When my husband and I hosted an annual supper last week for his freshman class at Amherst College, I served a familiar menu, one I’ve cooked for more than a decade. A vegetarian dish of rigatoni tossed in a spicy tomato sauce again anchored the meal partnered by a mixed greens salad and warm crusty bread. As usual, for dessert I set out a bowl of fresh berries and fruit along with several chocolate treats, including a chocolate caramel cake and chocolate almond shortbreads. When it came to appetizers, though, I decided to try a new opener—a savory Gorgonzola cheesecake garnished with apple wedges, toasted croutons, grapes, and some fig jam.
Right before the young people arrived, I had a moment of panic. What if this new cheesecake offered as an opener rather than a dessert was a flop. What if the students were not adventurous eaters and the dish was untouched. Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry long! From the moment the group gathered around our coffee table in front of a roaring fire, they enthusiastically began sampling this Gorgonzola creation.
They took seconds and thirds, spreading the creamy blue cheese mixture onto toasted baguette slices or apple wedges. Some spooned fig jam atop the cheese mixture while others added grapes to their servings! When one student asked for the directions for the dish, I knew it was a hit.
Perfect for the holidays, since it can be prepared two days ahead and easily serves 20, this cheesecake has a walnut crust and a silken smooth Gorgonzola and cream cheese filling scented with rosemary and black pepper. It makes a striking appearance garnished with seasonal fruits, crisp toasted bread slices, or crackers. A small bowl of fig or other fruit jam adds a distinctive note. Serve it at an open house, take it to a potluck, or bring it to your workplace, and watch (then smile) as you see it disappear!
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Savory Gorgonzola Cheesecake with Grapes, Apples and Toasted Baguette Slices
Nonstick cooking spray
1 cup walnuts, toasted and finely ground
1/3 cup panko crumbs
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 pounds (three 8-oz packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
12 oz creamy Gorgonzola, rind removed, and cheese broken into chunks, at room temperature
1/2 cup whipping or heavy cream
2 1/4 tsp dried crushed rosemary
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
4 to 5 large eggs at room temperature
1 /4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Red or green (or a combination) grapes clusters
Toasted baguette slices (See cooking tip.)
2 apples such as Granny Smith or Honey Crisp stemmed, cored, cut into 1/4 -inch thick wedges and tossed in the juice of 1 lemon
Fig jam (Stonewall Kitchen’s Fig and Ginger Jam works well.)
1.Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray.
2. Combine ground walnuts, panko crumbs, flour, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter and mix well. Pat the mixture evenly onto the bottom of the pan. Place pan on center shelf of the oven and bake until set, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, but leave the oven on.
3.With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the cream cheese, Gorgonzola, rosemary, pepper, and salt in a mixing bowl just until creamy and smooth, 11/2 minutes or longer. Stop the machine to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Reduce speed to low and add cream. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing just to blend and stopping to scrape down sides as needed. Pour the batter into the springform pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Place the pan on a baking sheet.
4.Bake until the cheesecake is firm, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool the cheesecake in the pan on a rack to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Bring to room temperature 1 hour before serving.)
5. Run a paring knife around the inside edges of the springform pan to loosen. Then remove the sides. Transfer cheesecake to a platter or tray and sprinkle some chopped walnuts in the center on the top. Garnish with clusters of grapes, apple slices, toasted baguette slices, and with a bowl of fig jam. To eat spread a little cheesecake on an apple wedge or baguette slice. Top, if desired with some fig jam or grapes. Serves 20
Market note: I particularly like to use Mountain Gorgonzola, available at Whole Foods and other supermarkets.
Cooking tip: Cut a baguette into 3/8-inch thick slices and brush on both sides generously with olive oil. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake 4 minutes, then turn and bake on the other side 3 to 4 minutes more or until just crisp. Remove and cool. (Toasted baguettes slices can be prepared 6 hours ahead; leave at cool room temperature covered loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil.)
copyright Betty Rosbottom 2017