Columns by John

John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Pesto Rosso Pasta: a spicy harvest dish!

It’s harvest time all across the “Fruited Plain.” In California, the grape harvest is in full swing while, in other parts of the country, bountiful crops of fruits and vegetables are literally ripe for the picking. I’ve been spending a good bit of time at our local farmer’s market loading up on everything from peaches and apples to peppers and tomatoes.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been canning hot and sweet banana peppers rings as well as roasted and peeled red bell peppers. Soon I will purchase a bushel of green tomatoes, fresh fennel bulbs, onions and more hot banana peppers to prepare the stacked and aged Italian vegetable concoction called saliata (I’ll provide the recipe for this complicated, but delicious, vegetable medley in a future column).

But today I’m going to pass along a recipe that combines roasted ripe tomatoes and peppers, along with garlic and onions, to create a red pesto and pasta dish. You’re probably wondering if that’s a typo because you’re certain that pesto is green -right? Well, normally it is and that’s because the traditional pesto recipe is made from handfuls of fresh basil. However, pesto can be made from other herbs or vegetables, and the term is more broadly defined as a sauce.

The main ingredients of this crimson version of pesto are roasted red peppers and Roma tomatoes yielding flavors that are rich, spicy, smoky and robust. And because the roasted veggies will be processed through a food mill, I suggest you use either capellini or rotini as the pasta noodle of choice. I call this dish: Pesto Rosso Pasta. To put this dish into the culinary stratosphere, you’ll need to pair it with a medium to full-bodied red wine like the ones suggested below. So here you go!


Pesto Rosso Pasta


Three red bell peppers cut in half
Twenty Roma tomatoes or 10 regular size sweet tomatoes – cut in half
One hot banana pepper (optional) cored and sliced in half long-ways
Three cloves of peeled garlic
One large sweet onion sliced into quarter inch rounds
One-half cup of fresh basil
Three tablespoons of slivered almonds
One cup of pecorino romano or parmesan grated cheese
One-quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil
One or more tablespoons of kosher salt and ground black pepper (to taste)
One pound of capellini or rotini pasta

How To

Coat peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic in olive oil
Roast in a 350 degree oven for one hour
Turn roasting vegetables over in the pan(s) after 30 minutes
Allow vegetables to cool and peel any skins that are loose on the peppers and/or tomatoes
Place the mixture in a food processor with cheese and blend until smooth
Put almonds into processor, pulse a couple of times so nuts are integrated but not pulverized
Boil salted water in a large pot and add pasta
Put the pesto in a large sauté pan over low heat while pasta finishes cooking
Chop the basil finely
Cook pasta until al dente and retain one half cup of pasta water
Add water to pesto in the pan and stir
Place pasta in sauté pan with pesto, mix well and heat over low flame for five minutes
Plate the pasta and sprinkle the fresh basil over each dish

Wines for Pesto Rosso Pasta

2015 Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico ($28) This ruby red, medium-bodied Chianti is chock full of dried cranberry and cherry flavors with hints of tea and a nuance of vanilla from the oak aging. Just the right wine to pair with the hearty flavors of the Pesto Rosso Pasta.

2017 Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandel ($25) A blend of 77 percent Paso Robles zinfandel and small amounts of petit sirah, alicante and primitivo, the wine has dark berry and spicy cola flavors. It is well balanced with a nice dollop of acid to marry well with the red pesto.

John Brown is also a novelist.  His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at


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