Here is what you don’t know about Henry – up until recently, he had set foot into 49 of our 50 states. So when conversation commenced last spring about where we should travel in the fall, he voted for Hawaii, the last state on his bucket list. I was lukewarm about the idea, but hey, when it comes to travel, I’m game for just about anything.
Since neither one of us had a clue about the place, we turned to “Travel Agent Extraordinaire”, Doreen Lewis. With her assistance, we ended up on three islands, experienced everything from volcanoes to lava walks to Jurassic Park (not kidding) to beautiful beaches, luxurious hotels (well, except for the cottage in Volcano Village which was kind of like camping), amazing food and memorable sunsets. We ate a lot of ahi, fresh from the sea (tuna poke is now on my list of what I want on the menu for my last meal) and became addicted to papaya with fresh lime. And while we dined well, it’s probably the first vacation where I didn’t gain any weight. Oh yeah, I would definitely go back!
But alas, reality intrudes and you find yourself hopscotching back to the mainland on a not-so-wonderful plane because you have departed from a small island where they can’t bring in jumbo jets. You spend 5 hours on that crappy plane, change to a slightly bigger one in LA and arrive home jet-lagged and exhausted. In a perfect world, you would take a few days to recover, but that is only if you don’t have a son who is opening a craft brewery here in Atlanta. Yes, you heard me correctly.
More to come about this later, but for now, I will just tell you that my eldest son Andy has embarked upon this venture and it is really, really exciting. They are opening this spring on the Atlanta Beltline and marketing efforts are well underway. That includes craft beer tastings at Andy’s home. Enter Mom.
We arrived home from Hawaii on a Tuesday evening and a tasting was scheduled for Thursday. Natch, it was my job to provide the food. I decided to keep it simple, largely because I was still jet-lagged and barely functional. I remembered that big batch of pesto I made from the last of my summer basil and pulled it out of the freezer. Savory cheesecake was in order. That and a bunch of truffled popcorn. Done and done. Can Mom go back to bed now?
For the crust:
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup grated Parmesan (I used Reggiano)
For the cheesecake:
24 oz. cream cheese ( 3 8-oz. packages), softened
2 cups ricotta cheese (you can use reduced fat, but why bother?)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (you can use more or less to taste)
4 eggs (I used extra-large)
2 cups pesto (can be purchased if you don’t have your own on hand)
1 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Maldon or coarse sea salt for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan.
To make the crust, combine panko, melted butter and Parmesan. Press into the bottom of the prepared springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes, until just set. Remove from oven to cool slightly and reduce heat to 325-degrees.
In an electric mixture, beat cream cheese until smooth and no lumps remain. Add ricotta, salt and cayenne and mix just until well-blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Divide batter in half. Stir the pesto into one half and leave the other half plain.
Pour the pesto batter into the prepared pan. Scatter the pine nuts over the top, the cover with the remaining (plain) batter. Sprinkle the top with Maldon or coarse sea salt.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until cheesecake is just set but still slightly wobbly in the center. Remove to a rack and cool completely, then wrap in plastic and chill overnight.
When ready to serve, run a knife around edges of pan and remove springform. Place cheesecake on a serving platter and garnish with fresh basil leaves, if desired. Serve in very thin wedges.
Cheers and Happy Holidays y'all!