Each summer I dream of casual gatherings—wine and appetizers aplenty, perfect weather, fireflies darting (but not bugs biting)—out on my patio. Reality check! This summer it is too hot to enjoy the outside. It is too hot to cook. Who wants to turn on the oven and heat up the house? OK–it’s time for me to stop complaining. Slow cooker to the rescue and one of my very favorite appetizers. Pesto and Bruschetta Cheesecake is so good you just might forget about the intense heat!
I love to make Pesto and Bruschetta Cheesecake in the summer when the tomatoes are ripe and juicy. The flavor of fresh tomato bruschetta, bursting with fresh basil, tastes more like summer than about any flavor I can imagine.
The base is a savory cheesecake. Sure—it’s the same creamy, luscious texture of your favorite dessert, but this time, goat cheese, cream cheese and ricotta, swirled with a ribbon of pesto, make a trendy new appetizer with classic flavor appeal. Spread it on a toasted slice of baguette or a cracker and it just can’t be beat.
The trick is to bake it in a slow cooker. It’s simple—so get out that large (5 to 6 quart) slow cooker and get started. First, you will need a 6 to 7–inch springform pan. Check around—and ask at the kitchen shops. We are finding them more frequently now—but it still can be the most challenging part of this recipe. (Here is one on Amazon so you know what you are looking for.) Be sure to plan ahead—bake the cheesecake the day before you want to serve it. You can also freeze it—so it is the ideal make-ahead appetizer. (Tip! Check that the springform pan fits into your slow cooker before you begin.)
If you have never made a cheesecake—now is the time to overcome your cheesecake phobia and go for it. A couple tips—have all of the ingredients at room temperature and beat it just until creamy and smooth with a hand-held mixer. It bakes about 2 1/2 to 3 hours on high—then let the slow cooker and the cheesecake cool together for about an hour (leave the cheesecake in the covered slow cooker and turn it off—it will cool slowly and cheesecakes thank you for that.) Refrigerate it overnight. The slow cooker really is perfect for cheesecakes, because it is a moist, even, low heat.
The next day, pile the fresh tomato bruschetta over the top. Wow! I love it and I bet you will, too. In fact, when it is just too hot—forget dinner and serve this with a salad, pour a glass of wine and just enjoy.
Pesto and Bruschetta Cheesecake
9 buttery round crackers (like Ritz)
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1 package (6 oz) goat cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup low fat ricotta, at room temperature
1 egg, at room temperature
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons heavy or whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
4 tablespoons prepared basil pesto, divided
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons minced fresh basil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Toasted baguette slices or crackers
For crust: Process crackers in a food processor until fine crumbs. Add melted butter and process. Line a 7-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Pour crumbs into prepared pan and press to cover evenly.
For the filling: Beat together cream cheese, goat cheese and ricotta using an electric mixer at medium high speed. Add egg and egg yolk and beat until smooth. Add flour, cream and garlic powder and blend until smooth. Pour half into prepared pan and smooth. Dollop 2 tablespoons pesto over the top and spread gently to cover. Pour remaining cheesecake mixture over pesto and spread gently to smooth.
Crumble a sheet of aluminum foil about 18 inches long into a rope, then shape into a 7-inch ring. Place the foil ring in the bottom of a 5 to 6 quart slow cooker. Place the filled springform pan on the foil ring. Cover and cook on High 2-1/2 to 3 hours or until set. Turn the slow cooker to off , but keep it covered and allow both to cool1 hour. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
When ready to serve, remove the sides of the springform pan and place the cheesecake on a serving plate. Gently spread remaining 2 tablespoons pesto over the top of the cheesecake.
Bruschetta: Stir together tomatoes and fresh basil. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon bruschetta over the cheesecake. Serve with toasted baguette slices or crackers.
Makes 1 (7-inch) cheesecake or about 20 appetizer servings
By lining the bottom of the springform pan with parchment paper, it makes it easy to remove the cheesecake from the bottom of the pan. Remove the parchment paper from the cheesecake to serve.
Cheesecakes are perishable and should not sit at room temperature longer than about 2 hours.
If desired, make the cheesecake as directed and chill. Do not top it with the pesto or bruschetta. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and seal in an airtight container. Freeze for up to about 2 months. When ready to serve, thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Top with pesto and fresh tomato bruschetta.
How to tell if your cheesecake is done? A cheesecake will be softly set on top and you can see the edges begin to lightly brown. Once you make a cheesecake in your slow cooker you will quickly be able to determine if you like them better in the minimum time or the maximum time.