Sweet strawberry pizza with cannoli cream


Dear Lynne: Our big family loves light desserts, not rich and heavy ones. Do you have anything with strawberries that is not strawberry shortcake and isn't time-consuming? -- Jimmi

Dear Jimmi: I am assuming you don't mean "lite" desserts, as in those made with artificial whips, and fake "low-fat" or sugar substitutes. Obviously, I've got a bias at work here. Those treats aren't. They never truly satisfy.

Instead, see what you think of a sweet pizza. A flaky pie pastry is rolled very thin (so each slice is truly light), then baked on a big pizza pan. That could be done a day or two ahead. Top with fruit or a sprinkle of sugar or add a little of this takeoff on the ricotta cream used in Sicily's sweet cannoli. Everything can be waiting in the wings so you pull it together in literally 5 minutes.


Serve 8 to 12


With a crust you make a couple of days in advance, toppings that need no cooking and practically no effort, this is one of those strawberry-season concoctions that could put shortcake out to pasture.

Ricotta for Better, for Worse:

For something so simple, ricotta can get very complicated and frustrating for the obsessive types among us. Good ricotta just makes you smile. It's a milk essence of soft curds, naturally sweet with a little tang.

You could make your own -- 1 gallon whole milk (with a little cream if you'd like) and a 1/2 teaspoon salt warmed over medium-high heat with 2/3 cup lemon juice until billowy, semi-firm curds form on the surface. Scoop them off, then drain them in a cheese-cloth-lined colander, and that is your ricotta.

So why is it a labor of Hercules to find decent ricotta unless you live where lots of Italian markets thrive?

Grainy, mean and dull-tasting says it all about most supermarket ricottas. Check labels -- if the cheese is doctored up with gelatin and preservatives, move on. If the label reads whole milk (not skim), acid or a culture, and maybe cream, you are onto something. At least one national brand (there mustbe others, but I haven't come across them yet) is an exception to the supermarket rule: Polly-O whole-milk ricotta is worth seeking out. And if fresh sheep's-milk ricotta shows up, grab it because this is what is the traditional cheese for this filling when it's made on its home turf of Sicily.

Pie Pastry:

1-1/2 cups (7.5 ounces) all-purpose unbleached flour (measure by dipping cups into the flour sack, then leveling by sweeping a knife over the top of the cup -- don't tamp down or pack in any way)
Generous 1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 stick plus 2 tablespoon (5 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 large egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon vanilla
2 to 4 tablespoons cold water

In a freezer bag, combine the flour, salt, sugar and chunks of butter. Freeze for 30 minutes to several days. When ready to make the crust, turn the bag's contents into a food processor or large bowl. Use the rapid pulse in the processor -- or, in a bowl, use your fingertips or a pastry cutter -- to work the butter into the flour. The butter should be in pea-sized clumps.

Add egg and 2 tablespoons of water. Pulse just until dough gathers into clumps, or toss with a fork until moistened and you can pinch together a piece of dough. If dry, work in another 1 to 2 tablespoons water.

Oil a 14- to 16-inch pizza pan. Roll out dough on a floured board to an extremely thin 17-inch round. Arrange on pan. Trim away all but 1-1/2 inches of excess pastry. Fold it inward to make a rim. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to overnight.

Set rack as low as possible in oven. Preheat to 450 degrees. Spread a piece of foil over the pastry and weight it with raw rice or dried beans. Bake 10 minutes, carefully lift off the foil, pierce the crust all over with a fork and bake another 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden. Cool at room temperature.

Assemble pizza as described here.

Cannoli Cream and Strawberries

1 quart strawberries, hulled and quartered or halved
2 teaspoons sugar
2 cups whole-milk ricotta (about 1 to 1-1/2 pounds) (Polly-O is one sound brand)
1/4 to 1/3 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 to 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped candied fruit (citron or cherries, or any other type), or dried cherries or pineapple)
2/3 cup salted shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
Pinch of salt

Gently combine the berries with the 2 teaspoons sugar and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients, using all but 3 tablespoons of the pistachios.

Daub teaspoonfuls of the ricotta mixture here and there over the crust. Then scatter the berries over the crust. Finally, sprinkle with the pistachios. Serve soon after assembling.

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