/Crostata di Ricotta

Crostata di Ricotta

For me, ricotta desserts are more than just rich, delicious temptations. They are slices of history that tell of Rome’s past. A sliver of ricotta crostata (tart), cassola (pancake), or torta (cake) brings two eras of Roman history to mind. The first is antiquity, when Romans used honey to sweeten locally produced sheep’s milk ricotta to make desserts. In his De Agricultura Cato gives us the recipe for Savillum, an ancient cheesecake made by baking ricotta mixed with honey, egg, and flour.

A far more significant era that ricotta desserts evoke is late 15th century Rome. In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella expelled Jews from Sicily and Sardinia (a few years later Jews would be banished from the rest of Spanish territory in Southern Italy). Some of Sicily’s 35,000 Jews fled to Rome, bringing with them their Sicilian, Arab-influenced ricotta recipes. The Arabs introduced cane sugar and reintroduced citrus to the island in the 9th century. Sicilian ricotta desserts were produced by Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities using sugar and citrus, so when Sephardic Jews came to Rome in the late 15th century, they brought their culinary traditions with them. Today, ricotta desserts are a prominent part of Roman Jewish cuisine and, like other typical Jewish dishes like carciofo alla giudia, they have been co-opted by Rome’s non-Jewish community and are widely available in restaurants throughout the city.

2016-01-07T03:42:08+00:00 February 18th, 2010|Categories: Culture, Daily Food Photo, Gastronomic Traditions, Rome & Lazio, Sicily, Sweets & Dessert|6 Comments


  1. Tom February 18, 2010 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the lesson Katie! I am a ricotta dessert fiend…in fact I love ricotta any which way. Now I have a better perspective on these delicious desserts. Food history is fascinating; had I know this was an option for study way back when I was in college, I certainly would have gone that path. Thanks again!

  2. ciaochowlinda February 19, 2010 at 1:13 am - Reply

    It’s one of my favorite recipes from a friend of mine whose family is Roman and Jewish.

  3. Frederik February 19, 2010 at 10:08 am - Reply

    Talking about food history… Do you know about any “History of food” in the way Mark Kurlansky wrote about oysters, cod and salt?

  4. Kosher Rome and Jewish Sites February 24, 2010 at 7:05 am - Reply

    […] necessary to mark this famous parve bakery at the western end of Via Portico d’Ottavia. Their ricotta cakes, amaretti (almond paste cookies) and cinnamon and almond biscotti are always a bit burnt but […]

  5. […] giudia (fried artichokes), straccetti di vitella con carciofi (strips of veal with artichokes), and torta di ricotta. Chag […]

  6. Lo Sfinge October 30, 2010 at 6:14 pm - Reply

    […] love of ricotta in all its sweet forms is no secret. I couldn’t turn down a cassata, crostata, or cannolo to save my life. My obsession with lo sfinge is no less intense. And while many are […]

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