GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 17, 2013

Savory cheesecake for summer dinner

Local food pantry, like one-dish meal, meets nutrition needs

Food for Thought
Heather Atwood

---- — The Open Door, Cape Ann’s local food assistance program, never takes a vacation from our most tender population. The Open Door is tirelessly creating new programs to meet the ever-changing nutrition, health and cultural demands of the growing numbers of people living on the smallest of means. Summer is no exception. Here’s some news on what’s going on at the Open Door right now:

Who is the hardest to pin down for a balanced meal in the summer? Teens. The Open Door has two teen dinner sites, one at the Rockport Teen Center from 5 to 7 p.m. and one at the Gloucester Chill Zone from 6 to 8 p.m. Any teenager can drop in and receive a dinner which includes the four components required of federal nutrition guidelines:1 milk, 2 fruits and vegetables, 1 grain or bread, 1 meat or meat alternative.

Without the reliability of school schedules, younger children who might be missing meals because of their family’s economics are harder to reach in the summer, but The Open Door has nine sites around Cape Ann — from Riverdale Park to Arthaven — where children can receive healthy lunches made with locally grown vegetables (from The Open Door’s own community garden), whole wheat bread and low-fat milk. For information on the exact locations and who can participate call 978-283-6776 or go to The Open Door website.

Special dietary sensitivities are not neglected even in The Open Door’s food pantry, where a gluten-free shelf always stays stocked. As an aside, recently Cross Fit Cape Ann, the local branch of the national fitness program, prepared a “Paleo” dinner for an Open Door community meal. (Crossfit is one of 40 groups that regularly volunteer to prepare Open Door community meals.) The “Paleo” diet, part of Crossfit’s regimen, is heavy on whole foods, lean meats, vegetables, nuts, seeds and oils — long on protein, short on anything that spikes a glycemic index, including carbohydrates, dairy and even fruits. Brisket — humanely raised, pasture fed — was for dinner that night.

The Open Door’s Community Garden, beautiful rows of raised beds built with the support of The Food Project and The Backyard Growers Project, are brimming right now with swiss chard, squashes, beans, tomatoes and herbs. As mentioned, all this organic, locally raised produce makes the summer lunch program and community meals more interesting, delicious, and carbon-light. The garden’s herbs are being dried and packaged to use in meals or offered to clients in the Food Pantry.

From minding our teenagers to weeding the garden, the people of The Open Door are busy this summer. Drop in to see the garden or just show some support.

Here’s a recipe that might meet those federal nutrition guidelines — milk, vegetables, whole grains, and meat alternative — in one dish, polenta-crusted savory zucchini cheesecake. Serve it as a beautiful entree or a surprising appetizer. The polenta crust gives it a satisfying, rustic quality. Maybe serve it to a busy teen in your life!

Savory Cheesecake with Polenta Crust

Serves 10-12

Ingredients

Filling

2 cups shredded zucchini

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella

2 cups ricotta cheese

4 eggs, beaten

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup (4 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded mozzarella

Polenta Crust

1 shallot, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon butter

3 cups chicken stock

1 1/4 cups polenta or cornmeal

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Salt the zucchini, and let sit in a strainer for 10 minutes. Squeeze out excess moisture as much as possible. Saute the zucchini in the olive oil until tender. Add the pepper. Remove from heat and let cool. Combine the zucchini and mozzarella in a bowl and mix well. Set aside.

For the custard, combine the ricotta, eggs, heavy cream, Parmesan cheese, shredded mozzarella in a bowl and mix well. Set aside.

To prepare the polenta crust, in a medium saucepan saute the shallot, salt and cayenne pepper in butter until the shallot is tender. Add the stock. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Whisk in the polenta gradually. When it begins to thicken, remove from heat, and pour into a 10-inch springform pan, spreading it evenly over the bottom.

Spread the vegetables over the warm polenta; the cheese begins to melt which helps merge the layers. Pour the custard over the vegetables. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the custard is set and light brown. Cool in the pan for at least 1 hour. Run a thin, sharp knife around the edge to loosen the cake, and then remove the side.

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Rockport resident Heather Atwood writes the Food for Thought column weekly. Questions and comments may be directed to heatheraa@aol.com. Follow her blog at HeatherAtwood.com.