½ lb butter at room temperature
½ lb cream cheese at room temperature
2-3 tablespoons prepared pesto
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
French bread slices, to serve
- Process cream cheese and butter in a food processor until smooth
- Spread half of cream cheese mixture into a mold lined with damp cheesecloth
- Spread pesto over cream cheese mixture, scatter with walnuts
- Spread remaining cream cheese mixture over pesto and walnuts
- Chill to set, unmold, serve with bread, toasts or crackers
In the work bowl of a food processor or stand mixer (or in a regular bowl with a handheld mixer), combine the butter and cream cheese. Whir it around until they’re completely combined and quite soft. In the food processor the mixture will appear almost liquid as it flows around. That’s fine—you’re going to chill it back up in a few minutes.
Dampen and wring out a square of cheesecloth large enough to fit in your cake pan and fold over the top of the cheese. Drape the cloth over the pan and push it in a bit. Spoon about half of the cream cheese mixture into the pan and smooth it out. Carefully spread the pesto over the cheese. You want a nice layer of pesto, but it shouldn’t be thick. Just enough that each bite contains enough that the flavor comes through, and it’s obvious that it’s pesto. You want to leave as little border as possible—you don’t really want the pesto to show, but neither do you want the first few servings around the edge to be nothing but cream cheese mixture. Scatter the pesto with the chopped walnuts. Spoon the remaining cream cheese mixture over the pesto and walnut layer. This is where it gets a bit tricky, trying to smooth the cheese without disturbing the filling. Remember that what is the top right now will be the bottom, so any flubs won’t show when it’s turned out.
Fold the extra cheesecloth up over the top, press down gently, and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
When ready to unmold, unfold cheesecloth and position a platter over the cheese. Flip the platter and pan over and lift off the pan. If it should resist at all, tug gently on the edges of the cheesecloth to loosen the cheese from the bottom of the pan. Remove the cheesecloth. You can serve it at once, or let it sit at room temperature for a half hour or so to soften up.
Slice French bread into rounds for spreading. Toast in a 350 degree oven until lightly crisped, if desired. I often just leave the bread plain. You can also serve this with water crackers.
Originally this was to be a, "What do you DO with all that basil?!" post, a suggestion to make pesto, and then this recipe. And that may still be your problem if you live in most of the United States, but if you live where I live, you're wondering not what to do with all that basil. No, you're wondering if you're ever going to have any basil at all ever pretty much as long as you live. Then you sigh. Then you go buy a tub of pesto to make this recipe. Which, to be fair, is pretty great, no matter what the weather.
This was something we used to make when I worked in catering. It serves a large number of people for a very low cost per person, and it can be made in a huge batch, so it’s not labor intensive. The hardest thing to do is slice (and toast, if desired) the bread. A food processor (or mixer) does all the work for the torta. It’s molded in a cake pan, so you can get fun with the shapes if you like. We used to make this in a heart shaped pan for weddings and decorate the platter with flowers. I have also used just a plain 9” round cake pan. I cut the usual recipe in half because it makes a simply enormous amount when you use the proportions we used in catering. It’s really enough for 30 or 40 people. This reduced version I made in 6” loaf pan and it was perfect for the 15-18 people I was entertaining. To serve the larger number, just double the butter and cream cheese, and increase the pesto and walnuts to get the same even coverage (you'll just about double them as well).
The name of this recipe is in quotes because there’s actually no mascarpone in it. Perhaps at one time it was all mascarpone (if you're not familiar with it, it's a soft cheese that’s sort of half way between ricotta and cream cheese, often found in tiramisu), but by the time this recipe made its way to me, it was completely devoid of it. Just as well—it’s a little pricey to use in this volume. If you have recently won the lottery, or inherited a substantial fortune, you might try using all mascarpone, but if you’re like the rest of us peasants, the (relatively) inexpensive ingredients here will work just fine.