Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Pesto Torta

Adapted from Above and Beyond Parsley: Food for the Senses by the Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri

I once made this for one of Walter's birthday parties, and Marsha took one bite, thought for a second, and looked at me and said, "Cream cheese AND butter?" So I guess you can imagine how rich this is.

This recipe can be cut in half.  It can also be frozen, so instead of making one large torta, you can make two and freeze one.

Pesto Torta
Adapted from Above and Beyond Parsley: Food for the Senses by the Junior League of KCMO

Cream Cheese and Butter

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 pound unsalted butter, room temperature

Beat softened cream cheese and softened butter with a spoon until smooth.


¼ cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
1 cup fresh spinach, tightly packed
1 cup fresh basil, tightly packed
½ cup fresh parsley
½ teaspoon salt or less
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

Sun dried tomatoes for decoration (optional)

Beat softened cream cheese and softened butter with a spoon until smooth.

Toast the pine nuts in a small skillet on top of the stove, stirring and watching carefully to prevent burning. Puree the toasted pine nuts, garlic, spinach, basil, parsley, and salt in a food processor. Add the olive oil and blend. Add the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and 3 tablespoons of butter, being careful not to over blend.


Cut an 18-inch square of cheesecloth; moisten with water, wring dry and as smoothly as possible line a 6-cup plain or charlotte mold (I once used a flowerpot-shaped glass mold, and it was perfect) with the cheesecloth. Drape the excess cheesecloth outward over the rim of the mold.

Take two pieces of wax paper or aluminum foil. On one, make six mounds of the cream cheese/butter mixture; on the other one, make five mounds of the pesto.

Use two different spatulas for the next step so the cream cheese/butter mixture has its own spatula, and the pesto has its own spatula. You are going to layer the two different ingredients - the cream cheese/butter mixture and the pesto.

Start by making an even layer with one of the cheese mounds in the bottom of the mold, extending it evenly to the sides of the mold. Cover with one of the pesto mounds, and spread the pesto in an even layer. Repeat layering, making each layer even, and extending each layer to the sides of the mold.  If your mold is too wide to make this many layers, that's fine, but always finish with a cheese layer.

Fold the hanging ends of the cheesecloth inward over the torta, and press lightly to tamp the ingredients down a little. Chill for several hours or overnight.

A half hour before serving gently pull the torta out of the mold, but do not remove the cheesecloth yet, and do not turn it right side up. Open the folds of the cheesecloth to expose the bottom of the torta, put a serving dish over the exposed bottom of the torta, turn it over so the serving dish is in the right position, and gently remove the cheesecloth. If you like, decorate the top of the torta with sun-dried tomatoes spread out in a fan shape.

Serve the torta with crackers (I like Carr's or Wellington Traditional Water Crackers) and/or thin slices of baguette.

To store, remove the cheesecloth, wrap the torta air-tight with plastic wrap.  This can be refrigerated for up to five days. The torta can also be frozen.

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