Every family celebration is important to Italians – whether it be holidays, birthdays, or just a family gathering – each require much preparation.

For holidays like Easter and Christmas, we get started the week before, making anything that will freeze well, like the meatballs and some of the drier cookies. By the time the holiday arrives, there is a bounty on the table to celebrate.

The table looks something like this: Many extra chairs are brought in because most likely some friends are invited, along with family. We set the table with a white tablecloth and the best china and crystal, which usually sit in the china cabinet only to be used for special occasions like this.

Then the meal – starting with an antipasto that always has prosciutto, salami, provolone and olives as well as roasted red pepper. Next we have a pasta dish with meatballs, followed by lamb and a vegetable; lamb is very important to this holiday. All that is followed by a salad, because in Italy the salad is at the end of the meal, since we believe it helps with digestion.

Next is the fruit bowl with apples and anything in season followed by … finally … espresso and Italian cake.

Italian cake is made with ricotta cheese and a very special Italian liqueur: Strega, which is Italian for “witch.” This liqueur is used in everything in our household because it is made in Benevento – my family’s hometown in Italy, which is also where we have a little house.

You can find the ricotta in any supermarket, but you may need to order the liqueur. I promise it will be worth finding, as it will give the cake a unique flavor from its saffron base. Your guests will surely ask for a second piece.

Ingredients for Rosemaria Altieri’s Italian Cake. Baking Powder, Butter, Cake Flour, Ricotta Cheese, Milk, Eggs, Sugar and Liquore Strega. Additional information: ricotta.p0405 Photo by Nick Koon / The Orange County Register. Ricotta Cake as prepared by Rosemaria Altieri.

Italian Cake

Yield: About 36 pieces

1/2 cup butter (one stick)

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups cake flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup Strega liqueur (see cook’s note)

8 ounces ricotta

Here’s where you can order Strega Liqueur with a discount!

Beverly Hills Liquor and Wine – Shop online and get a discount when you use the code: BEN

Cook’s note: If you can’t find Strega, other Italian liqueurs substitute, such as Galliano, Anisette, Frangelico or Amaretto.


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, cut the butter into tablespoon-size pieces. Using an electric mixer on low setting, cream the butter. Add the sugar a little at a time until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time until well blended.

3. In another small bowl or a measuring cup, mix the flour, salt and baking powder. When it’s well blended, add the flour mixture to the batter a little a time, incorporating the flour with the mixer before adding more.

4. Add the milk and blend well. Then add the Strega.

5. Pour the batter into a 9-by-13-inch nonstick pan. If you don’t have a nonstick pan, use parchment paper as a liner.

6. Dot the top of the batter with spoonfuls of ricotta.

7. Bake for 22-24 minutes. The cake is done when you insert a toothpick and it comes out clean.

8. Let cake cool for about 30 minutes before cutting into it. This will allow the ricotta to bind a bit.

By Rosemaria Altieri

Follow Rosemaria on Instagram @RosemariaBeauty