Monday, August 20, 2012

Summer Squash & Ricotta Cheesecake

 It has been a hustle and bustle month for me. Amongst many things, we are in the midst of buying a farm. It is a process, but the end results will be amazing. Wide open spaces are a bit rare in Cook County Minnesota, so when we stumbled upon an old family farmstead, over looking Lake Superior, with a near 10 acres it was instant love. I am looking forward to growing more of my own food. I am constantly flipping through seed catalogs searching for seeds that are better suited for this sometimes unruly northern climate. I have also been stock piling recipes to put my produce to work feeding my family. I found this recipe, originally a zucchini cheesecake recipe, and decided to give it a try. I had a beautiful specimen of a summer squash, bright yellow and unblemished, and it wanted to be a star. I think of this recipe as a base recipe, meaning the flavors are calm and not too pushy. It's a great base for adding flavors to. I went with fresh basil, sun-dried tomatoes, and scallions to flavor the cheesecake. Any fresh herbs would work nicely, and bold flavorful add ins will accentuate the subtle flavors of the summer squash and ricotta.  Think roasted corn and chipotle peppers, or rosemary and bacon, or toasted almonds and poblano peppers. Endless possibilities for a future endless bounty of summer squash. Belly up!!

2 cups summer squash, unpeeled & grated
1 tsp sea salt
2 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 bunch of scallions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffinade
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
2 Tablespoons sun dried tomatoes, chopped
3 large eggs, well beaten
1/3 cup goat cheese, crumbled
drizzle of olive oil

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter/ oil a 6 inch spring-form pan.  A 6 inch spring- form pan is kind of a rare size, so a tart or pie pan would work too.

In a strainer, toss the shredded summer squash with the salt and let sit for ten minutes. Now aggressively squeeze and press out as much moisture as you can. Set aside.

In the meantime, combine the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl, and mix until well combined. Fold in the summer squash. Fill the springform pan with the ricotta- squash mixture and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour- 1 hour and 20 minutes or until the cake barely jiggles in the center (it will set up more as it cools).

Remove from the oven and let cool 5 minutes, then release the cake from its pan. Cool completely, serve at room temperature with a bit of olive oil drizzled on top.

This cheesecake is made with ricotta, so the texture is going to be different than a traditional cheesecake. We ate slices of this for appetizers, and I think this would be really great baked in a crust of some kind- maybe a cornmeal pie crust?....

Monday, August 6, 2012

Garlic Scape, Rainbow Chard & Sweet Corn Spoon Bread

I love August. Not only is it my birthday month, but it also resembles summer coming to an end in northern Minnesota. A month to soak up as much sun as possible, swim in Lake Superior a few more times, and a time to eat sweet corn. I made a point at the beginning of summer to indulge in as much fresh melon and peaches that I could possibly stand. I was successful, and now I am applying the same rule to sweet corn. Seasonal produce is, well, seasonal. It is at it's peak in flavor during it's peak harvest time. To achieve maximum satisfaction, you need to eat produce while it's in season. Sweet corn is ready!

I was trying to put together some new recipes using sweet corn. Something substantial. I was given a basket full of garden veggies a few days ago when I did a favor for a friend. What was left in the basket were garlic scapes, rainbow chard, and jalapeno peppers. I like the idea of all of these ingredients co-mingling with my sweet corn. I thought about a warm salad with a bacon vinaigrette. That would be AWESOME, but I was out of bacon. I was thinking about corn bread, but I wanted something custard- y. I finally stumbled upon a corn spoon bread recipe. Spoon bread is like a hybrid of cornbread, grits, and a souffle. It's an old time southern dish made with cornmeal, and is actually more like a pudding than a bread. It is soft and custard-y, and can be served and eaten with a spoon. The addition of rainbow chard seemed to keep this dish in line with it's roots as collard greens are a common add in.

Garlic Scape, Rainbow Chard & Sweet Corn Spoon Bread

1 Tablespoon butter, plus more for the baking dish
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups sweet corn kernels
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
coarse salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup sharp cheddar ( I used a sharp, raw milk cheddar)
1/2 cup garlic scapes, chopped
1 jalapeno, diced
1 cup rainbow chard, chiffinade
4 large eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 2- quart souffle or casserole dish; set aside. In a medium saucepan combine butter, milk, corn, cornmeal, 1 teaspoon salt, and cayenne. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture is slightly thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in cheese, garlic scapes, rainbow chard, and jalapeno. Let cool until just warm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Stir in the egg yolks until combined.

In a clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites and a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Stir 1/3 of the whites into the cornmeal mixture until combined, then gently fold in the remaining whites with a rubber spatula. Pour into prepared dish.

Place dish in oven; reduce heat to 375 degrees. Bake until browned on top but still slightly loose in the center, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving. Belly up!!