Herb Tortas: Italian Pesto Cheese Torta

Pine nuts and pesto are layered in between creamy fresh cheeses in this classic Italian torta.

• 1 pound cream cheese, softened
• 15 ounces ricotta, drained
• 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, drained
• 10-12 fresh basil leaves
• 1 cup toasted pine nuts
• 3/4 cup Pesto (recipe follows)
• 1 teaspoon salt

Line a standard bread pan with a double thickness of fine-weave cheesecloth. Allow enough cheesecloth to fold over the top of the mold after the cheese has been layered. Arrange fresh basil leaves in a decorative pattern on the cheesecloth and sprinkle on 1 to 2 tablespoons of the pine nuts.

Combine cream cheese, ricotta, mozzarella, and salt in a food processor (or use an electric mixer) and blend until smooth. Place one-third of the cheese mixture in the pan and smooth it into an even layer. Spread half the pesto over the top and sprinkle on half the remaining pine nuts. Repeat these layers, ending with a cheese layer. Fold the cheesecloth over the top of the cheese and press slightly to even up the mold. Refrigerate one to three days.

To unmold, press down on the cheesecloth to make sure that the cheese is firmly in place. Fold back the top of the cheesecloth and pull up on the sides a little to loosen the mold. Invert a serving plate over the pan, keeping the cheesecloth away from the top of the mold. Turn over the mold together with the plate, then lift the pan off the cheese. Peel the cheesecloth carefully off the torta.

Variation: Substitute sun-dried tomato pesto for traditional pesto. Arrange whole sun-dried tomatoes, sliced black olives, basil, and pine nuts in a decorative pattern in the pan for the top of the torta.

Makes 2 cups

• 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
• 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 cup walnuts
• 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 1/4 cups parmesan or romano cheese
• Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine basil, garlic, and walnuts in a food processor or blender. (You may need to process the ingredients in two batches if using a blender.) Blend. Add olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Add cheese, salt, and pepper, and process briefly.

Mary Herrick is The Jazz Cook of Fort Collins, Colorado, a food writer, and the owner of an event planning and catering business.

For more recipes from Herb Tortas,click here.

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