Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Provolone Pesto Torte (an Appetizer)

One year, many years ago, my DH and I took a driving trip up to Wine Country, in northern California. We stopped here and there, wineries, the Napa Valley Olive Oil Company, restaurants (Mustard’s was my favorite), and a darling little gourmet market that’s located on Highway 29. I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s still there, on the east side of the highway. They carried mostly gourmet jars, cans, and a lovely selection of cheeses and olives, tapenade, grilled peppers, fresh bread and snacks. I was in heaven shopping in that little store. The clerk behind the counter recommended a cheese torte thing, to make a little picnic lunch we planned. He sliced off a wedge and off we went. Well, since you’re getting a recipe here, you can guess the torte was out of this world.

Once home, I researched a few cookbooks, and found nothing. I knew it had provolone cheese in it, some cream cheese and pesto, but I couldn’t pick out anything else. Weeks and months went by, and then one momentous Thursday morning our local paper (this was in 1989) featured an article about cheese tortes. Aha! I made it immediately, with just a couple of little alterations to it.

It's layers of provolone cheese, a cream cheese mixture, and pesto. It takes about half an hour to assemble it, maybe less, then it needs to rest in the refrigerator overnight. The instructions may seem a bit elaborate, but it's not difficult to make. Honest. It looks like something you'd buy in the gourmet deli, but I assure you, you can make it yourself easily enough.

Leftovers (left): I almost always have some leftovers of this torte, and we can only eat so much of the appetizer night after night. So one time I cut what was left into little chunks (I used a chef’s knife and just chopped and chopped, then tossed it into a piping hot pot of pasta. It’s almost good enough to combine these ingredients without making it into a torte. Everything melts when you toss it with piping hot pasta.

Necessary items: a 7-inch round bowl, flat bottomed, or non-metal bread sized pan or dish. It needs to have sides that are about 3 inches high. You also need cheesecloth - not something every home cook has in her repertoire. But it really is necessary. I suppose you could use plastic wrap, but the torte oozes a little, and the cheesecloth absorbs the fluid.

Cook’s Notes: This is easiest using thinly sliced provolone – maybe thinner than you get as sandwich slices at the grocery store – so ideally buy from a butcher who can do that for you. It makes the molding of the slices a lot easier if they’re thinner. Allow the provolone to sit at room temp for about 30 minutes before starting the assembly, as it's easier to mold it. As you arrange the cheese in the mold, try to press the cheese edges together to keep the pesto from oozing through as you construct the torte. The cream cheese mixture needs to be at room temp in order to spread it easily. Have everything ready and at hand when you begin the layering, and it will come together quickly. For ease, buy ready-made pesto, rather than making your own.

Provolone Pesto Torte
Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe in Orange County Register, July 1989
Serving Size: 30
1 pound provolone cheese -- sliced
1 cup pesto sauce
8 ounces cream cheese -- softened
1/4 cup butter -- softened
1 clove garlic -- minced
1 dash white pepper
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 c fresh basil
1/4 c pine nuts
1. GARLIC CREAM: In food processor, blend cream cheese, butter, garlic and pepper. Stir in pine nuts and set aside.
2. TO ASSEMBLE: line a 9x5x3 loaf pan (or 7-inch round dish with moderately high sides) with clean, dampened cheesecloth, leaving excess to hang over the sides. Line the bottom and sides with HALF the provolone, slightly overlapping slices and pressing edges to seal. This is important because the pesto will leak through otherwise. Also, arrange the cheese on the bottom layer as neatly as possible, because when it's unmolded, it becomes the top.
3. Divide the remaining cheese slices into 3 portions. Spread half the pesto on top of the provolone in bottom of dish. Make a layer of cheese slices and spread evenly with HALF of the garlic cream. Make another layer of cheese slices, garlic cream and pesto. Cover entire surface with the last of the sliced cheese. Fold cheesecloth over the pan/dish and press firmly to compress it. Refrigerate loaf at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.
4. PRESENTATION: Unfold cheesecloth. Holding cheesecloth edges like a sling, gently lift loaf up a little to loosen from pan and release it back into the pan. Invert pan onto a serving platter or suitable tray. Shake pan gently to ease the loaf out and remove cheesecloth. Garnish with branches of fresh basil and pine nuts. Accompany with thinly sliced French bread, Table Water Crackers or other cracker. NOTES: IF you have leftovers, this is absolutely wonderful melted into fresh pasta - it just becomes the pasta sauce all by itself, and it also can be crumbled up in a big green salad, too. You can use pistachio nuts instead of pine nuts, if preferred. I prefer my own pesto - because I use less oil than prepared sauces. In a hurry you can substitute jarred pesto and Boursin-style cheese for the garlic cream portion as well. It will keep several weeks.
Per Serving: 147 Calories; 13g Fat (79.0% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 226mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain (Starch); 1 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
Printer-friendly PDF recipe.


Cora said...

Sounds like you may have stopped at Oakville Grocery. We stopped there too on our first visit to Napa Valley in 1976, the beginning of my love affair with Wine Country. I've been back many times over the years. Things have changed, but it is still my favorite place on earth and I'd live there if I could. Thanks for the memories and the wonderful recipe. Can't wait to try it. I enjoy your blog!

Carolyn T said...

Thank you, Cora, for visiting my blog. And yes, you're SO right, it is the Oakvilla Grocery. Isn't it an amazing place? And I've certainly toyed, in my mind, at least, with wanting to live up there too. But it gets gosh-awful hot in the summertime, in case you didn't know . . .