Rachel Roddy's recipe for coffee and ricotta cream

A satisfying dessert that’s a cross between mousse, cheesecake filling and blancmange – enjoy with a glass of something strong

Rachel Roddy’s coffee and ricotta cream
Ridiculously simple: Rachel Roddy’s coffee and ricotta cream. Photograph: Rachel Roddy/The Guardian
Ridiculously simple: Rachel Roddy’s coffee and ricotta cream. Photograph: Rachel Roddy/The Guardian
Rachel Roddy
Mon 14 Dec 2020 06.00 EST

His prototype in one hand, a cigar in the other, Alfonso would fall asleep in his armchair. This happened most nights, according to his wife Ada, who passed on the story to her grandson. It was 1933, in the village of Crusinallo in Piedmont, and the engineer Alfonso Bialetti’s aluminium prototype, octagonal in shape and taking inspiration from both art deco and futurism, would soon be perfected. He called it La Moka, after the city of Mocha in Yemen.

Bialetti’s Moka, the design of which remains unchanged 87 years later, has three main components: a base boiler pot into which you put the water, a funnel-shaped basket that holds the ground coffee (and balances neatly over the base) and an upper pot with an internal column, outer handle and spout. The principle is steam pressure. By heating the water until it boils in a contained space, it becomes steam-driven and is forced up the funnel, through the coffee grounds and into the middle column, from which it pours, like lava from a volcano, into the upper pot. It’s the best sound in the world at 6.45am, 9am, 11am, after lunch, on the tail of an afternoon slump, a full-stop after a big meal – but it has to be big, otherwise it stops being a digestive and returns to being a shot.

Bialetti’s Moka pot didn’t just revolutionise the preparation of coffee, it revolutionised a ritual and precipitated a social shift. Up until that point, espresso was mostly the preserve of cafe culture; something you had to go out to find, and, when you did find it, it was predominantly male. This small, affordable, eight-sided household object brought the ritual of coffee making into homes, and into everyone’s hands. Initially, it was on a relatively small scale; Alfonso was, according to his grandson Alberto Alessi, a craftsman and dreamer, rather than a businessman – unlike his son. Brilliant in different ways, it was Renato Bialetti who turned a small-scale, hand-crafted product into a mass-produced object during the economic boom of the 1950s. It was also Renato who was caricatured by Paul Campani; the result, l’omino con i baffi (the little moustachioed man with his index finger held up ordering another espresso), is still the mascot of La Moka and printed on two of its eight sides.

Once I’ve padded from my bed to the kitchen, the little moustachioed man is usually the first person I speak to each day, although the voice I hear in my head is my partner Vincenzo’s, exasperated (and right). Don’t fill the water beyond the valve on the inside of the bottom chamber; fill the basket with coffee grounds, allowing them to rise beyond the sides into a small, loose hill (not a mountain), but don’t press them down – screwing on the top half will do that. Screw the top on carefully, then put the pot on a medium-low flame, so it comes to a boil slowly. When the coffee starts erupting, pull it from the heat. Oh, and position the pot so the handle is not licked by the flame, otherwise it will melt. All of this is possibly making it sound complicated, which it isn’t.

Ridiculously simple, and deeply satisfying (somewhere between a mousse, cheesecake filling and blancmange), this pudding is even better with a glass of something – more of whatever you have put in it, ideally. Then, afterwards, an espresso, the reassuring rumble from an eight-sided Moka, machine, jar or however you like your coffee. Alternatively, a comfortable chair to fall asleep in.

Coffee and ricotta cream

Serves 4-6

500g ricotta
125g caster sugar
4 tbsp dark rum
, brandy or marsala
125ml espresso or strong coffee
Coffee beans
, to decorate

Put the ricotta in a large bowl and, with a balloon whisk or immersion blender, whisk quickly, until smooth. Add the sugar, rum and coffee, and whisk again quickly, until smooth – do not overwork it.

Pour into small bowls or glasses, then chill for at least eight hours. Just before serving, top each bowl with a few whole coffee beans.

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