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Basil Cheese Torte with Red Bell Pepper Strips and Pine Nut

1/2 pound cream cheese -- softened
4 tablespoons butter -- softened
3/4 cup basil pesto
1/2 pound provolone -- thinly sliced
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 red bell pepper; roasted, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3" x 3/8" strips
1 small jar sun-dried tomatoes, packed in olive oil
fresh basil for garnish


Mix cream cheese and butter with a fork; add pesto and mix well. Line a small (3-cup) loaf pan or bowl with plastic wrap, leaving several inches of overhang on each side. Make a thin layer of provolone slices on the bottom and partially up the sides. Spread 1/3 of the pesto mixture over the cheese; artistically arrange 2 or 3 sun-dried tomatoes, 4-6 bell pepper strips, and about 1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts over the pesto. Repeat layers until all ingredients are used (reserving some of the pine nuts to sprinkle on top), pressing down well between layers. Chill overnight or for several days. Serve at room temperature on a platter wreathed with fresh basil sprigs. Additional toasted pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes cut into flowers, red bell pepper strips, and fresh basil sprigs may be used as garnish.

NOTE: Torte may be presented inverted or not. Keeps several weeks refrigerated. Although best served at room temperature, it slices best chilled. I like to serve it on a platter adorned with grape leaves and small clusters of red and white grapes.

VARIATIONS: Use lemon pesto; substitute slivered toasted almonds for the pine nuts; omit the sun-dried tomatoes and add 1 teaspoon lemon zest to the cream cheese mixture.

Use purple pesto; omit the red pepper if desired and increase the sun-dried tomatoes.

Use cinnamon basil pesto; omit the sun-dried tomatoes and the red peppers if desired, and use pecans instead of pine nuts.