Creamy Cheese, Sun-Dried Tomato and Pesto Torta

It has been a month of birthdays around here, and this fresh tasting layered spread, that showed up at a Christmas party and was an instant hit, has been requested for two January parties. It’s simple to make, can be done ahead and stored in the fridge, and looks impressive set out on the coffee or buffet table. It’s perfect for TV season, and will be pulled into service when it’s time for the Super Bowl, or we need to throw an Oscar party.

Sun-Dried Tomato and Pesto Torta

adapted from Bon Appétit, December 1999

4 garlic cloves
1 1/2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, at room temperature, or half cream cheese, half soft goat cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/4 cups drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato paste
3/4 cup butter, at room temperature

Fresh basil, thinly sliced
Toasted pine nuts
Chopped Kalamata olives
Balsamic reduction
Baguette and/or crackers

In a food processor, pulse the garlic, basil, 1/4 cup pine nuts, oil and lemon juice until well blended. Add 1/3 cup cream cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and pulse just until blended. Transfer to a bowl.

Coarsely chop the tomatoes in the same processor; add tomato paste and process until mixture is almost smooth. Add 1/3 cup cream cheese and blend well.

Beat 2 cups cream cheese and butter in a bowl until fluffy and lump-free, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Butter a 4 cup high-sided bowl or dish and line with plastic wrap, extending it over the sides. Spread 3/4 cup cream cheese-butter mixture evenly over the bottom, then top with half the tomato mixture, 1/2 cup cream cheese-butter mixture, then half the pesto mixture. Repeat layering with 1/2 cup cream cheese-butter mixture, remaining tomato mixture, 1/2 cup cream cheese-butter mixture and remaining pesto. Top with remaining cream cheese-butter mixture. Cover and chill overnight. (Can be made 3 days ahead.)

Invert onto a platter, peel away the plastic and garnish with basil, pine nuts and olives, and drizzle with balsamic reduction. Serve with crusty baguette or crackers. Serves 10 or more.

You can find Julie’s recipes and ideas at her blog, Dinner with Julie. You can also join her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, or find more of her posts at the Family Kitchen.

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