We are very fortunate to live near DeBaggio’s (closed in 2020), a truly wonderful herb farm and nursery that’s been growing beautiful healthy plants since 1975. One of the ladies in the neighborhood told me about them the first year we lived here, specifically mentioning their wonderful tomatoes, so I made a point to check it out and was amazed at the incredible variety of plants they grow onsite. With only a handful of dedicated workers, they manage to grow nearly 1,000 varieties of vegetables, herbs, perennials, and annuals. The quality of their plants is always top notch because they are knowledgeable and care for the plants so well. In the last few years I’ve been fortunate to have a few casual discussions with Francesco DeBaggio, son of the founder Thomas DeBaggio, about growing rhubarb, rosemary, basil, and bay laurel trees, and our garden always benefits from those discussions.
Thomas DeBaggio has written some excellent books on herbs as well as his experiences with Alzheimer's, and I keep copies of both the Encyclopedia of Herbs and Basil: An Herb Lover’s Guide in the kitchen for handy reference. The cheese torta recipe (photo above) from Basil is delicious and easy and elegant, a perfect party appetizer, plus it’s a wonderful way to showcase garden fresh basil. Because of my fondness for DeBaggio’s books and their herb farm, I’m giving away two of Thomas DeBaggio’s books on herbs to one lucky reader. The winner will receive one copy of each of the following:
- Basil: An Herb Lover's Guide
- The Encyclopedia of Herbs: A Comprehensive Reference to Herbs of Flavor and Fragrance
To enter the giveaway, tell us about your favorite dish with basil, and please feel free to share links to recipes so everyone can find new ways to cook with basil. Please make sure to put your correct email address in the email address field so I can contact you if you are the lucky winner. You don’t need to put your email address in your comment, just in the email address field. Apologies to my international readers, but the books can only be shipped to U.S. and Canadian addresses. The contest closes at 8 P.M. EST on July 23, and Random.org will select the winner. I will contact the winner via email, and the winner must respond within 72 hours, otherwise another winner will be selected. Look for the announcement of the winner in this post soon after.
[Disclosure: This giveaway is not sponsored by DeBaggio’s Herb Farm & Nursery. I am paying for the prizes myself.]
UPDATE: Congratulations to Faith Plvan, winner of the books!
Since we have some gorgeous purple basil this year, I wanted to use the deep purple leaves for the top of the torta, but of course you can use green Genovese, too. I had a limited bowl selection to choose from and found that a deep narrow domed bowl works better than a wide top bowl. If your bowl is very wide and not deep, you may need to increase the ingredients so they will fill up each layer. If served as the only appetizer, then this torta will probably feed about 12 people, but if served on a buffet with other things you can probably estimate up to 24 servings. You can make the torta one day ahead and keep it refrigerated.
CHEESE TORTA WITH BASIL, OLIVES, AND SUNDRIED TOMATOES
- stand mixer with paddle attachment, or hand mixer and large bowl
- 1-quart domed bowl (narrow and deep is better than wide)
- small bowl
- 16 large whole basil leaves
- 10 ounces goat cheese, softened
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- ¼ to ½ cup milk
- 3 cloves garlic (minced)
- salt (to taste)
- black pepper freshly ground (to taste)
- ½ cup finely chopped basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil (drained)
- ½ cup finely chopped Kalamata olives
- In the bowl of the stand mixer, mix the goat cheese and cream cheese, adding enough milk so the mixture is smooth and spreadable. Add 1 clove of the minced garlic, season with salt and pepper, and mix well.
- In the other bowl, combine the chopped basil with the remaining garlic and all the olive oil to make a thick paste.
- Line the 1-quart bowl with wet cheesecloth. Arrange 4 large basil leaves face down on the cheesecloth.
- Carefully spread one-fourth of the cheese mixture over the basil leaves on the cheesecloth. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, evenly distributing and spreading them to the edge of the cheese. Press down gently. Spread one-fourth of the cheese over the tomato layer. Spread the basil and garlic mixture over this cheese layer, pressing lightly.
- Add another one-fourth of the cheese, then cover it with the chopped olives, spreading to the edge and pressing gently. Add the final layer of cheese then finish with a layer of whole, large basil leaves and press gently.
- Fold the cheesecloth in to cover the torta and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
- To serve, fold back the cheesecloth and invert it onto a serving plate. Carefully remove the cheesecloth from the top of the torta. Let the torta stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.