By peoplestaff225
Updated December 08, 2020 01:03 PM
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Sasha Alexander

While holiday time is traditionally all about family, Sasha Alexander wanted to create a special day just for her friends.

“At the end of every year I always feel very reflective, and so I always do a gratitude dinner or a gratitude lunch to thank [my girlfriends] for being there for me, and for being amazing women,” the actress, 41, told PEOPLE of her unique holiday tradition.

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The yearly celebration begins with Alexander tying a red piece of yarn to guests’ wrists as they arrive for good luck and health. “It’s an old Italian tradition,” explains the Rizzoli & Isles star. “It’s something you’re supposed to keep on as long as it stays on.”

Another traditional element of her gratitude celebration is her menu, which is inspired by her Italian culture. This year’s meal included recipes from iconic actress Sophia Loren, who happens to be Alexander’s mother-in-law (Alexander is married to director Edoardo Ponti, 41).

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Alexander’s favorite dish? “The ricotta cake is pretty amazing, I have to say,” she says. “It’s pretty awesome, especially if you serve it with raspberries on top!”

During the meal, Alexander takes some time to thank each of her friends individually for being a part of her life.

“I really treasure the friendships with the women in my life because they’re the ones I call and can talk about anything with,” says the mother of Lucia, 8, and Leonardo, 3. “We all have such busy and full lives, and especially when you have children and families, and you’re juggling work and kids, you just don’t get to spend that time together to just say, ‘Thank you’ and ‘You’re so awesome.’ ”

Sofia Loren’s Ricotta Pie
(from Loren’s cookbook Recipes & Memories)
Makes 8 to 10 servings

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar, divided
Large pinch of salt
8 tbsp. cold, unsalted butter, cubed
2 large eggs, divided
4 large egg yolks, divided
3¼ tsp. lemon zest, divided
1 (16-oz.) carton whole milk ricotta
2 tbsp. pine nuts
2 tbsp. golden raisins
1 tbsp. minced candied orange peel
1 tbsp. minced candied citron
All-purpose flour (for rolling out the dough)
Unsalted butter (for greasing the pan)

1. Whisk together flour, ½ cup sugar and salt in a large bowl. Blend in chilled butter using a fork or by hand until mixture resembles coarse meal; set aside.
2. Whisk together 1 egg, 1 egg yolk and ¼ tsp. lemon zest; add to flour mixture, stirring just until blended. Add 2 to 3 tsp. ice water to mixture, if necessary, to hold dough together. Shape about two-thirds of the dough mixture into a ball; flatten dough into a ½-in. thick disc, and wrap in plastic wrap. Repeat procedure with remaining dough. Chill dough at least 1 hour.
3. Whisk together ricotta, remaining sugar, 1 egg and 2 egg yolks until smooth. Stir in pine nuts, next 3 ingredients and remaining lemon zest; set aside.
4. Preheat oven to 350º. Place larger ball of dough on a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle top of dough and rolling pin with flour. Roll dough into a ¼-in.-thick, 12-in. circle. Transfer to a well-buttered 9-in. pie or tart pan with removable sides. Press dough gently in place; allow dough edges to hang over sides of pan.
5. Pour ricotta mixture into tart shell; smooth top with small spatula. Cover loosely and chill.
6. Place remaining dough on a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle top of dough and rolling pin with flour. Roll dough into a ¼-in.-thick, 9×11-in. rectangle. Cut dough into ½-in. strips using a pastry wheel or a small, very sharp knife.
7. Remove filled tart shell from refrigerator. Arrange dough strips diagonally over filling to create a lattice pattern. Trim excess ends of dough strips. Fold edges of tart shell pastry to cover ends of lattice strips; crimp edges to seal.
8. Whisk together remaining egg yolk and 1 to 2 tsp. water until blended. Brush egg mixture evenly over pastry edges and lattice strips.
9. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until crust is golden and filling is puffed. Transfer to wire rack; cool 15 minutes. Remove sides of tart pan; cool tart completely on a wire rack. Serve at room temperature.

–Gabrielle Olya

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