Pesto Cheese Torta

There are many variations of this favorite party appetizer, but this version is simple and easy to do ahead. One recipe makes enough for a large crowd.

INGREDIENTS:

Cheese layer:
1 lb. cream cheese, room temperature
1 lb. unsalted butter, room temperature

Pesto Filling:
2 1/2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
5 ounces (about 1 cup) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Salt and pepper, to taste

METHOD:

Place cheese and butter in mixer and blend until smooth. Scrape mixture from sides and make sure it is thoroughly mixed.

Place pesto filling ingredients in food processor and process until mixture is a  smooth paste.

Cut cheesecloth to fit mold for torta. Moisten with water, wring dry and lay out flat, one layer on top of the other.

Smoothly line a 5-6 cup plain mold such as a loaf pan, a bowl, or a terrine mold. Drape excess over outside of mold or bowl.

Begin first layer with cheese mixture. Spread smoothly with spatula.

Add layer of pesto filling and repeat until mold is filled, ending with cheese layer. Do not make layers too thin or too thick. (Use about 5-6 layers for recipe).

Fold cheesecloth overhang onto top of torta. Using the palm of your hand, gently press mixture to compact the mixture slightly. Cover pan tightly with plastic wrap and chill for several hours, or overnight.

When ready to serve, remove plastic wrap and fold back cheesecloth. Place serving platter on top, then invert to unmold. Gently remove cheesecloth. Garnish with sprigs of fresh basil.

Serve with crackers or crostini.