Crowd Pleaser

Football fans cheer for thyme pesto cheesecake

With football season in full swing, food for a crowd is high on the cooking to-do list. Whether you’re tailgating with the gang or watching at the home of the friend with the largest big-screen, food adds to the fun.

If you’ve grown tired of your standard cheese recipes, try this thyme pesto cheesecake. Don’t let the name fool you; it is a savory spread for crackers or toasted baguette slices. With their eyes on the scoreboard, your sports-minded friends might not notice the sophisticated presentation. What they will notice are the delicious flavors.

RECIPE: Thyme Pesto Cheesecake

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon softened butter
1/4 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 (8 oz) packs softened cream cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 large eggs
1/2 cup thyme pesto (find recipe below) or purchased basil pesto
1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
Fresh basil sprigs
Hearty crackers

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Rub 1 tablespoon butter over bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan. Mix breadcrumbs with 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese. Coat pan with mixture.

Using an electric mixer beat cream cheese, ricotta, remaining Parmesan cheese, salt and cayenne pepper in a large bowl until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Transfer half of mixture to medium bowl; mix pesto into remaining half.

Pour pesto mixture into prepared pan. Carefully spoon plain mixture on top and smooth. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Bake cake until center no longer moves when shaken, about 45 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool completely. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Run small sharp knife around pan sides to loosen cheesecake and remove sides. Transfer cake to a platter, garnish with basil sprigs and surround with crackers.

Thyme Pesto

1 1/2 cups loosely packed fresh parsley
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh thyme leaves or 1 tablespoon crumbled dried leaves and 1/2 cup additional fresh parsley
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts or walnuts
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil

Finely chop first 5 ingredients in food processor. With machine running, gradually add 1/2 cup olive oil. Continue processing until pesto is almost smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover tightly and refrigerate.

Pesto can be prepared up to 1 week ahead. Makes 1 cup.

Cheesecake serves 18.

Recipe from Of Tide and Thyme.

Nancy Lynch is a self-taught cook from a family of foodies. She teaches cooking classes at Orange Tree Imports and All Through the House in Stoughton. E-mail your questions, comments or recipe requests to diningin@madisonmagazine.com.

Find more Dining In recipes here.

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