Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chestnut Cheesecake and a French Fantasty Repast

We are planning a trip to Provence, so when I came across this recipe for Roasted Chicken and Potatoes Provencal, the day before having a couple of friends over for dinner, it seemed like the perfect way to get even more into the spirit of planning. The recipe is another from Tony Hill's Contemporary Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices, and in line with my previous experiences, this did not disappoint. He writes that much of the pleasure of this recipe comes from how easy it is to prepare, and I have to agree. My friends were coming over at 7, and I wasn't due home until 6, so I needed something that I could get ready in advance and Will could pop in the oven for me. I dressed the chicken in the morning and the aromatic fragrace was already filling the kitchen by the time I got home.

The potatoes are par-boiled and when the chicken comes out (it needs to rest before carving), in they go to the very same roasting pan to turn golden in the drippings and herbs from the chicken. Since they're already cooked, they only take about 10 minutes in the oven, and I prepared a separate pan of asparagus with lemon, garlic and butter that snuggled up next to the roasting pan during those last same 10 minutes. Garnish the asparagus with pine nuts and fresh basil while Will slices the chicken and we have a delightful Provencal feast.

But no feast is worth writing about without the perfect dessert with which to finish. When we were in Paris, there were Chestnuts everywhere; roasted on open grates at streetcorners, glazed in pastry shops, and pureed into sweets and savories of all kinds. Bonne Maman makes delicious james and jellies that are readily available in grocery stores here, so when I found the rare jar of Chesnut puree in a specialty store, I snatched it up. And I had the perfect way to incorporate it for this meal! A hold-over recipe from the holidays, Chestnut Cheesecake by Nigella Lawson.

I made some substitutions based on what I had (not necessarily because of personal taste preference), so I'll post my version here.

Chestnut Cheesecake
serves 12

For Crust
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
couple shakes (or better yet - passes across the grater of fresh) nutmeg

Blend all ingredients in food processor. Press into bottom and up sides of a 9" or 10" springform pan, first wrapping foil around the exterior of the pan.

For Filling
8 oz cream cheese, softened
8 oz neufchatel cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup plain yogurt (mine was fat-free)
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon dark rum
12 oz sweetened chestnut puree (I used Bonne Maman brand)

Preheat oven to 400. Blend cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Add yogurt, and flavorings. Mix until combined. Add chesnut puree, and mix until well blended, or if desired, leave streaks for a marbled effect.

Pour batter into prepared crust. Place pan into a roasting pan and fill with water one-inch up sides of cake pan. Bake for 60 minutes, or until top is set, and starting to turn golden around the edges, but still wobbly in the center. Remove from water bath, and foil, and cool on rack, then refrigerate overnight.

You can see how soft the center is from this photo; it has plenty of structure but a
silky creaminess that is really excellent. If you prefer it more firm, don't bake it in the
 water bath; that will also give it a crispier crust, but you risk the top of the cake
cracking which is not as pretty and it doesn't bake as evenly that way.

Note that the recipe calls for a drizzling sauce. I made this as directed, but didn't find it syrupy at all, even after steadily boiling for 10 minutes. I don't think added anything to the dessert, so even if it was thicker and glossier, like a caramel sauce, I don't think I'd bother with it again. The cake is delicious as it is, with the right amount of sweetness.

Our meal was delightfully complemented by a 2006 Cabernet Franc from Walla Walla Vintners, which I highly recommend.

Roast Chicken Provencal
One 5-pound roasting chicken, rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon grey salt (or Kosher salt)
5 tablespoons Herbes de Provence
1 large lemon, washed
1 pound yukon gold potatoes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. With a mortar and pestle, or between your hands, crush herbes with salt. Coat chicken with oil, and rub with herbes inside and out. Stuff with lemon cut into quarters. Place on rack in roasting pan. Bake 90 minutes, or until thermometer in thigh is 160 degrees. Remove rack and chicken, cover chicken with foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes before carving. Meanwhile, parboil potatoes cut into 2-inch wedges. Place in roasting pan in drippings, and return to oven for about 10 minutes until golden.

Roast Asparagus
1 pound asparagus
1 large clove garlic
olive oil
1/2 large lemon
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup pine nuts, chopped
4 large leaves fresh basil, chiffonaded

Wash and trim asparagus. Lay in even layer in baking dish. Grate garlic over and spread evenly. Squeeze 1/4 fresh lemon over. Brush with a light coat of olive oil. Roast for 12 minutes at 400 degrees. Remove from oven, stir, and toss with butter cut into small pieces, and pine nuts. Return to oven for 2-3 minutes, until butter is melted and nuts are toasted. Just before serving, squeeze remaining 1/4 lemon over and sprinkle with fresh basil.


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