A Taste of Italy Closer to Home

Italy Gorgonzola cheese is like a finely tailored, Italian pinstriped suit; creamy and indulgent, with a sophisticated and tangy bite. The cheese was first developed in a northern Italian village near Milan in about 879 A.D. I envision my parents discovering the picturesque villages and tranquil beaches that Italy has to offer…dining on this luxurious appetizer at a relais & chateaux on the island of Capri, or maybe a rustic bistro near Florence or Portofino.

Mom in FlorenceVecchia Bettola is a famous restaurant in Florence. The photo is of my mom when she was my age, in 1989.

I’ve been serving this appetizer for many years, but the original recipe, inspired by my parent’s travels abroad, looks like one of those appetizers you see at holiday time in the William-Sonoma catalog. Instead of paying $110 for it to be delivered though, you can make this yourself at home for a fraction of the cost. JoAnn’s original also calls for a stick of butter and toasted pine nuts, but to lighten it up a bit, I switched out the butter for cashews, and the pinoli for walnuts, plus I added a pear to balance the flavor and help puree the cashews. The flavor combination of gorgonzola and basil is out of this world, and don’t be surprised how many compliments you’ll receive when you present this exquisite appetizer at your holiday gathering. It can be prepared up to a day ahead and then put in the oven just minutes before guests arrive.

3/4 cup raw, cashews (soak 3 hours to overnight)
8 large fresh basil leaves
2 Tbsp. toasted walnuts
1 freshly peeled pear
salt & pepper to taste

Soak cashews in water for at least 3 hours or up to overnight. Drain the soak water and process the cashews and the pear in a high speed blender (such as a vitamix) first until you get a creamy, buttery consistency. Add chopped fresh basil, gorgonzola, toasted walnuts, salt and pepper. I typically buy the gorgonzola crumbled, this makes it easier to regulate how much to use. Process all ingredients until chunky but spreadable. Spread on thinly sliced french baguette, and bake at 375 for about 12-14 minutes. Serve hot.

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