Some of us can sit down and make a meal of cheese and crackers, but often cheese is a key ingredient in a bigger vision.

Not only is cheese tasty, there are many varieties, it’s available all year and when you find the right cheese for the right dish, you’ve found the key.

Here are a few cheesy ideas to try.

HOT CHEESY SCALLION KALE DIP

from themom100.com

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup chopped scallions

2 cups chopped kale

¼ cup dry white wine

1 8-ounce package cream cheese at room temperature

½ cup sour cream

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup grated Gruyere cheese

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a shallow 1-quart baking dish.

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat until melted. Add the scallions and sauté for 3 minutes until slightly tender. Add the kale and sauté for another 4 minutes until tender. Add the wine, and stir to loosen any bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan; allow the wine to evaporate, about 2 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl, and add the cream cheese, sour cream, lemon juice, cayenne, Gruyere and ½ cup Parmesan. Mix to blend completely, and transfer to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan over the top. Bake for about 25 minutes until hot and bubbly.

PEPPERONI-PIZZA BAKED POTATO

from myrecipes.com

4 large baking potatoes, washed, patted dry, pierced all over with a sharp knife

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup sliced mushrooms

½ cup sliced pepperoni rounds (about 1 3/4 oz.)

1 8-oz. can tomato sauce

½ teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 cup shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Rub potatoes with 1/2 Tbsp. oil, then sprinkle with salt. Place potatoes on a paper towel and microwave until just tender, about 10 minutes, turning halfway through. Transfer potatoes to baking sheet. Bake until skins are crisp, about 15 minutes.

Heat remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook onion and mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until soft and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in pepperoni, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper.

Remove potatoes from oven. Place oven rack 5 inches from heat source; preheat broiler. Carefully cut a slit in top of each potato; squeeze ends to open. Fluff inside of potato with a fork. Divide pepperoni mixture among potatoes; top with mozzarella. Broil until cheese is melted and starting to brown, approximately 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

FONTINA ASPARAGUS TART

from tasteofhome.com

1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

2 cups shredded fontina cheese

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large skillet, bring 1 in. of water to a boil; add asparagus. Cook, covered, until crisp-tender, 3-5 minutes. Drain and pat dry.

On a lightly floured surface, roll pastry sheet into a 16x12-in. rectangle. Transfer to a parchment-lined large baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Sprinkle 1-1/2 cups cheese over pastry to within 1/2-in. of edges. Place asparagus over top; sprinkle with remaining cheese. Mix remaining ingredients; drizzle over top. Bake until cheese is melted, 10-15 minutes. Serve warm.

BAKED FOUR-CHEESE SPAGHETTI

from foodandwine.com

1 1/2 pounds spaghetti

1/2 pound imported Fontina, coarsely shredded (2 cups)

1/2 pound mozzarella, coarsely shredded (2 cups)

1/2 pound Gruyère, coarsely shredded (2 cups)

1/4 pound Gorgonzola dolce, crumbled

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain well and spread the spaghetti on a baking sheet; let cool.

In a large bowl, toss the Fontina with the mozzarella and Gruyère. Spread one third of the spaghetti in the prepared baking dish in an even layer. Sprinkle 1/3 of the mixed cheeses and half of the Gorgonzola over the spaghetti and season with salt and pepper. Repeat with another layer of spaghetti, mixed cheeses, Gorgonzola and salt and pepper. Top with the remaining spaghetti and mixed cheeses.

Bake the spaghetti in the center of the oven until the top is golden brown, about 40 minutes. Let cool slightly before cutting into squares and serving.

TRIPLE-CHEESE CHEESECAKE WITH AMARETTI CRUST

from foodandwine.com

3 ounces amaretti cookies (about 20)

2 ounces honey graham crackers (about 4 whole crackers), coarsely crushed

Pinch of kosher salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

cheesecake

1 teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin

3/4 cup chilled heavy cream

Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup fresh ricotta cheese

3/4 cup sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

1/4 cup mascarpone cheese or sour cream

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

honeyed apricots

3/4 cup honey

Three 3-inch rosemary sprigs

6 ounces dried California apricots

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a food processor, pulse the amaretti with the graham crackers and salt until finely ground. Transfer the crumbs to a small bowl and stir in the butter. Press the crumbs evenly over the bottom and halfway up the side of an 8-inch springform pan. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the crust is set. Cool on a rack.

make the cheesecake

In a microwave-safe dish, sprinkle the gelatin over 2 tablespoons of cold water; let stand until the gelatin is softened, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, beat the heavy cream until soft peaks form; refrigerate.

In a bowl, beat the cream cheese, ricotta, sugar and salt with an electric mixer at high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the mascarpone and lemon juice.

Microwave the gelatin until melted, 5 seconds; scrape into the cream cheese mixture and beat until incorporated. Fold in the whipped cream. Pour the mixture into the cooled crust and smooth the surface. Refrigerate the cake until firm and set, 3 hours.

make the honeyed apricots

In a medium saucepan, combine the honey with 3 cups of water and the rosemary. Bring to a boil and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the honey is dissolved. Add the apricots and simmer until tender, 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the apricots to a bowl. Boil the rosemary syrup until thickened, 20 to 25 minutes. Strain the syrup over the apricots and let cool.

Unmold the cheesecake and serve with the honeyed apricots.

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