Pesto Cheese Spread & Cheesy Tomato Rigatoni

Today’s delicious dish – Pesto Cheese Spread  

Appetizers can be a way to ease ourselves into a meal, or they can stand alone as a delightful small meal.  I love appetizers that let me do something – like spreading or dipping.  This recipe makes a tasty, cheesy appetizer that can also be a flavorful accompaniment to a light meal of soup or salad.  I sometimes take this Pesto Cheese Spread to parties, and it is always popular.

I like to pack this spread into a pie plate and cut it into small wedges after a couple of hours in the refrigerator.  This helps us know what a serving looks like, and keeps us from gobbling up the entire dish before we realize what we have done.  It’s fun to serve each person a wedge of Pesto Cheese Spread and let them choose what they want to have with it.  You should feel free to serve it however you like – you could even chill it, then mold into a ball or log and coat with minced parsley.

If you aren’t worried about fat and calories, you can make this extra rich by substituting regular cream cheese for reduced-fat cream cheese.  If you don’t have Three Cheese Blend (found in the ubiquitous green topped canister), you can use grated parmesan cheese.  I find prepared pesto to be plenty good enough for a recipe like this, but if you want to make your own pesto, have at it.

Pesto Cheese Spread

  • 8 ounces reduced fat cream cheese, softened
  • 2 Tablespoons sour cream
  • 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 Tablespoons prepared traditional pesto
  • About 2 cups (1/2 pound) finely shredded Colby & Monterey Jack cheese
  • 3 Tablespoons grated Three Cheese Blend (parmesan, romano, and asiago)
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley

Beat together softened cream cheese, sour cream, lemon juice, and pesto.  Stir in shredded and grated cheeses and mix completely.  Press mixture into an 8” round casserole dish or a pie plate, smoothing the surface.

Rinse parsley and dry well.  Strip leaves from stems and discard stems.  Mince parsley leaves by cutting as small as possible with a sharp knife.

Spread minced parsley over the top of the cheese mixture, then press gently into the surface.  Cover and chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

When ready to serve, cut cheese spread into 12 wedges.  Serve with crackers, pretzels, celery sticks, and carrot sticks.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups cheese spread, or 12 servings (each about 3 Tablespoons)

Nutritional information (per serving):  195 calories, 12.5 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 7 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram sugars, 0 grams fiber, 33 milligrams cholesterol,  246 milligrams sodium

 Cost per serving:  62 cents  

 Preparation time:  20 minutes

Chilling time:  at least 2 hours

What happens next?

 This cheese spread keeps very well – up to a week in the refrigerator.  Of course, it continues to be wonderful served just as it is.  I sometimes use it to make a grilled sandwich with the cheese spread inside and some sliced ham – new flavors emerge when the cheese spread melts and is eaten warm with crunchy, toasty bread and lovely salty ham.

Best, however, is when it is made into a sauce for pasta.  I try to always be sure to put aside 4 wedges of Pesto Cheese Spread to use in the next recipe.  The cheese spread can be frozen if it won’t be used in a week.  After thawing, there may be some separation, but all will be made right after the completed sauce is whisked.

Another day’s delicious dish – Cheesy Tomato Rigatoni

Combining Pesto Cheese Spread with tomato sauce makes an easy cheesy creamy sauce for cooked pasta.  It has a lively flavor, without the sharpness that tomato sauce often has.  In short order, you can have a scrumptious side dish ready to serve.

I like to use rigatoni, because the space inside the pasta tubes fills up with the tasty sauce.  But any pasta shape works just as well – you might consider choosing a shape that will allow sauce to cling and get inside nooks and crannies.

This recipe makes 10 side-dish-sized portions.  If you want to make it a main dish, increase the portion size, and maybe add some browned ground beef or Italian sausage.

If you don’t have any Pesto Cheese Spread available, you can still make this recipe.  Combine 6 Tablespoons (3 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, 1 Tablespoon each of pesto, lemon juice, and grated parmesan cheese, 2/3 cup finely shredded Colby Jack cheese, and 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes.  Then proceed with the recipe.

Cheesy Tomato Rigatoni 

  • 1 pound Rigatoni pasta
  • 2 cans tomato sauce (15 ounces each)
  • 4 servings (about 3/4 cup) Pesto Cheese Spread
  • 2 Tablespoons butter

Boil a large pot of water.  Add pasta and cook until done (usually about 15 minutes).  Turn off burner.

When pasta is almost done, pour tomato sauce in a microwave-safe bowl.  Add Pesto Cheese Spread.  Cover and microwave for 2 minutes.  Remove and stir well.  Cover and microwave another 2 minutes.  Whisk until smooth.  Microwave another 2 minutes and whisk again.

Drain pasta well and return to pot.  Toss hot pasta with butter, then pour sauce over and mix well.  Cover and let stand a few minutes before serving.

Makes 10 servings, each about 3/4 cup.

Nutritional information (per serving): 270 calories, 8 grams fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat, 10 grams protein, 39 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams sugars, 3 grams fiber, 19 milligrams cholesterol, 482 milligrams sodium 

 Cost per serving: 60 cents

 Preparation time:  30 minutes

2 thoughts on “Pesto Cheese Spread & Cheesy Tomato Rigatoni

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