I love cheesecake in any form, but this year I am most in love with a cheesecake with a surprise: Nectarine and Black Pepper Cheesecake.
Ricotta brings a lightness that is unmatched to the classic New York cheesecake. I add mascarpone and American cream cheese to help balance the ricotta and achieve an ideal creamy texture. This blend will save you from the denseness that sometimes plagues this dessert.
Near Modena, in Emilia-Romagna, nectarines are often served with black pepper and balsamic vinegar, a combination so deceptively perfect and balanced that it seemed a logical step to mix that combination with delicious ricotta and cream cheese.
When nectarines aren't available at the market, use any stone fruit: plum, apricots or even cherries.
This dessert is simply tantalizing.
Nectarine and Black Pepper Cheesecake
Recipe courtesy of Molto Batali (ecco, 2011)
Makes one 9-inch cheesecake; serves 8 to 10.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 ripe nectarines, pitted, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butted, melted, plus extra melted butter for brushing the pan.
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 cups mascarpone, at room temperature
10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
10 ounces fresh ricotta, drained, at room temperature
1 tablespoon almond extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup heavy cream
In a 12-inch saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat until just smoking. Add the nectarine slices and saute for 2 minutes, or until just softened. Add the black pepper and toss to mix well. Transfer the nectarines to a strainer, set the strainer on a plate to catch the juices, and allow to cool.
Preheat the oven to 325 F.
Brush melted butter over the bottom and sides of a 3-inch-deep 9-inch springform pan. Place a round of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan.
In a small bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, the 8 tablespoons melted butter, and 1 tablespoon sugar. Stir together thoroughly. Press the mixture over the bottom of the parchment-lined pan.
In a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the mascarpone on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add the cream cheese, ricotta and remaining 1 cup sugar, and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the almond extract, eggs and heavy cream.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly pout in the liquid mixture, stopping and scraping the bowl two or three times to incorporate all the ingredients. Using a spatula, gently stir in the drained nectarines (reserve the drained liquid in a small bowl) until completely combined. Pour the mixture into the springform pan.
Prepare a water bath by filling a broiler pan or a baking dish halfway with hot tap water. Place the pan in the oven.
Cover the bottom of the springform pan with foil and set it into the water bath. Bake for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, until the cheesecake is set but still has a little wobble in the center.
Turn the oven off, open the oven door, and allow the cheesecake to stand in the turned-off oven for 30 minutes. Then remove the springform from the water bath, place it in the refrigerator, and chill for 3 hours.
Shortly before serving, pour the reserved drained nectarine liquid into a small saucepan, and reduce it slowly over low heat until syrupy.
Remove the springform pan sides and transfer the cheesecake to a platter. Slice it with a hot knife (warm it under hot running water, dry it, and slice), and serve each slice with a drizzle of the nectarine syrup.
(Mario Batali is the owner of Babbo, Lupa, Otto and other renowned restaurants. His latest book is "Molto Batali," published by Ecco.)