the pool!). Not to mention all of the holidays. There's Father's Day, my mom's birthday, my dad's birthday, and of course the fourth of July. Plus all of the barbecues. Instead of getting stressed out by these events, however, I like to think of them as opportunities to experiment in the kitchen.
My mom's birthday passed recently and since I was in Boston for Mother's Day, I knew that I had to make her something extra special. Cooking for my mom is usually a pleasure because she is actually one of the least pickiest eaters in the family. She will try whatever I put in front of her unless it has tofu in it. She doesn't think tofu is a real food. I've tried to convince her otherwise MANY times but it's a lost cause. Whatever, at least she'll eat stuff with cumin on it. That's more than I can say about everyone else.
One of my mom's favorite things to eat, that she will never fail to order in a restaurant, is broccoli rabe. Luckily, there was some locally grown broccoli rabe at the Farmer's Market this weekend, so I nabbed it and cooked it with some Trader Joe's Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Chicken Sausage and threw it over penne.
I used the same recipe as here but basically, I set up some water to boil. Then, I minced a LOT of garlic, probably 10 cloves and sauteed it in some olive oil. After removing the sausage from it's casing, I added it to the pan and sauteed it until it was browned, breaking it up into crumbles as I went along. I added in some white wine and chicken broth, as well as red pepper flakes, salt and pepper for seasoning. When the water boiled, I threw in the pasta and the broccoli rabe. When the broccoli rabe was done, I lifted it out with tongs and added it to the saute pan, cutting it into small pieces with a scissor. I drained the pasta when it was done, reserving about 1/2 cup water. Then I mixed it all together. Delish.
I am submitting this to Presto Pasta Nights which is being hosted this week by Katerina of Daily Unadventures in Cooking.
Now we all know that no birthday celebration is complete without some cake. And champagne. And strawberries. One of my mom's favorite cakes is a ricotta cheesecake, not to be confused with the NY style cheesecake. Ricotta cheesecake is much lighter and more subtly sweet than it's rich and sometimes cloying counterpart. Making it, I think, all the more delicious. I got this recipe from the Soprano Family Cookbook, which I don't think anyone in my house has ever opened before. I figured, who would know Italian cooking better than the Mafia kings themselves? I've always kind of wished that my family had been a part of the Mafia. And maybe they were at some point. My mom swears that her grandmother used to have to hide guns in cakes. We're Sicilian. It's possible.
I didn't really change the recipe except to sub 2 lb of part-skim and 1 lb of fat free ricotta for the 3 lb of whole milk ricotta that it called for. It didn't make it any less rich, I swear.
Serves 12 with very large pieces or 16 with normal pieces, adapted from the Soprano Family Cookbook
2 lb part-skim ricotta
1 lb fat free ricotta
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp orange zest
1 tsp lemon zest
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Grease a 9-inch springform pan. Place on a 12-inch square of aluminum foil. Mold the foil tightly around the bottom of the pan so that water can't seep in. This is important because the cake will be baked in a water bath so as to avoid cracking.
3. In a food processor, puree the ricotta until smooth. Pour into a bowl. Add the eggs, vanilla, and zests and whisk until blended.
4. Stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Add to the ricotta and stir until combined.
5. Pour the batter into the springform pan. Place the pan in a large roasting pan and put it on the middle rack in the oven. Carefully pour hot water to a depth of 1 inch in the roasting pan. Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until the top is browned and a knife inserted 2 inches from the center of the cake comes out clean. It make not look entirely set yet but that's okay.
6. Turn off the oven and prop open the door with a wooden spoon. Let the cake cool for 30 minutes in the turned-off oven.
7. Remove the cake from the roasting pan and remove the foil wrapping. Cool to room temperature. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.
Keep in mind that this cake actually tastes better the next day, so it may be best to make it ahead of time and store it in the fridge overnight. That's what I did. It also tastes better with champagne. What doesn't?