I think it’s pretty obvious to say that I am very happy I passed the first challenge of the Project Food Blog Competition. Of course I’m happy because I can advance with the competition but most importantly because I have been thinking about the post for the second challenge since when the competition started. Why am I so excited about the second challenge? Because it gives me a chance to share with you a recipe that is very dear to me. Not because it is a family recipe or because I have made it many times before and really mastered it. Quite the opposite! I had eaten it a couple of times (and loved it) but never made it. The challenge gave me the opportunity to make it for the first time in my life and to do some research about it.
Paskha from the top: I loved topping it with sliced almond and little pieces of orange peel. A simple decoration made me appreciate more the taste and texture of the paskha
The dish I’m talking about is the Paskha: a traditional Easter Russian dessert made with cottage cheese, cream, hard-boiled eggs (yes, you’ve heard me! Hard-boiled eggs! Speaking of going out of my comfort zone!), almonds and sometimes other things. In Russia, it is made in a four-sided, truncated pyramidal mold but it can be made in a cheesecloth-lined metal mold, which is what I did it, or even in a clay flowerpot (what a cute idea). The name of the dish comes from “Pascha“, the Eastern Orthodox celebration of Easter and it’s usually served with Kolach or Kulich, a braided egg bread.
This recipe is very dear to me because of the story behind it and I’m very excited about sharing both the recipe and the story.
During the summer I turned 9 years old a cute, interesting-looking girl of around my age came with her family to visit a friend of mine in our little town (2,000 people! Yes, that’s “little” even in Italy!). She was Russian, when Russian was still part of the USSR. For me, a little, provincial but super curious kid, that was a turning point in life! That was my first REAL encounter with “the diverse”. Up until that day, I had only dreamed of meeting “a foreigner”. My sole knowledge of a different culture was through the tv and through the countless books I was reading at local public library every Saturday afternoon after school. (Yes, we do go to school on Saturday in Italy! And yes I was already a nerd! A cute nerd J )
I actually made two small size pashka instead of a single big one. If you make two you can decorate them in different ways and make everybody happy!
At that time, I could only dream of a true encounter with “the foreign” and I was constantly creating entire movies in my mind about what was going to happen in that moment of encounter. And then one day one of my friends showed up at the park with this girl. Being the curious of the group of friends (and being the only one that could at least say “hello, what’s your name” in English!) I was immediately drawn to her. I could not say much more than that in English and she could not even say that! However, as every child of this planet, we were able to play together and communicate as no grown up could have done in the same situation. We spent two weeks playing together unnameable games and saying so many wordless things. Those two weeks were a lot of fun and they opened my mind as few other things did in my life. That’s when I decided that, as a grown up, I would have been a touristic guide, spoke at least 10 languages and visited all the country of the world! Of course, that did not happen but it’s irrelevant to this story J
What is relevant is that, the very same day my new friend left, I started to develop a real obsession for all things Russian. I spent months with an atlas on my desk, learning the name of every city, river, lake, mountain of Russia and I borrowed a little book from the local library to teach myself Russian. I did not go farther than the alphabet (man, the Cyrillic alphabet is hard!). As with many other things, my obsession with all things Russian faded away eventually but one thing stuck to my mind until these days: the taste of the paskha that my little friend’s parents made for their last dinner in our little town.
Since then I had paskha only one other time, while I was living in London (you can really find anything in London) but I never knew the recipe. So for this challenge I started looking around for a recipe that could be close to the original. I found several recipes in books and online but many were a simplification of the real one. For example, only cream cheese was used instead of a combination of cream cheese and cottage cheese and hard-boiled eggs were left out. But at that point, what’s the difference with a cheesecake? So I asked a friend of mine, whose grandparents are Russian, if she could find me a family recipe. I trust family recipes much more than recipes found online. Of course, every family has its own recipe, with minor variations from the original one as much as every Italian family has slightly different tiramisu recipes. But all in all, I felt this was the closest to the original I could get.
Do you want to see how it looks inside? Boy it was hard taking this picture. The paskha was starting to melt :(
Working with cottage cheese and above all with hard-boiled eggs was very weird for me! Not that these two ingredients are foreign to me but for sure I would have never thought of putting hard-boiled eggs in a dessert! (when I told my husband how the recipe was supposed to be he commented with a loud “Ewwww, I’m not going to eat that!” but then he ate almost half of it!) And making a Russian recipe was totally out of my comfort zone because I know nothing about Russian cuisine. But now I can say I have made paskha!
450 gr (16 oz) cottage cheese
113 gr (4 oz or ½ cup) cream cheese, cubed and softened
200 gr (7.1 oz or 1 cup) granulated sugar
3 large hard-boiled egg yolks, crumbled
175 ml (6 fl oz or 3/4 cup) heavy cream
25 gr (0.8 oz or 1/3 cup) almonds
30 gr (1 oz or 1/4 cup) raisins
2 gr (1/4 tsp) lemon zest
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract
sliced or chopped candied fruits (optional)
Place the cottage cheese, the cream cheese, the sugar and the egg yolks (already cooked, cooled and crumbled) into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until smooth. Add the cream and continue to pulse.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Add the almonds, the raisins, the lemon zest, and the vanilla extract and stir until the ingredients are well combined.
Line a paskha mold or a clean terracotta flowerpot or a metal mold with a double layer of cheesecloth. Add the mixture to mold. Cover with an additional cheesecloths over the top of the paskha and weight down with a soup or vegetable can.
Place the paskha in the refrigerator with a large plate underneath, allowing liquid to drain, for at least 12 hours or overnight.
To serve, carefully invert the mold and remove the cheesecloths. Decorate with additional nuts and/or candied fruit.
Have a sweet day!
Source: family recipe of my friend Zsuzsanna