Gayle Schindler

Today is Lag B’Omer, the 33rd of 49 days between Passover and Shavuot (shah-voo-ote), which begins on Saturday evening, June 8. It’s traditional to eat a dairy meal on Shavuot, although the origin of the tradition is unclear. There are many explanations, but the result is blintzes and cheesecake, so no one complains or asks too many questions.

I love the juxtaposition of savory and sweet foods in unexpected ways. Today’s recipe is a perfect example – Savory Pesto Cheesecake. This is one of those recipes I wrote about last time; it has a lot of steps, but it isn’t hard. Before we get to the recipe, here are some tips to help you turn out this beautiful cheesecake spread.

Cleaning basil – The key to this flavor bomb is the fresh basil and toasted walnuts. To wash basil or any leaves, fill a large bowl or your clean sink with cold water. Pick the leaves off the large stems; swish them around in the water until the dirt sinks. Scoop the clean leaves off the top; dry in a salad spinner or wrapped in clean kitchen towels. The recipe makes more than you need for the cheesecake. Use the rest on fish, fresh mozzarella, or pasta. It freezes well; ice trays make perfect portions.

Toasting nuts – Always store nuts in the refrigerator or freezer; they’ll get rancid faster than you think, if you leave them in a cupboard. To toast nuts, throw them in a dry, non-stick pan, large enough to hold them in a single layer. Use medium heat and WATCH them, tossing frequently. They’re done when you start to smell the aroma and they begin to brown just a little bit. But pay attention; they can go from perfectly toasted to burned in a hot second. Taste one before toasting and another after. You’ll see why I always toast nuts, no matter the recipe. 

Softening cream cheese & butter – You will have a problem with this recipe if your cream cheese isn’t soft enough to blend with the other ingredients. You may have encountered a similar problem with butter that is too hard to blend with flour for a pastry. The only way to get them soft enough is to leave them out overnight. Yes, I said it. Over. Night. In fact, as long as it’s covered, butter can live on your counter and always be ready for smooth spreading on a piece of soft bread. We can talk about food safety another time, but if you are working with name-brand cream cheese, that is manufactured and sealed in a sterile facility, you can leave it out overnight. It won’t go bad or get you sick.

Kosher gelatin – It’s kind of a long story, but the kashrut of gelatin is complicated. For many years, kosher-certified gelatin didn’t gel properly, which made some things impossible for kosher cooks. Based on my studies and the opinion of my rabbi, I use uncertified Knox gelatin. But I recently discovered a brand of kosher gelatin that does, in fact, gel – BaKol. It is made primarily from carrageenan, a plant-derived product that some people avoid, but it works. 

Thanks to my Mom’s BFF for this recipe.

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