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THE VEGETARIAN

Decorative, Tasty Christmas Torta

December 21, 1989|DIANA SHAW | Shaw is a free-lance writer in Los Angeles

'Tis the season for things decorative and delicious. This glorious, golden torta is filled with plumped sun-dried tomatoes, ricotta-flecked spinach, and a creamy blend of provolone and mozzarella.

CHRISTMAS TORTA

2 2/3 cups unbleached flour

Salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits

8 ounces Neufchatel or cream cheese, cut into bits

3 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 shallots, minced

2 large cloves garlic, crushed and minced

2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled

2 teaspoons dried basil, crumbled

1 sweet red pepper, peeled and sliced into thin strips

2 (1-ounce) packages dried tomatoes

1/4 cup white wine

1/3 cup water

Freshly ground pepper

2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese

2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

8 ounces mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced

8 ounces provolone cheese, thinly sliced

Combine flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt in food processor or large mixing bowl. Add butter and Neufchatel cheese and process or blend with fingers until consistency of small crumbs. Add milk and gather into ball. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Divide dough into uneven halves, one 2/3 larger than other. Rewrap smaller portion and return to refrigerator. Roll out larger half to round 12 inches in diameter. Place evenly over buttered springform pan, trimming excess dough to fit rim. With fork pierce holes in inside of crust and crimp rim.

Butter sheet of foil large enough to fit into pan. Place butter-side down on crust and fill with pastry weights or dried beans to keep crust from buckling during baking. Bake at 425 degrees 15 minutes, until dough has turned golden, but hasn't browned. Lower oven to 375 degrees.

Heat olive oil in large skillet and saute shallots and garlic over low heat until just beginning to brown. Stir in oregano, basil, red pepper, dried tomatoes, wine and water. Add dash salt and season to taste with pepper. Cover skillet and let simmer over low heat 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Combine spinach, ricotta cheese, 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese and nutmeg in mixing bowl. Set aside.

Distribute 1/2 mozzarella cheese evenly over bottom of prepared crust. Spread spinach mixture on top. Distribute 1/2 provolone over spinach layer and top with tomato mixture. Cover with remaining mozzarella and provolone cheese and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan.

Roll out remaining dough into diameter of 11 inches. Place evenly over filled pie, pressing dough to rim of baked shell to seal, trimming away excess. Make slits in top crust to let steam escape.

Bake at 375 degrees 20 to 30 minutes or until top crust is golden brown. Remove to wire rack and let cool 1 hour. Remove outer ring of pan, transfer to serving plate and serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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