This is a classic Easter dessert recipe eaten in Italy... and is most definitely a tradition worth trying no matter where you're from. This cake is like a cross between custard, cheesecake, and rice pudding-- and it tastes like heaven. Leave a little extra time for prep, as you need to drain the ricotta cheese overnight to keep the cake from getting soggy. This Easter dessert recipe serves about 16 people, though you may have to plan for everyone asking for seconds! Use a real vanilla bean if you can --it's definitely worth it!-- but if you can't, substitute 2 teaspoons of high-quality vanilla extract.
At least several hours but preferably the day before you are to make the cake, drain the ricotta through a layer or two of cheesecloth. When it's time to make the cake: In a large, heavy saucepan, bring milk to a boil. Stir in the rice, cinnamon and salt. With a sharp knife, slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, and add that as well. Reduce heat to med-low. Cook, stirring often (use a wooden spoon for this) about 30 minutes. At the end of the cook time, the rice should be soft and tender and the milk should have been absorbed. Take the pan off the heat and stir in 3/4 cup of your sugar. Cover and allow mixture to cool. Stir it occasionally with a wooden spoon to keep it from sticking. Remove the vanilla bean (this can be thrown away or reserved for other uses). Grease and flour an 8" springform pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small mixing bowl, separate the yolks from 3 of your eggs, discarding the whites (or reserve for another use). Beat yolks gently. Add your additional three whole eggs (whites included) and mix gently (don't over beat). In a large mixing bowl, carefully fold together the ricotta cheese, eggs/yolk mixture, the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and your sweetened rice mixture. Be gentle with the mixture, and use a spatula for best results. Pour batter into your prepared baking pan. Bake until only very slightly jiggly in the middle and golden on top, anywhere from 65 to 80 minutes. Cook time will vary widely depending on your oven, so keep an eye on the cake at the end of the cooking time. You may have to cover it with foil if it begins to brown too much before it is set. When brown and mostly set, remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Let cool completely before attempting to remove from pan. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve at room temperature. Garnish with sliced strawberries, if desired.