Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pesto Cheesecake

Usually when someone mentions cheesecake, you immediately think of something rich and sweet and creamy with graham crackers and strawberries or blueberries or chocolate or a million other delicious and fabulous dessert variations. But have you ever thought of serving a cheesecake as a savory appetizer? The first time I ever heard of a savory cheesecake was a few years ago when my sister, Jeanie, made one for a family holiday event. It was delicious! I seem to remember hers also had tomatoes and fresh herbs. I guess one could come up with as many savory varieties of cheesecake as dessert varieties! Think of it as one of those herb cheese spreads that comes in a little tub, only much much better!
This is another recipe from Eileen and I'm thrilled that she shared it with me. I'm not sure if it's hers or where she got it, but like I always say, since she gave it to me, she gets the credit. You should definitely give this one a try.
Thanx Eileen!

Pesto ingredients:
1 package fresh basil, about 1/2 cup
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese -- grated

Cheesecake ingredients:
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese -- grated
2 package,8oz cream cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese -- grated
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
3 large eggs
1/4 cup pine nuts

For Pesto:
Finely chop first three ingredients in processor. With motor still running pour olive oil slowly down feed tube, process until well incorporated. Add 1/2 cup grated Parmesan and blend well. You could also use 1/2 cup of your favorite commercial pesto sauce or 1/2 cup Chris's Pesto Sauce.

For Cheesecake:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Rub butter over bottom and sides of an 8- or 9-inch spring form pan. Mix breadcrumbs with 2 tablespoons Parmesan and coat pan with the crumb mixture. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, ricotta, Parmesan, salt and cayenne in a large bowl until light. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Transfer half of mixture to medium bowl. Mix pesto mixture into remaining half. Pour pesto mixture into prepared pan; smooth top. Carefully spoon plain mixture over; gently smooth top. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup pine nuts and bake until center no longer moves when pan is shaken, about 45 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool completely. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Serve with crackers.

Tips from Joey:
For a pesto swirled cheesecake, you could spoon the plain mixture alternately with the pesto mixture, then swirl it with knife instead of adding all of the pesto mixture to the pan and then adding all of the plain mixture on top of it.
For an elegant presentation, decorate the top of the chilled cheesecake with slices of fresh tomato or sun dried tomatoes and some fresh basil leaves. You could even cut grape tomatoes in half and arrange them around the perimeter of the cake (I think that's how my sister did it).
Obviously, this recipe makes an entire cheesecake, which might be too much for your intimate party. Here's one solution. After baking it, you can cut the whole cake into quarters and just serve one wedge at your party. Wrap the remainder of the cheesecake in plastic and then foil and store it in the freezer until your next party. Then all you'll have to do is take it out of the freezer in time to let it thaw, then garnish just before you serve.

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