Cheese Cake Torte

Currently, I’m writing from the comfort of a hotel room… two miles away from my apartment. A couple of nights ago, some nasty wind took out the power in my area, and subsequently a fried circuit board has kept the power out in my building since. I’m probably going to be here a while longer, too, because a giant snowstorm hit last night, more than likely delaying the shipment of the parts they need to fix our power. Also, our car is at the dealership for repairs (actually, that’s a relief after the runaround we got regarding the warranty). The car isn’t a huge deal now, because we’re snowed in, and the hotel is nice, but staying in a hotel for going on three days with two hyperactive dogs can get old. To put it mildly, it’s been an interesting week… and I fly out for Italy in four days. Fun. I hope all of you are having a better week than me.

Thankfully, last week didn’t end so badly. It was Valentine’s Day, and before that my better half’s birthday. He’s a huge fan of cheesecake, and I’m a big fan of non-traditional recipes, so I decided to make this cheese cake torte.

DSC_0983

The original recipe for this tasty, totally non-boring dessert came from an amazing mid-century cookbook that my great-great aunt (the most amazing 97-year-old lady you could hope to meet) gave to me. I made three little updates to the recipe: using gluten free graham cracker crumbs instead of regular ones, swapping plain greek yogurt for sour cream, and caramelizing the almonds on top instead of just toasting them.

DSC_1004DSC_1010

Ingredients: (makes one 9″ round torte)

5 eggs

1 cup + 1 tablespoon + 1 tablespoon sugar

12 oz. cream cheese

12 oz. cottage cheese

1 cup plain greek yogurt (if you want an even sweeter dessert, try vanilla!)

1/4 teaspoon  nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup slivered almonds

 

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 9″ springform pan (with tall sides) or a 13″ pie pan with cooking spray.

To make the crust

A.  Crush graham crackers

B. Combine with 1 tbsp. sugar, the nutmeg, and the cinnamon.

C. Lightly cover the bottom and sides of the pan with crumb mixture.

To make the filling

1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs thoroughly.

2. Mixing, slowly add 1 cup sugar. Blend until smooth.

3. Add sour sour cream and cottage cheese, and beat until smooth.

4. Pour this mixture into the crumb-lined pan, and bake for 1 hour (or until completely set).

5. While the torte is cooking, you can caramelize the almonds in a frying pan with 1 tablespoon sugar. Watch them careful, tossing them to make sure both sides get toasted without burning (which happens pretty quickly).

6. After the torte is finished cooking, remove it and turn the oven up to 450 degrees. Spread the greek yogurt over the top of the torte (and sides, if you’re doing this in a springform). Return it to the oven and cook for another 5 minutes.

7. It’s almost done! Top with the caramelized almonds and serve after it’s cooled.

DSC_0995

It’s not traditional cheesecake, but it’s good, right? My cheesecake-loving husband seemed to like it. Here’s hoping the cooler on my balcony is keeping the leftovers a reasonable temperature… my powerless fridge sure wasn’t going to do the job!

 

 

Loaded Polenta Cakes

Wondering what to do with the leftover prosciutto and parmesan you bought to make pasta panna e prosciutto? Prosciutto is so light that I always end up with more than I need (I can’t exactly walk up to the deli and ask for 1/16 pound of it, now can I?) So, for the past several days, I’ve been putting prosciutto on basically everything.

I’d been meaning for a while to try something with polenta. It’s gluten-free, and comes pre-cooked but without a bunch of preservatives, so it seems like something I ought to start using. One of the serving suggestions on the package I got was “baked potato style.” And that got the wheels turning… polenta is Italian; so are prosciutto and parmesan… a loaded baked potato has bacon; prosciutto is kind of like bacon. You get the idea.

DSC_0972

I have a busy 10 days ahead of me getting things in order to make my trans-Atlantic trek, so I’ll stop there. Loaded baked not-potato, Italian style. Hope you enjoy!

Ingredients: (makes approximately 8 cakes)

18 oz. sleeve of pre-cooked polenta

3 slices prosciutto

1/2 cup parmesan

1/2 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Slice the polenta (across the diameter) into 1/2 thick circles. Add olive oil to a large flat frying pan or skillet, heat to medium-high, and add the polenta cakes. Flip after 2-3 minutes, making sure that the cakes get crisp and golden on the outside, but don’t brown much. Lightly salt and pepper each side, but remember the prosciutto and parmesan will add saltiness to the dish.

2. Slice prosciutto into small pieces (1/2 squares work well), and pan fry in a separate pan.

3. When both sides of polenta are crisp, remove from pan and top with prosciutto and parmesan. Serve hot.

DSC_0964

The consistency of polenta isn’t for everyone – it’s similar to grits. If you’re a fan of this traditional Italian cornmeal porridge, though, the addition of some crispy, salty meat and shaved cheese makes it a perfect appetizer or weeknight dinner.

Pasta panna e prosciutto

In less than two weeks, I’ll be leaving to spend a month in Italy. It sounds great: Italian food, architecture, and the satisfaction of knowing that I’m actually making some progress on my dissertation. I have to be honest, though – I’m not entirely excited. Spending that long in a city where you don’t know anyone is something less than fun, especially when you’re leaving behind these two little snuggle pups (and, of course, the man who’s helping me raise them).

Pups

But, in anticipation of my trip, I decided to make something authentically Italian. Something with sauce made from scratch, not from a jar. I discovered pasta panna e prosciutto four years ago (!) when I went to Italy for the first time, to study abroad. I was lucky enough to have a professor who was a serious foodie, and who in addition to sharing her own Italian recipes with us also took the group to a cooking class. We made gnocchi and tiramisu; I can still taste it… it was heavenly.

Unlike gnocchi from nothing, pasta panna e prosciutto is easy – but still amazingly tasty. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but in this dish I just can’t resist a little prosciutto (you know, the salty-sweet cured Italian ham).It’s so easy that I almost didn’t post it here, but after some Googling (it’s a verb, right?) I confirmed that there’s still not a good recipe for this on the English-speaking, non-metric internet… at least not that I’ve been able to find. So, here it is: pasta panna e prosciutto (roughly, pasta with cream and prosciutto).

DSC_0936

Ingredients: (makes 2 dinner-sized portions)

2 servings (usually about 1 1/2 cups) pasta – I use ziti, but anything will work. I  use gluten free pasta, but of course wheat-based pasta works too.

1 tablespoon butter

1/3 cup cream

1 teaspoon corn starch

salt and pepper to taste

3 slices (about 2 oz) prosciutto (cotto or crudo – if you just ask for prosciutto in an American deli, chances are you’ll get cotto… i.e. cooked)

1/4 cup parmesan cheese (and please, for the love of Italian food, use the real thing!)

 

Directions:

1. Boil water in a medium saucepan for your pasta. While the water is coming to a boil, slice your prosciutto into approximately 1/2 inch squares.

2. Now,  add your pasta. While the pasta cooks, you can pan fry the prosciutto. Do this on medium-high heat, just long enough for it to start looking darker and a little crispy… but be careful not to overcook it, as prosciutto can take on a tough consistency if dried out.

3. After setting the cooked prosciutto aside, melt the butter in a small saucepan. In a separate bowl, whisk a small amount of cold water (about a tablespoon) with the corn starch. When well blended, at this and the cream to the melted butter. Add salt and pepper to taste – I generally use only a pinch of salt, but more pepper. Too much salt will cover up the milky taste that sets this apart from alfredo.  Stirring constantly, bring to a boil, then remove from heat so that it doesn’t get too thick.

4. Drain the pasta and top with panna sauce, prosciutto, and a little parmesan.  Serve immediately.

 

Mmmm. Italian comfort food. One disclaimer: this isn’t a light dish, so take my word for it and don’t eat it an hour before you go to yoga class.

What do you think? What did you pair this with to round out your meal?