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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Basilica Torta

I occasionally make a showy, layered appetizer using sun-dried tomatoes, cream cheese, and basil pesto. The combination of colors and flavors is like a party in your mouth! Whenever I make this great spread, my guests want the recipe. It originates with cookbook author Susan Mendelson, owner and president of The Lazy Gourmet Catering Company in Vancouver, Canada. 

Always a crowd pleaser!
Basilica Torta isn’t as difficult as it sounds, and it makes a large quantity - enough to serve 16-to-20 people. It’s a show-stopping, delicious, make-ahead party dish that needs overnight mellowing. It keeps well for a couple of weeks, covered in the fridge.

Tip: To make sure the layering is visible when the Torta is unmolded, spread pesto and sun-dried tomato layers right to the edge of the bowl. I cover and freeze each layer for a few minutes before adding another layer. This prevents the layers from “sloshing around” and makes a more attractive finished product. 

Basilica Torta:

2-½ c. Winnipeg-style or New York-style (i.e., soft, spreadable) cream cheese, at room temperature
½ c. basil pesto, well drained of oil, divided
1 c. drained sun-dried or oven-dried tomatoes (packed in oil), blotted dry and chopped, divided
½ c. + 2 tbsp. toasted pine nuts, divided (see Note)
Fresh basil leaves, as garnish
Sliced baguette 

Line a 6-cup (1.5 L) bowl with pieces of plastic wrap large enough to extend over edge of bowl. In a separate bowl, beat cream cheese until soft. Spread ½ c. of cream cheese in bottom of plastic-wrap-lined bowl to make an even layer. 
Spread ¼ c. pesto over cream cheese. Top with ½ c. cream cheese, spreading to make an even layer. Sprinkle evenly with ⅓ c. sun-dried tomatoes, then ¼ c. pine nuts. Repeat layering once. Top with remaining cream cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight to allow flavors to blend and mellow.
Uncover top of cheese, turn bowl upside-down, and unmold onto large plate. Remove plastic wrap and sprinkle top with remaining ⅓ c. sun-dried tomatoes and 2 tbsp. pine nuts. Let stand for about 1 hr. before serving. Garnish with basil leaves. Serve with sliced baguette. Serves 12-to-16 generously.
Note: It goes without saying - but I will say it, anyway - that although the proportions remain the same, the size of bowl you use will affect the measurements of your ingredients. For the record, I used a bowl with a 8 in. diameter and a base just shy of 3 in. I used most of a 2 lb. (500 g) tub of cream cheese to make this - and a little more of everything than the recipe calls for. If you have only brick cream cheese, beating it together with sour cream will make it spreadable. 
Also: Drain as much oil as you can from sun-dried tomatoes and pesto before using them in this spread.
Further Note: See How to Toast Nuts in Index. Also see How to Oven-Dry Tomatoes.


This is the bowl I used! It made a huge amount


Line your bowl with cello wrap: Pack in cream cheese


Add a layer of pesto
Add more cream cheese


Next come chopped sun-dried (or oven-dried) tomatoes


Repeat layering as recipe directs


Toast pine nuts to bring out the flavor


Sprinkle on pine nuts, topping with extra nuts and tomatoes 


Invert bowl on serving plate, removing cello to serve


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