Ho Ho Ho… and here we go. It’s party time, friends. Three to four weeks, more or less, between now and New Year’s Day, with Christmas, Hanukkah, and that brand new year, all waiting to be celebrated.
I don’t know how much partying you may or may not do throughout the rest of the year, but there’s something about the holiday season that seems to make getting together with friends for some food and drink almost mandatory. So, we unearth the seldom used punch bowl, haul out the huge box of Christmas decorations, and start rifling through our various “holiday recipes” files. In my case, just going through those recipes and trying to decide what I want to do this year can take two or three days.
There are so many favorite holiday foods, it’s a wonder any of us who love to cook and bake during the holidays ever get it narrowed down, but I do have one rule I made several years ago and stick to. Each year, I vow to come up with one new, and hopefully spectacular dish, whether it be appetizer or dessert, for a holiday season party. And because my extended family are all such traditionalists who don’t want Christmas messed with in any way, this “new and spectacular” presentation is always reserved solely for party times, either before or after the very traditional Christmas feast.
Right now I’m on the hunt for this year’s WOW offering, for a holiday birthday gathering coming up right after Christmas. We have five December birthdays in our family, as well as two December anniversaries, and this year it just happens we’re all going to be together for Christmas and the following week, so it’s definitely party time. I haven’t yet settled on the special new dish that’s going to knock their socks off, and if any of you reading this have such a recipe in your collection, something that stands out every time you serve it, and you’d be willing to share, I’d love to hear about it. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and … let’s party!
Two years ago, I took this pesto torte appetizer to a New Year’s Day open house buffet; I’m still getting requests for the recipe. The green pesto is perfect for the holiday season, and if you serve it on a platter rimmed with red trimmings (cranberry chain, holly with berries, etc.) it’s festive and unique.
For the pesto: 2 garlic cloves
1 ½ cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
½ cup pine nuts
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano Reggiano)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the torte: 12 oz. cream cheese, room temp.
¾ cup ricotta cheese, room temp.
¾ cup butter, room temp.
5 T. pine nuts
Assorted small breads and/or crackers
To make the pesto: drop the garlic through the feed tube of a food processor and pulse until minced. Add the basil, pine nuts and cheese; process until finely minced. Gradually add the oil and process to a coarse puree. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To make the torte: Blend the cream cheese, ricotta cheese, and butter in food processor until smooth. Line a deep 6-cup bowl with plastic wrap; sprinkle 1 T. of the pine nuts in the bottom of the bowl. Spoon 1/3 of the cheese mixture into the bowl; smooth the top. Spread half of the pesto over the cheese and sprinkle with 2 T. pine nuts. Spoon half of remaining cheese mixture over the pine nuts, smooth the top and sprinkle with 2 T. of pine nuts. Spoon remaining cheese mixture over the pine nuts. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (about 4 hrs.) Can be made ahead; keep refrigerated until ready to plate.
Uncover the torte and unmold onto serving platter. Bring to room temp. and serve with assorted small breads and crackers. Makes 10-12 appetizer servings.
As long as we’re talking tortas, which are always a special treat and, thank heaven, can be made ahead and refrigerated, here’s another spectacular, colorful holiday appetizer that’ll get raves.
SUN-DRIED TOMATO PESTO TORTA
4 cloves garlic
1 ½ cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
¼ cup pine nuts
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 t. fresh lemon juice
2 2/3 cup (about 21 oz.) cream cheese, at room temp., divided (see instructions)
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 1/3 cup drained, oil-packed sun dried tomatoes
1/3 cup tomato paste
¾ cup butter, at room temp.
Non-stick veg. spray
Toasted pine nuts, fresh basil sprigs, toasted baguette slices
Finely mince the garlic in a food processor. Add basil, ¼ cup pine nuts, olive oil and lemon juice. Process until well blended. Add
1/3 cup cream cheese and the Parmesan cheese. Pulse just until blended; transfer to a bowl.
Coarsely chop the tomatoes in food processor. Add tomato paste and process until mixture is almost smooth. Add 1/3 cup cream cheese and blend well.
Using an electric mixer, beat remaining 2 cups cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spray a 6-cup soufflé dish with non-stick spray and line with plastic wrap, extending wrap over the sides. Spread ¾ cup of the cream cheese-butter mixture evenly over the bottom of the prepared dish. Top with half of the tomato mixture, then ½ cup of the cream cheese/butter mixture, then half of the pesto mixture, smoothing top of each layer. Repeat layering with ½ cup cream cheese-butter, remaining tomato mixture, ½ cup cream cheese-butter mixture and remaining pesto. Top with remaining cream cheese-butter mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight. (Can be made 3 days ahead; keep refrigerated.)
When ready to present, uncover and invert torta onto platter. Carefully peel off the plastic wrap; garnish with basil sprigs and sprinkle toasted pine nuts on top. Serve with baguette slices (or whatever pleases in the way of small breads and/or crackers.) Makes about 20 appetizer servings.