Lemony and Light Ricotta Pie


When Jan Rhenow in Harrington wrote me to say that she had enjoyed an Italian Cheese Pie she’d been served but the recipe for which the maker wouldn’t share, the first question I had was, “Was it sweet or savory?” Turns out that it was sweet and, as I suspected, made with ricotta. So we asked and it was great to hear from four of you readers who sent recipes.

Joanne Fuerst in Mount Desert, wrote that the request in the paper “rang bells” for her and she rummaged in her recipe stash for a recipe she used to make often but had forgotten about, except to recall it was tasty and a good summer dessert. She was glad to be reminded about it and said she’d whip one up “as soon as it gets above 50 degrees out.”

Nancy Lombardi in Bar Harbor said that the recipe she sent was her family’s favorite pie for special occasions and noted that the crust can be very hard to handle and one might end up spreading it by hand in the pan. She likes citrus flavoring in it.

Joanne Brown in Winter Harbor remembers her mother making ricotta pie, sans recipe, so she and her sister-in-law picked up her recipe while taking a cooking class at the local vocational school taught by an old Italian baker. Tweaking what was essentially a professional bakers recipe, they agreed that the result was “pretty close to Nana’s recipe.”

Elsa Sanborn, Bangor, found her recipe in a decades-old Joy of Cooking. She wrote, “I remember that my mother, who had absolutely no Italian background, made it for a young man my brothers had befriended,” who was from an Italian family. Like Joanne’s recipe, Elsa’s called for pine nuts.

As I usually do, I compared recipes to see what all hand in common, and aimed for a recipe that I thought most of you could make easily and enjoy. As I read through the recipes, I own I was a little worried that the pie filling would be heavy. Not so: the beaten eggs lightened it right up, and I chose a lemon for flavoring so it had a wonderful fresh, bright taste. I decided to leave out pine nuts this time (house guest with nut allergy) but I think a couple ounces of them, toasted , would be a terrific addition.

Three of the crust recipes accompanying the filling recipes called for an egg. I never use egg in pastry but I did this time, and it made for a slightly denser crust than usual which did require gentle handling because it was rich and prone to cracking. It was perhaps a little more like shortbread than I usually prefer, but why don’t you try it once, then next time you can revert to your favorite crust if you want. It might be a good idea to bake the pastry for about ten minutes before adding the filling.

One of the recipes called for a glaze of apricot jam and brandy but I was fresh out of apricot jam so used peach instead.

Lemony and Light Ricotta Pie
Serves: Makes one nine to ten inch pie.
  • Pastry
  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 ounces or 1 stick of butter
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • Cold water
  • Filling
  • 1 pound ricotta cheese
  • 3 eggs, beaten until frothy
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Juice and grated rind of one lemon
  • A couple tablespoons of jam and of brandy, optional
  1. In a food processor or bowl with pastry cutter, work together the flour, butter, sugar, until it looks like cornmeal.
  2. Drop in the egg and work until the dough begins to form a ball, adding a very little cold water if needed to produce smooth dough.
  3. Chill for an hour or until you are ready to assemble the pie.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Beat together the cheese, eggs, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and rind.
  6. Assemble the pie by rolling out the pastry and laying it in a nine to ten inch pie plate. Pinch the edges, and prick the pastry in the pie plate.
  7. Bake, if you wish, for ten minutes.
  8. Then add the filling, and bake for forty to forty five minutes until the filling is set and a knife inserted comes out clean.
  9. After the glaze has cooled a little, mix the jam and brandy in a small saucepan and heat until it thickens somewhat.
  10. Spread on top of the cooled filling. Chill.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.