If it wasn't clear from the shelves at your local spirits store, or the cocktail menu at your favorite bar, or even the place where you stock up on cookbooks, amaro—that Italian bittersweet liqueur known for its herbal, spiced, and citrus flavor—has become a staple at bars in the U.S. these days. (Let's all take a moment to say thanks for this development.)
Amaro translates to "bitter" in Italian, and is consumed as a digestif after a large, lush meal. It's one of my favorite liqueurs to mix into other cocktails and also drink on its own.
Let me briefly tell you how I came to love this drink: I used to work at this Italian restaurant in Brooklyn, Frankie's 457 Spuntino. As all my friends will tell you, this is my favorite restaurant in Brooklyn, and it’s decidedly Italian-American dishes are at the top of my, and my husband's, comfort food list. There is very little I'd rather do in an evening than sit at their cozy bar, flanked by cavatelli, red wine, and Caesar salad. At Frankie's, the bar is lined with amaro of all kinds and when friends of the restaurant, or the errant celebrities, come to eat, the really big bottle of Amaro Averna inevitably is taken down and ceremoniously poured into teeny glasses without a drop spilling. It is magic.
There, too, is a very simple and very excellent ricotta cheesecake on the dessert menu. After a shift, or stopping by for dinner on an off night, we'd finish our food, share a piece of cheesecake, and sip on amaro well past 11 p.m. The flavors work so well with one another—the savory-sweet of ricotta and the bitterness of amaro—that it seemed natural to want to stitch them up together as one.
There are bottles upon bottles of amaro you could choose for this dessert, but it really depends on your tastes—and, of course, what's available. Where I live in the Midwest, it's not as easy to find specific bottles, but I uncovered the likes of Cynar—an earthy amaro made with artichokes—and Lazzaroni locally. In New York or other major cities, you'll have your pick.
The amaro, whichever you choose, provides a much-welcome boost in flavor to simple ricotta cheesecake—a wow-and-what?! factor, one that tastes altogether novel and familiar.
For the crust, I should let you know that I have this unhealthy obsession with Anna's Ginger Thins, those red-packaged, wafer-like spiced Swedish cookies that have been made since 1929 (the box screams "Sweden's Most Loved Pepparkaka!"). Those are what I used, because that's the best part of writing your own recipe—you can do with it what you'd like instead of trying to patch a different one to your preferences. (Regular gingersnaps'll work, too! But please, please try to source Anna's if you can.)
I've been dreaming of an amaro version since working for Frankie's in Brooklyn, where I always had one with the other after a long shift. So, I took some cues from their excellent recipe (in their eponymous cookbook) and from Sarah Jampel's lemon bar version. The result? Something slightly bitter, enough sweet, and very creamy—just right to impress friends and family around the holidays.