March 6, 2016
It all began with the egg whites. I had made a yolk-heavy flan the previous day and was left with four egg whites that were burning a figurative hole in my refrigerator's figurative pocket. In fact, let me list what I had on hand yesterday, and you'll see how this cheesecake happened.
four egg whites
a cup of homemade white cheese (think: ricotta)
a cup of grated Swiss cheese
half a cup of grated Parmesan
half a cup of heavy cream
half a cup of lacinato kale cooked with a sliced onion
Now, doesn't that list just scream "savoury cheesecake"?
I could have turned it into a straight souffle, but my heart was set on pie crust, as it often is.* So I put together a more-than-I-needed batch of pie dough and, after chilling it, rolled out enough to fill my nine-inch spring-form pan. I often make this cheesecake in an ordinary pie plate, but because I was going to incorporate beaten egg whites in this one, I knew there would be too much filling for a pie plate. I needed the depth of a spring-form pan.**
In order to keep the crust from getting soggy, I prebaked it for fifteen minutes in a 400 degree oven (preheated). The nature of pie crust is that it tends to slide down the walls of the pan. To avoid this, I laid a sheet of parchment paper on top of the unbaked crust pressing it into the bottom and sides, then poured raw rice over the paper. You can use dried beans or even spend money and buy clever little chains or freestanding pieces of metal designed for this use. One caveat: if you use rice or beans you can re-use them forever--but DO NOT try to cook them after you've used them for blind-baking a pie crust!
After ten minutes I removed the crust from the oven and very carefully lifted out the parchment paper filled with dry rice. The crust went back into the oven for another five minutes. (Later, when the rice was cool, I poured it back into its quart jar for future use.)
As the crust prebaked, I prepared the filling, which was was easy like pie, as my old boss used to say. Using the food processor, I first ground the cooked kale to tiny bits so it would distribute throughout the cheesecake. Then I put in the soft cheese, the grated cheeses, and the cream, plus three eggs.*** I let the processor turn this into a smooth, cheesy, thick liquid.
Using a stand mixer I beat the egg whites until they were stiff and folded them into the cheese mixture. (To avoid dirtying another bowl, I scooted the egg whites to one side of their bowl and poured the contents of the processor beside them. Then I mixed them by folding the whites into the other.)
Finally, I poured the filling into the half-baked pie crust and put the whole thing back into the oven, reducing the heat to 375 degrees. An hour later, I had a beautiful (see the picture) souffled version of a savoury cheesecake. Like any souffle, it lost some of its puffiness after ten minutes, but that was to be expected.
*I could also have made a crumb crust, since I make bread crumbs from any leftover bread, and a crumb crust is much faster and easier than a from-scratch pie crust.
**Lacking a spring-form pan you could make this in any three-inch-deep casserole dish, lining it first with the pastry. The obvious reason for the spring-form pan is that you can then unmold it and let the cheesecake stand alone.
***If you want to make this but don't have a dish of egg whites on hand, then separate three or four eggs, put the yolks into the processor, then beat and add the whites later. Or simply put whole eggs in the mix without fluffing it up with separately beaten whites. It will be a flatter, firmer cheesecake and will cook in about 40 minutes rather than the hour needed for the thicker one. This is the version I usually make.
As always with these impromptu dishes, I expect you to use what you have on hand. Cottage cheese, feta cheese, and/or drained yogurt can take the place of the ricotta-type white cheese. Any firm, grate-able cheese can be used in place of the Swiss I had on hand. It's rare that I have cream on hand; ordinarily I would use a little milk. Use any leftover cooked vegetable you have. Each of these variations will bring its own flavour to the mix.
Other things to add: sundried tomatoes, pitted green or black olives, chopped onion, jalapeno or hot sauce.