It continues to intrigue me how much more connected I have grown to the food and culture of my Italian heritage since moving to Maine, where I am away from the family, bakeries, and cities that have always been there to sate my cravings for specialty desserts and cured meats. My critical palate for Italian food has led to me to focus on learning how to make my favorite foods from scratch.
Next in line was pizza dolce. I called my grandmother and finally penned down her recipe for pizza dolce, pronounced by my Southern Italian family as “pizza dulch.” Traditionally made around Easter, this sweet pie is an Italian cheesecake made with ricotta. The grainy-smooth ricotta cheese results in a very light cheesecake, and the vanilla extract, orange blossom water, and cinnamon combine elegantly on the tongue. My mom and her sisters have the recipe, but I opted to go straight to the source: Mommom.
She rattled off the ingredients list with no hesitation and no recipe. For the crust, she recommended mixing the dry ingredients and adding water “until it-a form-a the dough.” For the filling, she instructed to add “half a box” of this to “a small glass” of that, among other equally vague steps. Her delivery left me stranded in a territory where many feel uncomfortable: baking without an exact recipe.
I barely use recipes to cook, but when I bake, I am still pretty reliant on them. The old world cook embodied in my grandmother doesn’t sweat the small stuff because she doesn’t need to. She knows how her food should come out and has perfected recipes by look and feel. She knows how each ingredient will alter the outcome, and I can only hope to gain some of this intuition with the mainstays of my family’s culinary history. If this pizza dolce project says anything, it whispers, “You’re on the right track.”