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A Passion For Pesto

If you grow your own herbs, you know summer is the perfect time for pesto, with an abundance of basil in every garden.

Pesto, defined by as "a sauce typically made with basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and grated Parmesan blended together and served hot or cold over pasta, fish, or meat," is one of the many Italian specialties of chef Michela Larson.

She owns the Rocca Kitchen and Bar in the south end of Boston, and she accepted The Early Show's "Chef on a Shoestring" challenge Saturday of preparing a three-course meal for four on a budget of only $40.

Larson transported viewers to the Italian countryside with a menu with plenty of pesto!


Grilled Corn with Pesto & Cheese
Grilled Pork & Pesto Paninis with assorted veggies and cheeses
Pacciugo di Portofino


Pork Tenderloin: As the name implies, this is a very tender cut. It cooks easily and quickly, so the best methods are the fast ones: pan-frying, grilling, sautéing, broiling, and quick roasting.

Buffalo Mozzarella, also called Mozzarella di Bufala: Italian mozzarella cheese made from buffalo milk. It has a very soft and moist texture, is very bland and milky tasting, almost spongy and oozing with milk. Often served with tomatoes in a salad.

Ricotta Salata: The pressed, salted and dried variety of the traditional milky ricotta cheese. Ricotta Salata is a milky-white hard cheese used for grating or shaving, is sold in wheels, decorated by a delicate basket-weave pattern.

Italian Eggplant: Very similar in taste to the traditional American variety, except they are much smaller. Eggplants are a spongy, mild-tasting vegetable that's meaty, yet low in calories. It's never eaten raw, but can be baked, grilled, or sautéed. The best eggplants are firm and shiny eggplants with unbroken skin.

Pacciugo di Portofino: A sweet, fruity, pink concoction made with strawberry and vanilla ice cream, strawberry sauce, whipped cream and amaretti cookies. Larson did a variation of this using plums, vanilla ice cream, lemon sorbet, and whipped cream.


  • Adding salt to the pesto in the beginning helps break down the ingredients.
  • For a more uniformed pesto, add the ingredients to a food processor.
  • If not using the pesto immediately, cover with olive oil to keep the vibrant color.


    Grilled Corn with Pesto and Ricotta Salata

    4 ears of corn (husks on)
    Classic Pesto (from core recipe)
    4 quarts water
    1/4 pound Ricotta Salata (grated)

    Heat the grill to high heat.

    Soak corn in water for 20 minutes.

    Drain and shake ears before placing them on hot grill. Turn ears periodically until entire husk is blackened (about 15 minutes). Remove and peel husk and silk leaving a bit of stalk for holding.

    Spread each ear of corn with desired amount of pesto. Shave ricotta salata until covered, serve corn on the cob.


  • Grilled Pork Tenderloin Panini with an assortment of Vegetables, Cheeses, and Pesto

    For Pork:
    1 pound pork tenderloin
    1/4 teaspoon chile flakes
    1 teaspoon fennel seed
    1 sprig rosemary, chopped
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 loaf Ciabatta bread, sliced

    In a mixing bowl combine chile flakes, fennel, rosemary and garlic and cover pork loin with mixture.

    Drizzle with olive oil, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

    Just before cooking, season with salt and pepper and a little more olive oil.

    Cook on hot grill, turning frequently so that outside does not blacken.

    The pork is done when just slightly pink inside, about 15 minutes.

    Slice thinly for paninis.

    For Grilled Vegetables and Cheeses:
    1 bunch spring onions or scallions
    1 each red and green bell pepper
    1 Italian eggplant
    1 zucchini
    1 romaine lettuce heart
    1 ball buffalo mozzarella cheese
    1/4 pound Parmesan cheese
    1/4 pound Ricotta Salata cheese

    Scallions: Cut off the top few inches of the green and the stringy roots at the bottom of the scallions.

    Soak in cold water moving the scallions through the water to rid them of any sand.

    Place on a hot grill and cook until blackened on all sides.

    To serve, peel blackened leaves off and throw away. Drizzle with olive oil and salt.

    Peppers: Place the red and green peppers on hot grill and turn until all sides are charred. When cooled, peel completely.

    Slice peppers in half and core and seed them. Cut into smaller pieces to serve.

    Eggplant: Using 1 Italian eggplant, cut into ¼ inch slices on the diagonal.
    Dress the slices with olive oil, salt and pepper.

    Place on the part of the grill that is not quite as hot.

    Be careful not to burn the eggplant, it may take 10-15 minutes for eggplant to be fully cooked.

    Zucchini: Cut off the top and bottom of 1 medium zucchini. Cut 1/4 inch wide strips from top to bottom. Dress with olive oil, salt and pepper.

    Cook on a hot grill being careful to turn as soon as grill marks appear. It will take about 5 minutes to cook completely.

    Romaine Heart - Cut romaine heart into 4 parts lengthwise, making sure each quarter has its part of the core to hold it together. Dress with olive oil, salt and pepper.

    Cook on the coolest part of the grill, making sure not to char or burn. When lettuce begins to wilt, it is done.

    Classic Pesto
    1 clove garlic, peeled
    Pinch of salt
    1/4 cup pine nuts
    2 cups basil
    1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
    1/3 cup olive oil

    Romesco Pesto
    15 raw blanched almonds, toasted
    1 sweet red pepper, roasted, peeled & seeded
    1 jalapeno pepper, roasted, peeled & seeded
    4 cloves garlic, roasted & peeled
    1 or two stalks fresh mint
    1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
    1/3 cup olive oil

    Parsley & Mint Pesto
    1 clove garlic
    1/2 cup raw, blanched toasted almonds
    1 cup flat leaf parsley
    1/2 cup mint leaves
    1/2 cup basil leaves
    1/3 cup olive oil
    1 ½ tablespoons Ricotta Salata cheese

    Classic Pesto:

    Place garlic and salt in a mortar and add about half of the pine nuts. Rip a handful of the basil leaves into smaller pieces and add to mortar. Add a bit of the oil.

    Using the pestle, crush all of the ingredients against the bottom and side of the mortar until a coarse paste forms. Continue adding pine nuts, ripped basil and olive oil until all is incorporated and well crushed. The consistency should be a coarse paste.

    Add Parmesan and continue crushing with the pestle.

    Transfer to an airtight container, cover with the remaining olive oil and refrigerate up to 5 days.

    Romesco Pesto:

    Place half the almonds, garlic, sweet pepper, jalapeno pepper, mint, salt and a drizzle of olive oil in the mortar.

    Crush ingredients against the mortar with the pestle until they begin to break down.

    Add one third of the olive oil and continue breaking down.

    Add the other half of the ingredients and another third of the olive oil.
    Continue crushing the ingredients until they resemble a rough paste.

    Stir in remaining olive oil and red wine vinegar.

    Parsley & Mint Pesto:

    Place garlic clove, and half of the almonds, parsley, basil, mint, a drizzle of olive oil and the salt into mortar.

    Crush all ingredients against side and bottom of mortar with pestle until they begin to break down.

    Add more of the ingredients a bit at a time, incorporating them until they have begun to form a paste.

    Stir in the ricotta salata and freshly ground pepper.


    Spread 2 tablespoons of your pesto of choice (romesco, mint & parsley, or classic) on both sides of the ciabatta bread.

    Choose an assortment of cheese, vegetables and meat and stack on a slice of the ciabatta bread.

    Cover grate of grill with a sheet of aluminum foil and wait until it gets hot.

    Place other slice of ciabatta on top and set aside.

    Wrap 2 red bricks in aluminum foil until fully covered.

    Place panini on foil covered grill and rest bricks on top of panini.

    Grill 2 minutes each side (or less depending upon how hot grill is). Remove panini from grill, slice and serve.

    Pacciugo di Portofino

    1 pint vanilla ice cream
    1 pint lemon sorbet
    1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
    1 cup heavy whipping cream
    2 plums, sliced
    1/4 teaspoons vanilla
    1/2 cup water

    For Plums:

    Combine water and ½ cup sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
    Turn the heat down to medium and cook for 5 minutes until sauce thickens a bit.

    Slice the plums and remove the pits.

    Add slices of plum and cook for another 10 minutes.

    Let cool for 20 minutes, if not using immediately, cover and refrigerate. They will keep for 5 days.

    For Whipped Cream:

    Cool a medium size metal bowl and whisk in the freezer. When chilled, pour whipping cream in bowl and whip with whisk until soft peaks form. Fold in vanilla and 2 tablespoons sugar.

    For Pacciugo:

    In a large glass individual dessert bowl, spoon a bit of the plums and sauce
    Then add a scoop of each vanilla ice cream and lemon sorbet. Spoon more plums and sauce over the ice cream. Spoon a scoop of the whipped cream over entire dish. Top with a slice of plum.

    How did Michela do with our $40 budget?:

    corn $1.98
    ricotta salata $1.50

    ciabatta bread $2.60
    pork tenderloin $3.99
    chile flakes .79
    fennel $2.33
    rosemary $1.49
    garlic .39
    mozzarella $2.39
    parmesan $2.24
    scallions .69
    peppers $1.49
    eggplant .89
    zucchini .66
    romaine lettuce .99
    pine nuts $1.99
    basil $1.99
    almonds $1.99
    red pepper .74
    jalapeno .10
    mint .69
    parsley .69

    vanilla ice cream $1.99
    lemon sorbet $3.29
    heavy cream $1.19
    plums .74

    FINAL COST = $39.82

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