Fresh Basil Pesto Pasta

Fresh Basil Pesto Pasta

Have you ever had fresh basil pesto? If so, then you know what a delicious additive it is to so many Italian dishes. Or by itself, just top off a cracker and cheese for a tasty snack. I would “pair” it with a red, white, or pink wine, or maybe a brown beer. Or if you feel spirited, maybe some blue antifreeze colored wine cooler. If you are not in the mood to travel to Italy to procure such a treat, just make it yourself! I have sampled manufactured jarred pesto sold the local supermarkets, and it has a flavor that I can only describe as a mixture of lawnmower shavings and a salt lick. I assure you I have never knowingly consumed either of the two. I can only imagine that the chef is mindful of that “millennium shelf life”, and added a lethal amount of salt to keep it as fresh as the decade it was made.

Through the years, I have cooked pasta with varied results. To test cooked pasta, I have bitten through it to judge the texture, threw it on the ceiling to see if it stuck, and have even consulted a local shaman. All of these methods worked to a varying degree. What I have found to be the best method for cooking pasta is to follow the directions on the box. These pasta masters are a clever group, and when all else fails; follow directions. It has never failed. Try this recipe; it is well worth the effort.


  • 8 oz fresh basil leaves, (2 packages of Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan-Reggiano cheese (save another ½ cup for garnish)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • One box Packaged Pasta (linguine)



1 Measure and pour pine nuts in a frying pan, set heat on high, keep the nuts moving as not to burn them. When they are toasted, they will release their flavorful oils. Remove from heat, stop toasting process by pouring them into a large room temperature plate. This will stop them from burning. Save 1/4 cup for garnish. Place the basil leaves and 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a several times. Add the garlic and Parmesan or Romano cheese and pulse several times more. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula.

2 While the food processor is running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady small stream. Adding the olive oil slowly, while the processor is running, will help it emulsify and help keep the olive oil from separating. Occasionally stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Divide in half, saving some for other purposes such as added to cheese and crackers, or add to a pizza. Yum!

3 Cook pasta per package directions. Save one cup of pasta water, Drain in colander, mix (carefully fold) one half of pesto you just made into the pasta in a large saucepan or sauté’ pan, or whatever, add pasta water as needed. The cooked pasta will suck out all moisture in the pesto, so adding the pasta water back will make it hydrated one more. Serve with toasted pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. This is the stuff dreams are made of.



Pizza Margherita

Michael McCollum 6/24/13 Margherita PizzaSimple is better. And this pizza is great! I first had this pizza in Napoli (Naples) on a tour. Our guide told us that Pizza Margherita, was invented in 1889, when the Royal Palace of Capodimonte commissioned the Neapolitan pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito to create a pizza in honor of the visiting Queen Margherita. Of the three different pizzas he created, the Queen strongly preferred a pie swathed in the colors of the Italian flag: red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella). Supposedly, this kind of pizza was then named after the Queen as Pizza Margherita. This was later to be refuted, but not in Napoli!

This pizza goes well with a fine red wine, poor white wine, beer, or scotch, all depends what you have on hand.


Pizza Dough*
2 fresh tomatoes
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
6 garlic cloves
sprinkle of salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup Parmesan Cheese

¼ cup fresh cut basil

*Make your favorite pizza dough. Mine just happens to be the exact same recipe as the pre-made down at Trader Joe’s. So… I do ALL the work?
Again, I think not. Buy package and divide into two. You can make 2 skillet pizzas from one TJ package. If you want a scratch pizza dough recipe, my friend Maria sent me a great one. (Bottom of post)

Michael McCollum11/10/13Mix for Margherita Pizza

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spread dough out in preheated 12 inch skillet. (heat skillet on top burner for one minute, wait a few more before spreading dough) Spread mozzarella cheese on dough. Peel, and chop garlic cloves, mix with coarse chopped tomatoes (big chunks, see photo) olive oil, add salt and pepper, mix, and spread on top of cheese. Bake in oven for 16 minutes. Remove from oven, add basil and Parmesan cheese. Let rest 2-3 minutes until Parmesan melts. Enjoy!

Word to the wise.
That skillet gets real hot, have a care when handling it!

•    2 cups flour
•    1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
•    1 cup warm water
•    2 tablespoons olive oil
•    2 teaspoons white sugar
•    1 teaspoon salt
Blend yeast in water and add  the sugar and olive oil. Put 2 cups of flour in large glass or plastic bowl then add the wet ingredients and stir with a fork. , when the flour is wet then add your 1 tsp of salt.  (In Italy we say salt is added far away from the yeast)
When you have a ball you can put it out on your counter dusted with flour and begin to knead the dough until it is pliable and not sticky,  add flour if need be. (This should only take a few minutes) put back into bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and put in your oven with just the oven light on.  .   Let rise until double the size.

For Schiacciata
Take sheet pan and oil the bottom with olive oil (using your hands)  Then  with your fingers poke the dough to make dents.  Once you have done this drizzle ½ to ¾ cups olive oil letting oil go into dents and sprinkle salt on top.   Bake in 450° oven until brown
Buon appetito!

Ciao, Maria


Grilled Asparagus and Tri-tip Tacos

Grilling season is upon us.

My grill of choice is a model named after one of the founding fathers of Stockton California, a Captain Weber. It produces smooth even heat with the warm familiar glow of charcoal. I use a briquette chimney to avoid the smell and flavor of lighter fluid in the food.

I once had a sinister propane grill, but found it too work intensive. There were four areas on the grill ranging from warm to incinerate. Using the propane knob controls seemed of no use. I was lucky in acquiring this grill though, If I had purchased it at the store, it could have set me back well over 70 dollars. I was fortunate to have found it beside a road near town, and soon had it up and incinerating my food in no time at all. Ah, the joy of replacing the wheels on the bottom every so often. Cleaning was a breeze; just pull it out where the rain can get at it. It gained a wonderful petina.

One of my favorite taco recipes is for Grilled Asparagus and Tri-tip Tacos.


I like to use flour taco size tortillas, it’s just a matter of taste. My family has told me on more than one occasion, that should I ever acquire taste, they would be sure to let me know.

Tri-tip marinade

1 large Tri-tip

1 cup soy sauce

1tsp ground mustard

12 chopped garlic cloves

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp of salt

1/4 cup olive oil


Mix ingredients in a large plastic beverage container. Place Tri-tip into zip-lock freezer bag, pour mixture in. Set everything in a bowl unless you totally trust the folks at Zip-Lock to have sent you the one that will not leak all over the kitchen, house, and backyard. Did I mention that charcoal grilling is an outdoor event unless you are aspiring to have your story on the “Darwin Awards”. Let marinate for no more than 1.5 hours, or the meat will break down too much.


Asparagus Marinade

2 bunches of Asparagus, bottom third cut off.

12 chopped garlic cloves

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp of salt

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tsp freshly chopped dill

1 tbsp lime juice

Place Asparagus in a large Zip-Lock freezer bag. Add everything else, seal bag and roll around until mixed. Let rest for about 1.5 hours, shaking up occasionally.

Grill Tri-tip for about an hour on indirect heat after searing both sides on direct heat. This should produce medium done. During last 10-12 minutes of cooking, add Asparagus to grill. (Grill them for 10-12 minutes. Remove Tri-tip from grill; let rest at least 10 minutes, thin slice. Asparagus let rest in a glass dish.

asparagustaco0001Grilled Asparagusasparagustaco0002Grilled Asparagus

Taco preparation.

Heat taco sized tortillas on grill or indoor frying pan. Do not burn, and remove to plate. Add slices of Tri-tip, 3-4 Asparagus spears, and slices of onion, cheese of choice (I used white cheddar with truffles, Trader Joe’s), sliced jalapeno peppers, your favorite salsa and sour cream. Yummy! You will have leftover unless you eat like wolves, like we do.


asparagustaco0006The last thing it saw on Earth

Meatloaf in Bread Recipe

I don’t know where I came by this recipe. Maybe in a newspaper article, a television program, or a dream. Ahh, to dream of meatloaf! Anyway, we love it, and it’s relatively easy to prepare. All the ingredients can be acquired at any grocery store. Presentation is everything, and this dish looks great! Nothing like the sound of “definite family approval” for this dish. (Lots of ooohs and ahhs.)
In our family, the individual loaf or loaves can be specifically made to suit the diner. In place of sun-dried tomato, try throwing in a few slices of jalapeno. For me, I like the way it burns on the way down. (Just be sure that you mark the one that is specifically for you, so you don’t poison your family. No matter how good it looks, if their heads are on fire the meal will be a flop and never be forgotten.Funny how we remember the worst meals of our lives like we tried to eat them yesterday.Fear not! This will not be the case!

Meatloaf Recipe
Meatloaf Loaves (say that tree times at the end of a cocktail party!)
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 6 oz. minced garlic cloves
• 2 oz. butter
• 4 cups sliced mushrooms
• 4 round loafs of French bread
• 2 lbs. lean hamburger
• 4 eggs
• 1 cup milk
• 2 packages of onion soup mix (dry)
• 2 packages of meat loaf mix (dry)
• 2 jars of tomato pesto
• 2 medium-large diced onions
• 8-12 oz. sliced Monterey jack cheese
• 1 jar of sun-dried tomato (in oil, drained)
• 6-8 oz. smoked mozzarella
• 1 12 oz. glass Merlot
Preheat oven to 370 degrees.
On medium heat, in a large pan, heat the olive oil. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute. When it looks like it’s about to start sticking, add 2 oz. butter and 4 cups sliced mushrooms. Brown mushrooms and set to side.
With a sharp knife, take top off French bread loaves (kind of like the top of a jack-o’-lantern). Scoop out and crumble all bread inside into a large mixing bowl. Crumble “lids” and add to inside bread, meat, eggs, milk, onion soup mix, and meatloaf mix with your hands. Yes, I hate that feeling also. Just don’t think about it too much.
As there are four separate loaves, do the following for each.
Add about a quarter jar of tomato pesto to bottom of French bread “bowl.” Add a layer of Monterey jack cheese, then about a half inch layer of meat mix on top of that.
Again add about a quarter jar of tomato pesto, and a quarter jar of drained sun dried tomato, another layer of Monterey jack cheese, then about a half inch layer of Meat mix on top of that. This should now be at the top, or lip, of the bread “bowl.” Add a quarter of the mushroom mix, and a quarter of the grated smoked mozzarella to each.
The glass of merlot should have been consumed by the cook at this point.
Wrap the bowl in foil, leaving the top exposed.
Wrap the top loosely with foil so it won’t stick to the smoked mozzarella.
There will be leftover mix, so make a small “conventional” meat loaf, adding any leftover jack cheese to center, and cook same as below.
Place all four totally foil-covered loaves (so bread won’t burn) in preheated oven for about 45 minutes. Wrap bottom with one piece so top can be exposed, then wrap top with another piece. Remove top foil for the last 10 to 12 minutes or until the mozzarella has browned. Remove from oven, wait about 5 minutes, and serve. I like to slice it with a serrated knife, like a pie in quarters, or eighths.
Add salt and pepper to taste, but it’s fine without them.
Serve with dignity!
Turn your back, so your spouse can cover it in cheap ketchup. Go for another glass of merlot.
Makes four loaves.