It all started with meatballs and a piece written by an extroverted freelance writer with a desire to gather friends, family and strangers around her table and to share food and build community. ‘Friday Night Meatballs‘ became a movement of sorts and Facebook exploded with people who wanted to create their own Friday Night experiences. We really liked the concept too and while we cannot commit to an ‘every Friday night’ format, but we knew having people over for a meal on a somewhat regular basis was something we wanted to do.
It was a chilly Sunday afternoon in January when we had our first ‘dinner party’; rain changed to fat, wet snowflakes and back to rain again but it didn’t matter because candles were lit, flowers ‘fluffed’ and the voices of Paul McCartney, Tracy Chapman and Sara Bareilles mixed with Boyce Avenue, Alex Claire and Sam Smith. Our table was set with an ecclectic smattering of patterns in both dishware and napkins – the hazard of being food photographers – nothing ever matches; crayons and scraps of paper for doodling as well as carafes of water, flavored with citrus slices were placed on a large, slatted teak garden table that now permanently resides indoors.
The Professor and I had done most of the cooking the day before – nothing fancy-schmancy, just good, old-fashioned comfort food in the way of Chicken Pot Pie with Cheddar biscuits, a simple salad dressed with an olive oil vinaigrette and glasses filled with plenty of wine. A fabulous ricotta cheesecake with puddles of soft, sweet, sticky, strawberry spoonfruit rounded out the meal.
I didn’t stress about the house not being perfect, the wallpaper not being hung yet, the floors that still need to be replaced or the walls that still stand half-painted. What mattered was the gathering of friends, the hugs, the laughter as well as moments of serious conversation.
And we honestly can’t wait to do it again soon.
This is a perfect dessert for dinner parties as it needs to be baked the day ahead and chilled before serving. The recipe comes from award-winning cookbook author, radio talk-show host, restaurant critic, and cooking teacher, Arthur Schwartz. He published this recipe many years ago in the New York Daily News, where he was the executive food editor, columnist and restaurant critic. Arthur was kind enough to allow me to publish it here – you can find his latest book here.
GLUTEN-FREE RICOTTA CHEESECAKE WITH STRAWBERRY SPOON FRUIT
Arthur Schwartz, used with permission
Makes one, 9-inch cake
- 1/2 cup finely ground finely ground gluten-free Graham crackers
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1/3 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour (use your brand/mix of choice)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 pounds whole milk ricotta (no substitutions please)
- 9 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- Grated zest of 1 orange
- Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees
- Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Refrigerate the pan for 10 minutes. Dust the bottom and side of the pan with the amaretti or other crumbs, pressing lightly to make a thin layer adhere
- To insure against leaks when the pan is put in a water bath, wrap the outside of the springform with a sheet of aluminum foil
- Break all the eggs into a large mixing bowl; set aside
- In a small mixing bowl, combine and stir together the sugar, flour, and salt; set aside
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, on medium speed, beat the ricotta until it is smooth, about 30 seconds
- Set the speed to medium-low and gradually add the eggs to the ricotta until all are well incorporated
- Add the vanilla and the zests
- On low speed, add in the dry ingredients just until well mixed; don’t overmix but you want all the flour to be incorporated
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place the foil-wrapped springform into a larger pan, and fill the outside pan with boiling water to come half-way up the side of the springform. (Depending on the size of the outside pan, rather than pour the water around the springform when it is already in place, it is often easier and safer to pour the water in the outside pan first – remembering that the springform will displace some of it.) Bake for 1 1/2 hours
- Remove the cake in its water bath and let the cake cool in the water bath until the water is tepid
- Carefully remove the springform from the water bath, keeping the aluminum foil in place. Finish cooling the cake on a rack
- When cooled to room temperature, refrigerate for at least 3 hours before removing from the pan; the cake actually tastes better the day after it is baked and refrigerated for at least 24 hours
- Served chilled with Strawberry Spoon Fruit – I used this recipe substituting strawberries for the blueberries