We may think that we live in an egalitarian society, but let me dispel that myth.
We are all snobs in some way. Some of us are food snobs; others wine snobs and some among us are literary snobs. But the worst, most sanctimonious snob is the middle class Everyman who looks down on the tasteless members of the upper class. In Southern California, land of the conspicuous consumer, it's easy to find rich people to look down upon.
And that's why the terrace of a San Marino mansion on sale for $10 million was the perfect site for a trespasser's picnic. For one beautiful fall afternoon, eight members of the middle class felt vastly superior to the ruling class.
We took pot shots at the plaster statues, dismembered doric columns, Astroturf in the front lawn and the indoor-outdoor carpet leading to the grand entrance.
And then we sipped our sparkling wine with a pesto torta and a pimento cheese loaf (it's low brow food, but it gets a blesssing from the December Bon Appetit Magazine). We drank fine red wines in vintage glasses as we ate our green salad and hearty beef stew.
This recipe for the pesto torta is from a 1991 issue of Sunset Magazine:
Pesto Cheese Torta
1 cup ricotta cheese
4 ounces cream cheese
Pesto filling (recipe follows or purchase a cup of your favorite ready-made pesto)
Fresh basil sprigs
Thin baguette slices
Crisp raw vegetables
With mixer, beat ricotta and neufchatel until well blended. Smoothly line a clean, unused, tall 2-cup flower pot with two layers of moistened, wrung-dry cheesecloth (or 1 layer moistened muslin); cloth should drape over rim.
With a spoon, press 1/4 of cheese evenly into pot. Press 1/3 of the pesto onto cheese; repeat, finishing with layer of cheese. (I like to also add a layer of sun dried tomatoes.) Fold edges of cloth smoothly over cheese. Cover airtight and chill at least 2 hours or up to a day. Fold back cloth and invert torta onto small plate. Gently lift off cheesecloth.
If making ahead, cover airtight and chill up to a day. Garnish with basil sprigs. Spread on bread and vegetables. Makes about 2 cups, 7 or 8 servings.
Pesto filling. In a blender or food processor, whirl 2 1/2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, 1 cup (about 5 oz.) freshly grated parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and enough water (1 or 2 tablespoons) to make a smooth paste. Stir in 1/4 cup pine nuts and season with salt to taste.
Sure, you can buy a similar torta from Trader Joe's, but if you make this easy home-made version, you will feel vastly superior.