We were enjoying a lovely spring tease here last week and my mind began turning to nettles. I strongly believe that our bodies, if we let them, will guide us to the foods we need for health. In the winter, I crave citrus, just when I need that extra boost of vitamin C. This time of year, as I notice the first signs of spring, my body craves green things, especially nettles, and I think it is more than a revolt against the root vegetables that have sustained us the last month or so. Call me crazy, but I think my body knows that now that the trees are beginning to bloom, a regular dose of nettles with their powerful anti-histamine properties, are just what I need to combat seasonal allergies.
Luckily, a friend with a nettle patch invited us over to meet her baby goats (that's Annabel with sweet boy-kid Eden) and pick to our hearts' content. She suggested trying to make pesto with our nettles and last night, as I was trying to figure out what to do with a bounty of cream cheese, I stumbled upon a couple recipes for savory pesto cheesecake (one with basil and another with spinach) and on went the light bulb. We have lots of delicious roasted hazelnuts from local grower Freddy Guys, so naturally they joined the experiment.
The pesto smelled and tasted like spring, all fresh and green, and even had hints of cucumber. While most cheesecake recipes call for whipping the cream cheese in mixer, adding one egg at a time, and then adding flavor components, in my dishwasherless kitchen, I am loathe to dirty both the food processor and the mixer bowl while prepping a weekday night dinner. So, once I had the pesto, I just added the cream cheese, eggs, and milk to the food processor and ran it until the mixture was thoroughly blended. The cake was airier than most cheesecakes I've made, which may have been due to using the food processor. No one seemed to mind and after a couple bites, Annabel, who had been a bit miffed when she learned earlier that I wasn't making sweet cheesecake, asked if she could have more for breakfast.
Finally, while the recipe suggests using a springform pan, my secret cheesecake weapon is my nine-inch round mold from Demarle. Like everything I cook in my Demarle pans, cheesecakes unmold perfectly every time. I may host a Demarle party here this spring. If you would like to come for some yummy food and to learn more about Demarle, let me know.
Stinging Nettle-Hazelnut Pesto Cheesecake
1 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs
½ cup hazelnut meal
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
½ cup butter, melted
3 cups fresh stinging nettles
¼ cup hazelnuts
1 large clove garlic, cut in half
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
⅓ cup hazelnut oil or olive oil
24 ounces cream cheese
¼ cup milk
Garnish: crushed hazelnuts
Preheat oven to 425ºF. Combine breadcrumbs, hazelnut meal, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and butter; press on bottom and 1 inch up sides of an 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 15 minutes, then cool while you prepare the filling. Reduce oven to 300ºF.
Position knife blade in food processor bowl; add nettles, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, hazelnuts, garlic, salt, and pepper. Top with cover; process until smooth. With processor running, pour oil through the food chute in a steady stream until mixture is blended.
Add cream cheese, eggs, and milk to food processor and process for a minute, until mixture is thoroughly blended.
Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour or until the cheesecake is almost set. Turn the oven off, and partially open the oven door. Leave cheesecake in oven for 1 hour.
Garnish, if desired, and serve immediately or let the cheesecake cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and chill.