On Thursday, June 3, our world grew a little darker. No, there wasn’t a solar eclipse or one of those freak thunderstorms that turn the sky a greenish-black in the middle of the day. No, it was something much more heart-breaking. Rue McClanahan died.
For those of you who are not “Golden Girls” fans (do those people exist?), you may not realize that McClanahan’s passing was the third among the four ladies in the past two years. That leaves just one Golden Girl left, Betty White, who, from all her recent appearances, looks to have more spunk than I do after 12 hours of sleep. But the world works in mysterious ways, people. The Golden Girls are (were) a national treasure, and we need to celebrate them, through day-long marathons on the WE channel and, of course, food.
Which probably leaves you begging the question: What the hell does any of this have to do with Minnesota?
Well, besides the obvious answer that White’s character, Rose Nylund, hailed from St. Olaf, MN, there’s another connection far more foodie in nature. Minnesota is the home of Djena Lee’s Golden Girl Tomato, an heirloom breed developed in the 1920s by Ms. Lee, the daughter of Minnesota financier Jim Lee, that later won first place at the Chicago Fair 10 years in a row. The tomato is part of Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste catalog, a national program that aims to protect more than 200 varieties of rare, regional foods from extinction by promoting their production and consumption. That means you’re not likely to find a Golden Girl in your local supermarket, but you can order seeds online or, if you’re lucky, you may find some in your CSA box. According to LocalHarvest.org, two Minnesota farms offer the breed in their shares.
Inspired by the discovery of Djena Lee’s Golden Girl Tomato — and mindful of the gals’ favorite late-night treat — I set out to create a tribute to “The Golden Girls” in the form of a cheesecake. But this wouldn’t be your garden-variety plain cheesecake with a glop of cherries on top. No, ma’am. Instead, it would be a savory cheesecake, suitable as an appetizer or a dessert, which paired golden tomato jam with a mascarpone cheese filling. Since I didn’t have the foresight to order Golden Girl tomato seeds last winter, I had to make do with whatever golden tomatoes, albeit Minnesota-grown, I could find at Whole Foods, and for the filling I looked across state lines to select mascarpone from Wisconsin’s Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese.
But despite these concessions, the result was pure taste bud magic. The jam needed no more than a few hours on the stove top to cook down to a warm, spice-infused pot of goodness. Layered with the light-as-air mascarpone filling and grounded by a crust made from crushed whole-wheat crackers and walnuts, it made a delightfully refreshing concoction that won’t give you a leaden feeling in your gut the way many cheesecakes do. The Girls could have devoured an entire cake and would have still had enough spring in their steps to compete in a dance-off (“One for the Money,” season three, episode 53) or enter the Shady Pines mother / daughter beauty pageant (“An Illegitimate Concern,” season five, episode 120). So bake up a cake, raise a slice to the Girls, and thank them for being our friends.
“Golden Girls” Mascarpone Cheesecake with Tomato-Onion Jam
Yield: 10 servings
Adapted from Epicurious.com / Gourmet magazine
For the crust:
1 c finely ground whole-wheat crackers (I used Carr’s)
½ c finely chopped walnuts
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
For the filling:
1 lb mascarpone cheese
8 oz cream cheese, cut into bits and softened
3 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 c tomato-onion jam (see recipe below)
For the topping:
8 oz sour cream
1 tsp all-purpose flour
1 yellow tomato, sliced, for garnish
To make the crust, blend together the cracker crumbs, walnuts, and butter in a small bowl and press into the bottom of a greased 9-inch springform pan. Bake the crust in the middle of a preheated 325ºF oven for 10 minutes.
To make the filling, blend the mascarpone, cream cheese, eggs, and flour in the bowl of an electric mixer until the mixture is very smooth. Pour half the filling on top of the crust, and then spoon the tomato-onion jam onto the filling, spreading it carefully with the back of a spoon. Pour the rest of the filling on top of the jam. Bake the cheesecake at 325ºF for one hour.
Blend the sour cream and flour in a small bowl and spread the topping onto the cheesecake. Bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until it is set. Let the cheesecake cool in the pan on a rack and chill it, covered loosely, for at least three hours or overnight. When ready to serve, remove the sides of the pan and garnish the cheesecake with a pinwheel of tomato slices.
Yield: About 1½ pts
Adapted from Tasty Kitchen
3 lbs yellow or golden tomatoes, chopped
1½ c granulated sugar
½ c dark brown sugar
¼ c cider vinegar
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp salt
½ tsp coriander
¼ tsp cumin
juice of one lemon
Put all ingredients in a 2-qt pot. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook until it reaches a thick, jam-like consistency, about three hours. Transfer to sterilized glass jars and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or use a hot-water canning bath for 15 minutes for long-term storage.