warming up with #9 of 52 pies in 52 weeks

this winter has been colder and snowier than usual.  around here, just about everyone has had their fill of snow and the hassles that come along with it.  today, the temperature broke 50 and it was sunny.  it was a taste of what lies ahead and i can’t wait.   the chance to weed the garden and sow seeds.  to watch sleeping plants slowly reappear.  to see the bees flying around in search of blooms.  for the first harvest of fresh greens.  but for now, it is all a lovely vision of what isheaded our way and that means i must content myself in the kitchen.  in honor of the coming season, i have chosen two things that make me think of spring.  easter pie is a popular italian pastry and depending on which version you make, it can either be a ricotta cheese cake studded with candied citrus fruit or a savory pie filled with meats and cheeses.  since spring generally means a new growth of rhubarb in the garden, i chose the cheesecake.  to incorporate the rhubarb, i made a compote to serve over the slice.

lurking in my refrigerator are many different flours and for the crust, i chose semolina-after all, this is inspired by italian cheesecakes and the sandy texture of semolina seemed like a good choice.  the dough is a little sweet due to a generous addition of brown sugar which also helps give the dough some extra color.

many italian style cheesecakes call for candied citron and orange peels.  since they are hard to come by once fruitcake season over, i decided to use the fresh grated zest of an orange and a lemon along with some vanilla bean seeds.

the filling, which was mixed up quickly by hand, was poured into the prebaked tart shell and then topped off with a non-woven lattice top.  the rhubarb compote was served chilled and added to each slice as it was served.  surprisingly enough, everyone has a generous slice with the compote when i serve it-even the kids!  the compote tastes a little like cranberry sauce-the kind made with fresh berries but that could also be because the flavorings added to it can always be found in the cranberries i cook for thanksgiving dinner each year.

lattice topped ricotta cheesecake with rhubarb compote  
makes 1 (9″) serving 8-10  
semolina crust
makes enough dough for two 9″ tart shells or one tart shell with a lattice top
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening (i used spectrum brand mechanically pressed organic palm oil-non hydrogenated shortening)
4-5 tablespoons cold water
place the flours in a bowl with the brown sugar and the salt.  using your fingers, rub the mixture together to completely incorporate the brown sugar.  using a pastry blender, two forks or your fingers, cut in the shortening until it is in small peas sized pieces.  add the water, first the 4 tablespoons, and mix until it comes together and forms a soft dough.  add the extra tablespoon of water slowly and only if needed.  form the dough into a thick disk, wrap it in plastic and chill for several hours.  can be made 2-3 days ahead.
to make the tart shell, allow the dough to soften a bit at room temperature.  it should be soft enough that it yields to gentle pressure.  grease a 9″ tart pan with a removable bottom and place it on a sturdy baking sheet.  preheat the oven to 325.  take a piece of dough that is slightly less than half of the disk and form it into a round patty.  on a floured surface, roll out the dough so that it is larger than the pan; it will need about 2 inches of surplus around the entire pan.  carefully place the dough in the pan and referring to the photo above, fold the extra dough in to make the sides a double thickness.  line the tart shell with a piece of parchment or coffee filters and fill it with weights.  prebake the crust until it is no longer shiny and translucent on the bottom but it should not have gained much color, about 20 minutes.  for more hints on prebaking pie shells, refer to this previous post.  while the crust bakes, mix the filling.  pour the filling into the prebaked pie shell and top it with lattice strips if desired.  bake the tart on the sheet pan at 325 for about 325 until it is firm and the top crust has baked, about 50 minutes.  chill the tart before serving.  cut into edges and serve with a dollop of the rhubarb compote.
ricotta cheesecake filling
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon finely grated zest from 1 orange and 1 lemon-2 teaspoons total
seeds from half of a vanilla bean, reserve the pod for the compote
1 (15oz) container of part skim ricotta (i chose this because it was the only one without additives)
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup heavy cream
in a bowl, rub the sugar with the flour, zests and vanilla beans until it is all combined and the vanilla beans are dispersed evenly.  using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix in the ricotta and blend it well.  whisk in the eggs and the yolks, scrape the bowl well and carefully whisk in the cream.  it is a custard filling and is best not to add too much volume so only whisk to combine.  
rhubarb compote
makes about 2 cups 
2 cups rhubarb, sliced 1/2″ thick (i used frozen rhubarb which is sold with the frozen fruit in the supermarket where i shop)  if using frozen, allow it to thaw and include the juices that collect.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
combine all of the ingredients in a small sauce pan and slowly simmer until the rhubarb begins to break up and it turns a light rosy shade.  remove the vanilla pod and the star anise pod and chill completely before serving.

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