Thursday Night Smackdown: Nope, Still Not Enough Cowbell

pesto pasta

Something’s going screwy with my Olympic fever.


I am, obviously, watching the Olympics although in the ordinary course of my life I don’t give a flying fuck about alpine skiing. Yet I’ve also become strangely emotional –

excuse me, I’m choking on a piece of popcorn

– while watching, and so far have gotten teary-eyed at (1) skiing; (2) that Visa commercial with Dan Jansen about his dead sister; and (3) a Walmart commercial that I don’t even remember any more. Let’s hope I can make it through the women’s snowboard half-pipe. Which, FYI, I also don’t ordinarily give a crap about. I just hope I don’t cry at Bob Costas, because I don’t know how I would live with myself if that happened.

I needed a fast dinner tonight so we could eat before Brian headed out to a show; the ability to relax with this post a little and indulge my Olympic fever is just a fortuitous side effect. Ain’t nothing faster than pesto – and basil is just SO GOOD in the middle of winter – so tonight was Mario Batali’s spicy hazelnut pesto with goat cheese from Mario Batali Simple Italian Food: Recipes from My Two Villages

pesto fixins

You know what commercial doesn’t make me cry? The McDonald’s commercial that insinuates that all the athletes are just hanging around the McDonald in the athlete’s village snorting down piles of McNuggets. Yes, McDonald’s, we all believe that Olympic-caliber athletes are horsing the Big Macs. I’m going to go on record as saying that not even Michael Phelps is loading up on the snack wraps.

(I have to fill this post with lots of meaningless blather because it’s really hard to pontificate at length about pesto, at least in the middle of winter when I can’t wax rhapsodic about the gorgeous fresh basil fresh from the garden I’d be using.)

Anyway, I chucked the basil into the FoPro along with hazelnuts, garlic, salt and some cayenne (which was supposed to be red pepper flakes, but I was all out) and whizzed it with the olive oil. Yes, you are reading correctly – there is no cheese in the pesto, which feels a little like…anathema. I get that the pasta will ultimately be all goat cheesed out, but I still don’t feel quite right about pesto without parm.


Still, it did look good; a little chunkier than a pine-nut pesto but appropriately green and unctuous looking. And yes, I know the food blogging world is over the word “unctuous,” but I don’t care just like I don’t normally care about ice hockey, about which I care EVEN LESS than alpine skiing. It was unctuous. Deal with it.

I should have put the pot of water for the pasta on while I was making the pesto, which would have made sense, but I, you know, didn’t. So I spent 15 minutes milling around waiting for water to boil, willing myself not to have a snack because I skipped lunch and was effing HUNGRY at this point. It finally boiled, which water is wont to do when put over high heat, and I dumped in half a bag of the fancy pants imported-from-Napoli pasta that Fresh Direct had on sale this week. Eleven minutes to al dente, said the package, which also told me that this might be a few minutes longer than the cooking time for normal penne, but that good things take more time and I would understand all when I tasted their magical pasta. Thanks, bag.

FYI, I haven’t teared up again since that Walmart commercial, so things are looking better on the Olympic fever front.

Once the penne were cooked and drained, I tossed them with the goat cheese – two adorable nubbins of Coach Farm, as directed by Mario – and stirred in the pesto; I didn’t think I’d need the whole cup of pesto the recipe made, but I did.


This was some hearty pasta. Naples does not fuck around with its pasta; it was perfectly al dente and chewy and – to use another hated word – toothsome.

It just was. Toothsome pasta, covered in unctuous pesto. Oh, yes.

The hazelnuts were a nice switch-up in the pesto, which was more aggressively nutty than I find pine-nut pesto to be. It also didn’t grind up as smoothly, so there was a lot of texture to make this more interesting than your standard pesto dish. The down-on-the-farm flavor of the goat cheese lent a background tang to the spicy pesto and also helped round out the flavor. It was good, and I’ll definitely give it another try in the summer with real basil. I don’t know what I was thinking.

Now if you’ll excuse me my Olympic fever is acting up, so I’ve gotta take a dose of men’s long program figure skating.

14 thoughts on “Thursday Night Smackdown: Nope, Still Not Enough Cowbell

  1. love your blog. hate pesto. well, love basil but hate olive oil and goat cheese tastes like feet to me. I’ve tried being posh and eating it but damn. can’t do it. Still.. love your blog. lol

  2. OK, I think I’m over the olive oil thing now. Michelle – that looks fabulous and I’m going to try it, hazelnuts, goat-cheese and all, though I’ll go with the peperoncino instead of cayenne. Pesto used to be my fav go-to fast comfort food, which for some reason I seem to have forgotten about….what a perfect break from winter pot roasts and soups. Pesto tonight!

  3. I wholly understand about the commercial crying thing. Know which one gets me? That old, old, old (did I say that enough?) Folgers commercial where the kid comes home from college at Christmas time and wakes the house up making a pot of coffee. Gets me every time. I have been known to leave the room when it comes on to avoid looking like a blithering idiot.

    Every time I read this blog I end up buying a new cookbook. BTW – thanks for the Susan Spicer info a while back. I did buy the book, my husband put sticky notes on almost every page and I have been instructed to “make these, they sound good”. I have gained twenty pounds.

  4. Say unctuous all you want. I’m apparently behind the times because I don’t recall seeing it in food blogs enough to be “over it”. Oh well. I don’t hang with the crowds. I don’t give an airborn copulation about the Olympics either. Haven’t watched a single event. *YAWN* Televised sports don’t excite me ever -even if they are big international competitions that real American patriots are supposed to watch.

    Pesto is the taste of summer to me, so bring it on, even if the basil isn’t from the garden. I like the idea of those unctuous hazelnuts replacing the pine nuts for a more toothsome quality. I could definitely dig eating this pesto while watching the past season of “Glee” on DVD instead of the Olympics.

  5. Love the blog. Came out of lurkdom to say that the Dan Jansen commercial gets me every friggin’ time. And that Morgan Freeman’s giggle about the Jamaican bobsled team is also awesome.

  6. holy shit…”snorting down piles of McNuggets” I’m losing my shit over here laughing…because yea, I ate McNuggets twice this week (horrible, I know) but those commercials make them look so good…and they’re not…and I know this, but this week I had a weakness. And let me tell you, I did NOT feel like an olympic athlete.

  7. I’m really kinda concerned you’re crying at WalMart commercials. They are not worth a single tear, trust me. That said, there’s an Italian restaurant here that does shrimp and scallops in pesto cream sauce that are just about orgasmic. And someday I’m going to to make my own pesto. Can you make it with walnuts? Because I love me some walnuts.

  8. jen, i totally understand hating goat cheese; i really only like the ones that are young and not overly…goat-y. but i can’t imagine life without olive oil.

    anna, don’t compliment me, compliment mario – his idea.

    karen, isn’t the spicer book great? definitely worth the money. big small plates and the improvisational cook are other favs.

    rachel, it’s not the taste of summer with wan winter basil, although it was still pretty good. and i gotta say that right now, ice dancing is cooling my olympic fever right on down.

    shiri, right? with the dead sister, and the baby? it’s a killer.

    lindsay, are you sure? because i’m pretty sure the olympic athletes all eat mcnuggets for breakfast every morning.

    kay, believe me, i’m just as concerned as you are. and yes, you can totally make pesto with walnuts. i hear arugula and walnuts make a nice combo.

  9. Sounds delicious! And damn, those commercials make me cry. The Dan Jensen one? Gets me every time. And the one with all the kids and the mom that says something like, “They’re all someone’s kid” (or something to that effect)? Holy crap. Why, Olympics, why must I cry?!

  10. I’ve been loving every minute of the Olympics – especially Shaun White and Julia Mancuso (oh and also Evan, the skater). I could whip up this dish while never taking my eyes off the screen.
    Thank you for that.

    PS – I recently had a kale chipotle pesto that was amazing. It had sunflower seeds too.

  11. Aha. Thank you for the reminder to go into the freezer to get out basil pesto made last fall. That should help to sooth my shattered nerves that it’s snowing here.

    The McDo’s commercials are making me cry. But being queasy does that to me….

  12. No joke–this tweet is from my cousin, who competed in the Olympics and took to McDonald’s the day after: “21 nuggets in 21 minutes. Great opening scene for my 6 day “Super Size Me” documentary.” (It was his 21st birthday, hence the theme)

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