Saturday, February 22, 2014

Light and lovely lemon cheesecake

For really useful recipes, Annabelle White is always a good bet. Last weekend I wanted a light lemony dessert for dinner - for once I've got plenty of lemons, thanks to two kind friends. It had to be something I could make in the afternoon. That ruled out my fabulous lemon mousse recipe - you really need to make it the day before, or very early in the morning. It was going to be too warm an evening for lemon delicious, and a classic lemon tart would take too long.
      So of course I Googled "lemon dessert", and there were plenty. But as soon as I found AW's recipe for a lemon ricotta tart, I knew that was what I would make. It's incredibly simple and it's also relatively low-fat.
       I introduced two variations. AW uses sweet short pastry, but I thought that as it was really a kind of cheesecake, it would be nice with a biscuit-crumb-and-butter case made with gingernuts. And while she specified ricotta, I decided to try it with cottage cheese instead. It's less than half the price of ricotta, and if you beat it thoroughly and then drain it in a sieve, it usually makes a perfectly good substitute. In this case, I wouldn't even need to drain it.

Light lemon ricotta cheesecake 
(adapted from an online NZ Women's Weekly recipe by Annabelle White. I halved the recipe to make a smaller tart - double it for a larger one.)

For the crust:
1 packet gingernuts
100g butter

Spray the sides of a round loose-bottomed cake tin lightly with oil (or grease very lightly with butter). Line the tin with baking paper. It needs to be sticking up all round the base for about 5 cm.
Crush the gingernuts in a food processor, or put them in a plastic bag and bash them to fairly fine crumbs. Put them in a bowl. Melt the butter and stir it thoroughly into the crumbs.
Line the tin with the crumb mixture. Press down to ensure the bottom is even and form the excess crumbs into a nice upstanding rim all around - it will be about 3-4 cm high. Place tin in the fridge to set the base.

For the filling:
2 large eggs
250g ricotta cheese or plain cottage cheese
Zest of 1/2 a large lemon
Juice of 1 large lemon
1/4 cup caster sugar
icing sugar to dust
whipped cream or yoghurt (or a mixture of both) to serve, if desired

Preheat oven to 175C (or 165C on fan-bake).

Put ricotta in food processor. If using cottage cheese instead, beat it well in the food processor before adding the other ingredients.

Add eggs, lemon zest, juice and caster sugar. Process together, using the pulse button, until well mixed. Pour this mixture carefully into the chilled pastry case. Stand on a thin baking sheet with a little rim (in case of any leaks - if you've made the crumb crust carefully, it won't leak.)

Place in the middle of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes and check to see if filling is nicely set. If not, bake for another 5 minutes and check again. (I found this was long enough for the smaller tart. If you are doubling the recipe it will need to cook for about 40-45 minutes.)

Cool, then get the serving plate ready, remove cheesecake carefully from the tin, lift off the base and remove the baking paper. Dust with icing sugar before serving.

I served this with whipped cream, with a spoonful of yoghurt stirred in. It's a lovely light, lemony cheesecake with a restrained shallow filling, nicely offset by the ginger crust - perfect for dessert. And fantastic next day too.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A tasty bronzed Italian

When it comes to food, you really do learn something every day. I wandered into Gamboni's Deli this week in search of some linguine, the nicely flattened pasta that I find much easier to manage than standard spaghetti. Most of the time I buy Barilla in the supermarket, but I go to Tony Gamboni for anything a little out of the ordinary.
           There were two packets of linguine. One was $4.95, the other was $6.95. That's quite a big percentage difference - but on the other hand, it's still not a large amount of money, especially as I don't have other hungry people to feed every day and a 500g packet makes me around six or seven dinners. 

So I asked Tony why they were different prices. He showed me that the more expensive packet said "bronze die".

The big commercial pasta companies, he said, extrude their pasta from machines using Teflon dies. This works really well, because nothing sticks to the Teflon. But that's the problem. The pasta comes out perfectly smooth. Using a bronze die gives it a slightly rough surface - as you can see in this photo. And that, of course, means the sauce sticks to the pasta much better. Magnifico.

So of course I bought it - who could resist a tasty bronzed Italian? I had a vacuum-sealed packet of New Zealand clams in the fridge. Like the mussels, they're cooked and come with their juice, so it doesn't take long to:
- get the pasta into boiling salted water for 7 minutes, then drain, keeping a couple of spoons of the water for the sauce and warming a pasta plate with the rest
- take the clams out of their opened shells (keeping a few in their shells to go in the sauce - it looks pretty but it also seems to add a bit of flavour)
 - soften some garlic and onion, reduce a bit of white wine or dry vermouth, add some thyme leaves, the clam liquid and 2 Tbsp pasta water
- reduce all that a bit, add the clams and taste for seasoning, adding a spoonful of cream if you feel really decadent
- tip the sauce over the pasta and mix it carefully
- chop some parsley and quarter a lemon
- serve strewn with parsley and with a hunk of bread, a wedge of lemon and a glass of white wine on the side.