Ricotta Cheesecake

I’ve made a lot of cheesecakes over the years and this one ticks all the boxes. The recipe was given to me by my daughter Catherine who said it was easy peasy and delicious.

Instead of topping with marmalade, you could serve the cheesecake with sliced strawberries, macerated with a little sugar and perhaps a splash of orange liqueur or brandy. Instead of marmalade I used about a cup of pureed fresh apricots, which I had frozen during summer, mixed with some home-made cumquat jam and heated to combine, then cooled. Use your imagination – this cheesecake would go well with any jam, marmalade, fruity sauce or fruit compote. Or just some fresh berries.

Use half the amount of biscuits, butter and cinnamon if you prefer a thinner crust.

Crust:
200g plain sweet biscuits
100g butter at room temperature
1 tsp cinnamon
Filling:
250g ricotta cheese
250g cream cheese
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
¾ cup cream or sour cream
2 Tbs grated lemon rind
Topping:
½ cup marmalade
¼ cup water
Icing sugar

Grease and bottom line a 22cm springform pan. Preheat oven to 170°C. Blitz biscuits in a food processor with butter and cinnamon to make fine crumbs. Tip into cake pan, spread evenly and press down. Refrigerate while you make the filling.

Place ricotta, cream cheese and sugar in food processor and process until smooth. Add egg yolks, cream and lemon rind and mix thoroughly. In a large mixing bowl whip egg whites with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Scrape mixture from food processor into the egg whites and mix gently with a rubber spatula until combined. Scrape into the cake pan, then bake for 45-50 mins or until set, but still slightly wobbly in the middle. Remove from the oven, cool then cover and refrigerate overnight.

Run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake, then remove sides from pan and dust top with sifted icing sugar. Heat marmalade and water in a small saucepan until combined, then cool and spoon over the top of the cheesecake, or serve separately in a jug.

Serves 10

Variations: use orange rind instead of lemon. Serve with fresh fruit or fruit compote of choice.

Chocolate Fig and Hazelnut Cake

This recipe caught my eye when it was published recently in Gourmet Traveller, so I saved the link. Friends coming to stay for the weekend is a good excuse to bake a cake so I thought I would give this a try. As a fan of chocolate, figs and hazelnuts it seemed to tick all the boxes. I wasn’t disappointed.

I’ve cut down on the sugar in the cake from 300g to 200g and cut it out altogether in the chocolate ganache. The muscat and figs are sweet, so you could try cutting down even more on the sugar in the cake, say to 150g. Maybe add a few more figs to compensate.

The original recipe said to use muscat or brandy. I used a muscat-style fortified wine made in Australia by Angoves and called Bookmark Crema All’Uovo. I bought the bottle several months ago at Dan Murphy’s to make that wonderful Italian dessert called Zabaione. If I hadn’t had any of that I would have used port rather than brandy. The packet of dried figs I bought weighed 375g, so I used them all.

The original recipe tells you how to make Candied Oranges to serve with the cake. I had some candied cumquats I made several months ago, so that’s what you can see as a garnish in the photo. To make the original Candied Oranges, search for the GT recipe.

To make the cake gluten-free, use gluten-free bread for the breadcrumbs.

Cake:
1 cup (250ml) muscat or port
300-400g dried figs, de-stemmed and coarsely chopped
420g hazelnuts, toasted and peeled
250g unsalted butter, at room temp
200g caster sugar
6 eggs
250g dark chocolate, melted
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
Ganache:
½ cup cream
150g dark chocolate
To serve:
Whipped cream
Candied oranges or orange peel (optional – bought or home-made)

Place muscat or port in a saucepan with the figs. Bring to the boil then simmer, stirring from time to time, for 10 minutes or until figs have absorbed the wine.

Preheat oven to 160°C. Place hazelnuts in food processor and process coarsely. Tip out. Make bread into breadcrumbs in food processor, then tip out. Place butter and sugar in food processor and process until smooth. Gradually add the eggs, one at a time, then the melted chocolate, stopping to scrape down the sides from time to time. Scrape mixture into a large bowl and mix in the figs, the ground nuts and the breadcrumbs.

Scrape mixture into a large cake pan, greased and bottom-lined with baking paper. I used a 22cm square pan, but you could use a round one. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until cake feels firm on top and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Err on the slightly undercooked side, as the cake will continue to cook after you remove it from the oven. Leave to cool, then remove from pan and pour over the chocolate ganache, using a knife to spread it evenly over the top and sides.

Ganache: heat cream in a small saucepan. When boiling, turn off heat and add the chocolate, broken into squares. Leave to melt for a few minutes then stir until smooth. Allow to cool for a few minutes, so it’s a bit thicker for spreading.

Serve cake as it is, or with whipped cream and candied oranges or orange peel.

Serves 16

Variations: use walnuts or almonds instead of hazelnuts, or a mixture.

Fresh Coriander Chutney

Serve this delicious fresh chutney with curries, roast meats, fish, samosas, or in sandwiches and wraps. Or simply as a dip with fresh crusty bread. There’s no end to its uses.

1 large bunch coriander
1 cup roasted peanuts
4 Tbs lemon juice
2-3 green chillies, seeds removed
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp turmeric
2 heaped tsp brown sugar

Place all ingredients in food processor and process till it looks like pesto. Scrape down the sides, add a little water if necessary, then briefly process again.

Keeps in the fridge for several days.

Makes about 1½ cups

Variation: use cashews or pine nuts instead of peanuts

Chilled Beetroot Soup

Maggie and Richard served this delicious chilled soup when we were staying them last year in St Germain en Laye, on the outskirts of Paris.

Richard, who was chef that day, said the recipe came from Honey & Co. As per the recipe he garnished the soup with roasted yellow beetroot, diced and mixed with a crushed clove of garlic, chopped fresh oregano and a splash each of lemon juice and olive oil. This made a spectacular contrast. Unfortunately I didn’t have any yellow beetroot, so just used yoghurt and some chives as a garnish.

The original recipe says to roast the beetroots on a bed of salt, but as you’re going to peel them I decided this wasn’t going to make a huge difference to the end result. I just sprinkled them generously with salt before roasting.

This soup goes down a treat at a relaxed weekend lunch in late summer.

6-8 beetroot (a bit over half a kg)
2 tsp salt for sprinkling on the beetroot
2 cups plain Greek-style yoghurt
Between 1 and 2 cups cold water
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 clove garlic, crushed (2 if small)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbs olive oil
To serve:
Diced roasted yellow beetroot (optional)
Plain Greek-style yoghurt
Snipped chives

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Wash beetroot, but leave whole and unpeeled. Place on a baking tray lined with foil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for an hour or until tender. When cool enough to handle peel the beetroot. Grate very coarsely – a Magimix with a coarse grating blade makes short work of this.

Mix beetroot with remaining ingredients then chill until serving time. Add one cup of water first and see if it needs more. Serve garnished with a dollop of yoghurt and the yellow beetroot, if available.

Serves 4-6

Pear and Fig Chutney

Last week we flew to Queenstown with Air New Zealand for a wedding. We flew Economy class, but fortunately Gold points status with Star Alliance gave me access to the business class lounge. I was also able to take a guest, which was just as well as Matthew only has Silver status.

The lunch buffet at Queenstown airport when we were flying home included a selection of salads which we enjoyed with a glass of Esk Valley Estate chardonnay. Afterwards we had  cheese and biscuits, accompanied by a delicious Pear and Fig Chutney, made by a New Zealand company called Barkers. On return I decided to have a go at making this chutney, while the memory was still fresh in my mind. Today’s recipe is an adaptation of one I found online. It has the addition of walnuts, which aren’t in the Barker’s version. They give it a nice crunch, but leave them out if you prefer.

Removing the seeds from the cardamom pods was a fiddly job, so if preferred add a different spice such as a teaspoon of chilli powder, cayenne pepper or ground cumin. Most chutney recipes call for fruit, onions, brown sugar and vinegar, but they all vary and are very adaptable when it comes to the spices. Add whatever takes your fancy.

I’ve been on flights where you have to pay for any drinks or food. And I’ve been on flights where they give everyone a meal. This was somewhere in between. When it came to lunch time we were all prepared to say “No thank you” as the flight attendant handed us a tray. Much to our surprise she looked at our seat number, glanced at her clipboard, gave a tray to the guy sitting next to us on the aisle and headed off. Clearly we’d bought the Absolutely No Frills tickets and he hadn’t.

1 kg ripe pears, peeled and chopped
375-400g dried figs, de-stemmed and chopped
375g sharp apples such as Granny Smiths, peeled and diced
375g onions, peeled and diced
Grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
350g brown sugar
500ml cider vinegar
1 Tbs ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 Tbs toasted cardamom seeds, crushed
125g walnuts, chopped

Place all ingredients except the walnuts in a preserving pan or very large heavy-bottomed pan. Bring to the boil then simmer for about an hour or until thick. If it gets too thick before the apples and onions are cooked, add a little water.

Place 8 clean normal sized jam jars or more smaller ones in the microwave, without their lids and zap on High for 2 minutes.

Lightly toast the walnuts by stirring them for a few minutes in a non-stick frying pan over moderate heat. When the chutney is ready stir in the walnuts and tip into the hot jars. Use a wide funnel or a small jug. Go all round the edge of each jar with the blade of a knife, hitting the bottom, to remove any air bubbles. Seal, label and store in a dark cupboard. Refrigerate after opening.

Makes about 8 jars

Note: if available use Bramley apples which are common in the UK but hard to find in Australia unless you grow your own.

Rhubarb Tart

Rhubarb grows like a weed at our farm so I’m always looking for new ways to cook it and I give away what we can’t eat.

This recipe can be adapted to use other fruit and is perfect to serve with a cuppa or as a dessert. I used wholemeal flour in the pastry, because I had some which needed using. Anything that hangs around in our pantry for too long is an attractive target for pantry moths. They especially love flour, nuts and, as I discovered recently, dried chillies!

1 shortcrust pastry case
800g rhubarb, washed and cut into 3cm lengths
¾ cup raw sugar, or to taste
125g butter, at room temperature
125g (½ cup) caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence or 1 tsp almond essence
Finely grated rind 1 orange
1 cup almond meal
3 eggs
To serve:
Icing sugar
Vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or Greek yoghurt

Go to the link for the pastry. Bake the pastry case as instructed, with foil and something heavy like dried beans or corn, to stop it rising. Remove foil and beans and bake for a further 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Leave the oven on 180°C.

Meanwhile, cook rhubarb in a saucepan with the raw sugar for 10 minutes, or until tender but mostly still whole. Stir often so it doesn’t stick or burn. Cool then spread into the pastry case.

If you used a food processor to make the pastry there’s no need to wash it out before you make the filling. Place butter, sugar, vanilla, orange rind, eggs and almond meal in food processor and process until smooth, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Spread evenly over the rhubarb. Bake for 40 mins or until well-risen, golden brown and firm to the touch.

Dust with icing sugar and serve warm or cold with ice cream, whipped cream or Greek yoghurt.

Serves 8

Variations: use ground walnuts or pine nuts instead of the almond meal. Use cooked apples or pears, tinned pears or peaches, or a punnet of berries mixed with a cup of jam instead of the cooked rhubarb. You could also use frozen berries.

Pumpkin Soup with Caramelised Pumpkin Seeds

It’s often the garnishes which make Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes unique. This soup, with its unusual crunchy topping of caramelised pumpkin seeds, is no exception.

They can be used to garnish any soup and are a delicious addition to salads, so you might like to double or triple the recipe. They keep for a couple of weeks in an airtight container in the fridge.

Ottolenghi cooks the seeds in the oven, but I prefer to use a frying pan where I think you have more control. I have a bad track record of burning nuts and seeds in the oven.

You need about 750g of vegetables which can be all pumpkin, all carrot, or a combination of the two.

2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
550g pumpkin, cut into 2cm cubes
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 tsp saffron fronds or a pinch of saffron powder
1 litre vegetable stock
2 tsp grated orange zest
6 Tbs sour cream or crème fraîche
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the pumpkin seeds:
1 tbsp sunflower oil
60g pumpkin seeds
1 Tbs maple syrup or honey
½ Tbs soft brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Put the pumpkin seeds into a non-stick frying pan with the other ingredients. Stir over moderate heat for a few minutes, or until starting to colour. Cool. If they stick together it doesn’t matter as you can break them apart when serving.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan, add the onion then cook over high heat for a minute or so, stirring all the time. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, but not very dark. Add the pumpkin, carrot, saffron, stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until pumpkin and carrots are almost tender. Add the orange zest and simmer for five minutes longer. When vegetables are thoroughly cooked, blitz the soup in a food processor or blender, or with a stick blender. Add extra water or stock if it is too thick. Season to taste.

Serve in soup bowls with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of the caramelised seeds.

Serves 4

Vegetarian Paella

I was inspired to have a go at making this delicious Vegetarian Paella after lunching with friends at Muse Cafe, located at the East Hotel in Canberra. When you’ve eaten something in a restaurant, but don’t actually have the recipe, you have to use a certain amount of guesswork, but the end result was delicious.

Muse calls this dish Calasparra Paella – calasparra being a variety of rice especially suited to making paella. It’s not sold in any of my local supermarkets, but if you look online you can find a couple of specialty grocers who sell it.

Arborio rice is a good substitute, but you need to use less liquid and stir it less, so it doesn’t go creamy and start to break down. Calasparra needs three times the volume of liquid to rice, whereas Arborio only needs about twice the volume.

As you can see in this photo, I roasted the tomatoes with the other vegetables. They ended up a bit overcooked, which is why I have amended the recipe to add them halfway through the cooking time. I also roasted the beans and asparagus with the other vegetables, which unfortunately meant they lost their vibrant green colour. So again I have amended the recipe to cook the green veggies in water rather than in the oven. Either way works, it’s just about the colour.

1½ cups Arborio rice (or Calasparra)
3 cups vegetable stock (4½ cups if using Calasparra)
2-3 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of saffron threads or powder
Knob of butter (optional)
About 12 cherry tomatoes
About 6-8 asparagus spears
About 12 green beans
1 onion
1 small red capsicum
1 small sweet potato
Pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
To serve:
2 avocados cut into cubes
Micro herbs or any small fresh leaves (basil, marjoram etc)
4 Lime wedges
Extra Virgin Olive oil

Heat half the olive oil in a heavy-based large saucepan, add the rice and stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Gradually add the stock, letting it be absorbed before adding more. Stir from time to time, but not too often or too vigorously. You may need slightly more or less stock as rice varies. When al dente add the saffron, chilli flakes and salt and pepper to taste. If liked, add a knob of butter, then cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile roast the vegetables. Preheat oven to 200°C. Cut the onion, sweet potato and capsicum into 1-1.5cm squares and place in a bowl with the rest of the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well then spread out on a shallow oven tray lined with baking paper. Bake for about half an hour, or until cooked. Halfway through cooking time give them a stir around and add the tomatoes. Meanwhile cut the asparagus and beans into 1.5cm lengths and cook in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes then drain and refresh under cold water.

Mix all the vegetables into rice and arrange on 4 serving plates, using a large stacking ring if you have one. Garnish with avocado, herbs, olive oil and lime wedges.

Serves 4

Note: I made a large main course sized stacking ring by cutting the top and bottom off a large can of tuna with a can opener. Place in the middle a dinner plate. Fill with the paella and press down the top, garnish with avocado and herbs, then lift off carefully and serve.

Variations: use eggplant, zucchini or peas instead of one of the vegetables.

Roasted Beetroot with Avocado

At this time of year we have lots of vegetables in the garden, including tomatoes, zucchini, beetroot and basil. So Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes, with their strong bias towards veggies, are perfect.

We’ve been eating so many of his amazing recipes lately that Matthew says he wouldn’t be surprised to walk into the kitchen and find the man himself.

This week I made his Roasted Beetroot with Yoghurt and Preserved Lemon which I served for lunch with avocado. We sat in the garden under the olive tree sipping a glass of chilled white wine and enjoying this delicious, not to mention healthy, combination.

If you don’t have any preserved lemon, just leave it out or add some grated lemon rind. I used fresh marjoram instead of dill, but you could also use fresh basil or chives.

1 kg beetroot
2 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 small preserved lemon, chopped, seeds discarded
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs chopped fresh dill (or use marjoram, basil or chives)
1 Tbs Tahini
¾ cup Greek style plain yoghurt
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ripe avocados

Preheat oven to 200°C. Wash and dry beetroots, but leave skin on. Wrap each one in foil then bake for about an hour or until tender. Test with a sharp knife or skewer. When cool enough to handle, peel and slice into a large mixing bowl.

Heat olive oil and cumin seeds for a few minutes in a small frying pan, until seeds start to pop, then tip over the beetroot. Add the onion, preserved lemon, lemon juice, half the herbs and season to taste. Mix well then transfer to a shallow serving dish.

Mix the Tahini into the yoghurt then put blobs all over the top. Peel and dice the avocados and arrange around the edge of the plate. Garnish with the rest of the herbs.

Serves 4

Fig and Ginger Jam

While figs are in season, don’t forget to make some jam. We like ours with the addition of fresh ginger, but if preferred leave it out. You can use green figs or purple figs.

This jam is delicious on crusty bread or toast, or dolloped on plain Greek yoghurt. It also goes well on canapes with a chunk of creamy blue cheese, or as an addition to a cheese board.

1 kg fresh ripe figs
4 Tbs lemon juice
Grated zest of one lemon
2 heaped Tbs grated fresh ginger, or to taste
½ cup water
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
2 cups sugar

Chop figs into quarters or eighths, discarding the stems. Place in a preserving pan or heavy-bottomed large saucepan. Add the lemon juice and rind, the ginger, water and cinnamon stick. Cook gently for 20 minutes or until figs are tender Add the sugar, boil until setting point has been reached, remove cinnamon then tip into hot sterilized jars. Seal while hot and store in a dark cupboard.

Makes 4 small jars