My mother, born and raised in Italy, approached cooking with the dedication of a cordon bleu chef. My sister Pauline and I never had food from a can or a box until we were old enough to leave home and try new culinary adventures--eating hamburgers and hot dogs, for instance. In our house, Italian and European food was American food.
And because she cooked everything from scratch, meals took a long time to prepare. This was something my father never got used to. "Stellina!" he'd cry. "When are we going to eat? The smell is driving me crazy." He loved my mother's cooking. When he came home, he'd head straight for the kitchen and poke a piece of bread into whatever sauce she was simmering.
My sister and I were just as interested in her cooking. We'd sit in the large kitchen of our West Chicago home and watch attentively as Mother stirred, chopped and baked. Sometimes she'd even let us help.
When it was finally time to eat we'd take our time at the table. Sometimes it'd take hours to get through an ordinary dinner. We'd tell stories and giggle, and eat wonderful food.
On special occasions, Mother would plan elegant meals and dress up the house. One of her special creations was ricotta pie. Laced with Grand Marnier, chocolate and orange, it was the finish to many holiday and party meals. In those days, this dessert required a little muscle because the cheese had to be stirred and stirred by hand to obtain the proper consistency. That's when two daughters in the kitchen became less of a nuisance to my mother.
These days, ricotta pie is much easier to make--and no less memorable--with the help of a Kitchen Aid.
STELLA TOMBURRANO SERRITELLI'S RICOTTA PIE
2 (2-pound) cartons ricotta cheese
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
4 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup Grand Marnier
Grated zest of 2 oranges
4 ounces semisweet chocolate pieces
1 (10-inch) ready-made fine pastry pie shell, baked
Bittersweet chocolate shavings
Strips orange zest, curled
Combine ricotta and whipping cream in large bowl of heavy-duty mixer. Cream well. Slowly add powdered sugar, beating until mixture is creamy. Beat in vanilla, liqueur and grated zest. Stir in chocolate.
Cover filling with plastic wrap and let stand in refrigerator at least 12 hours.
When ready to serve, mound filling onto pie shell, swirling top as desired. Decorate with bittersweet chocolate shavings and orange curls.
Serve with Asti Spumante or Champagne. Makes 1 (10-inch) pie.
Note: Heavy-duty mixer will give filling finer, creamier consistency.
Styling by Minnie Bernardino and Donna Deane